Fifty days ago, I thought that the hardest goodbye of this trip would be leaving home Day 1. Day 45, my mom called me mid-ride, and I realized how wrong I was. I flew home the next morning to say two of my hardest goodbyes yet. I made it to back in time to tell my Grandma that I love her one last time, but I never got to say goodbye to our dog Kali when she passed a few days earlier.
At first New Jersey felt empty. It seemed surreal that my grandma wasn't sitting in her living room chair eating buttered mashed potatoes and talking about the latest recipes she found. Back home in Byram, I felt lost when only one dog rushed to demand my attention and jump all over me. I wanted nothing more than to get back on my bike and pedal until I could fill the void I felt with adrenaline and fatigue.
Instead I tried to fill home with hugs and hold back my tears. I distracted myself and my family with stories from my bike trip. I lost myself in helping plan the funeral while eating cookies for dinner, hypocritically trying to convince my mom to eat some real food and sleep more than a few hours.
One of those sleepless cookie-filled nights, we started going through old family pictures of my grandma. I noticed my mom let go enough to cry, and her tears were contagious. As that first wave of tears passed, my mom started filling the silence with stories. We laughed as we talked, and I learned why laughter through tears is my mom's favorite emotion. I finally stopped stifling my emotions and let myself feel and reflect and remember. Allowing myself to feel sadness and love and joy all at once made me feel less empty. I hugged my mom and we continued to tell stories, filling the new physical gaps in our lives with memories.
We remembered how much my grandma went through, but we also remembered how much she gave, and how much she loved. Those who have less, often give more, and that was true for her. When she was younger, she was a poor single mother and often worked 2-3 jobs to support her family. At 54, she was diagnosed with Breast cancer. At age 60, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She went on to face a total of 5 cancers and COPD. She finally passed away after fighting cancer for 26 years. Yet, the grandma we remember didn't let cancer define her. She used her experiences and positive attitude to inspire others. She didn't focus on her hardships, and she wouldn't want us to focus on them either.
When she wasn't working, my grandma could be found volunteering and helping others. Whether it was cheering up fellow cancer survivors at the Guilda's Club, working at the Palisades General Thrift Shop, rescuing pets, or helping patients and families at the HUMC Cancer Center Gift Shop, she left others with smiles on their faces. She encouraged everyone she met, and she often offered advice or shared her story to help inspire fellow cancer patients.
A week before we biked out of New Brunswick, she eagerly listened to me talk about "The Dream Team" and our volunteering at Elijah's Promise. She was shocked when I showed her our route all the way to Portland, Oregon. She couldn't volunteer herself anymore, and she never was much of a biker, but she was so excited to be able to help by donating and cheering me on before my trip.
Outside of volunteering and cheering on me and my brother. My grandma loved spending time with her Cocker Spaniel, Abby. She especially loved Christmas Eve and enjoying a tasty meal of steak and potatoes. We always knew she was feeling better and ready to come home from the hospital when she started asking for steak and complaining that her mashed potatoes were too cold! At the end of the day, she had one of the biggest hearts around and inspired us to make a difference in the world too. Saying goodbye was incredibly hard, but suppressing my feelings did nothing to honor her memory. Remembering the good and the bad, and feeling all that comes with it helps us laugh through the tears and live our lives as we should.
When I get on my bike tomorrow, I won't be pedaling to forget and suppress the sadness of this week's goodbyes. I will be pedaling to remember the good times, and I'll pedal to make my grandma proud.