Therese Walsh is the author of The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Random House, October 2009), a Target Breakout Book, now available in paperback.
Therese is the co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a blog for writers about the craft and business of genre fiction. Before turning to fiction, she was a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine, and then a freelance writer. She’s had hundreds of articles on nutrition and fitness published in consumer magazines and online.
She has a master’s degree in psychology. Aside from writing, Therese’s favorite things include music, art, crab legs, Whose Line is it Anyway?, dark chocolate, photography, unique movies and novels, people watching, strong Irish tea, and spending time with her husband, two kids and their bouncy Jack Russell.
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Thirteen and Sixty-three
My grandmother was diagnosed with cancer when I was thirteen years old. Lung cancer; she’d been a cigarette smoker. She endured radiation and the grueling process of chemotherapy. She cried when a young acquaintance of mine—who eventually died from a form of juvenile cancer—had to endure the same thing, which was when we all knew the depth of the toll her therapy was taking on her.
She finished her therapy. It seemed, for a time, the cancer was gone. But then, just as swiftly, it wasn’t.
There were more rounds of radiation and chemo. I remember my father coaching her on, “Just visualize it, Ma—the army of white soldiers in your body, growing, growing stronger and larger, wiping out all of the enemies.” And she tried, I know she did.
Months later, it had gone too far; we knew then that the cancer was going to win.
I was, as I mentioned, thirteen. An awkward age. An I’m-not-sure-what-to-say-to-you age. I wasn’t able to sit down with my grandmother to talk about feelings or cancer or death or fear, and even if I had been capable of that, I’m not sure that I would’ve chosen to have that conversation. The bond between my grandmother and I had always been strong, though. “Two peas in a pod,” my father used to say, because our temperaments were so similar.
One day, a holiday—I can’t remember which—we were at my grandmother’s house, having a cookout. There were lawn chairs open all over the place—plastic laced chairs, metal chairs, an old recliner—as a sense of unwelcome closure suffused the air. My grandmother got up out of her chair for something, grabbed her walking cane, which she needed after the second round of therapy knocked the energy and strength out of her limbs. I stood up, walked beside her. I remember thinking, “Catch her if she falls. Watch her.” And I think I psyched myself out a bit, because when my grandmother took a turn around her roses, she wobbled a little—a natural wobble, nothing to worry about—and I practically lunged for her, ready to catch her. My grandmother, seeing me out of sorts, flailing as I must have been, startled, thought I was falling, and reached for me.
“You okay?” she asked, her hand on my arm, my hands on her.
I nodded. Awkward. Embarrassed. Thirteen. Letting go.
She died shortly after that day, but I will never forget it.
Next week, an essay by Ken Wheaton. Please submit your questions and / or Q4K essays (no longer than 1,000 words, and no attachments please) to questforkindness[at]gmail.com