Thursday, September 15, 2016

True Courage: Patrick Swayze and Diane Endler

This week marks the 7th anniversary of Patrick Swayze's death. Though I never had the opportunity to meet him, his battle with pancreatic cancer both touched and broke my heart. Interviews with him at the time left me in tears. Patrick's calm demeanor and unwavering optimism reminded me so much of my beloved grandma, who suffered so horribly from the same illness. This year marks the 10th anniversary of losing her.

My mom's mom, Diane, is someone I've referred to in prior posts. She was one of the gentlest, most unselfish human beings I've ever had the honor of knowing. Grandma took care of me through some of the best and worst experiences of my life. She reinforced things my mom taught me about how to be a good friend and a good person. She was a devout Catholic and in many ways very conservative, but she still had a wicked sense of humor. For example, she liked to refer to the movie Young Guns as Young Buns. She'd drive around running errands while listening to one of my Aerosmith or Bon Jovi CDs.

Grandma was also my TV buddy. I remember her letting me stay up late to watch Walker and Alex get married on Walker, Texas Ranger. Her favorite cartoon was Hey Arnold! When I was in middle school, she decided I was old enough to watch CSI and Without a Trace with her. Every Thursday, I knew there would be extra-butter popcorn in my future and the fun of seeing which of us could solve the mystery first.

In early 2006, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer after feeling rather ill for several months. My family and I were all extremely concerned. I vividly remember sobbing in her arms as she stroked my hair and said, "Don't you worry, sweetpea. I'm gonna fight this. I'm gonna fight this as hard as I can. I'm not giving up." What none of us knew at the time was the survivability rate, that it was a death sentence.

Grandma's condition worsened as the weeks went on. No matter how much pain she was in, she never complained. She was still determined to do things for her family. As a child, she'd promised me diamond jewelry for my Sweet 16. That date was drawing closer and the diamond was the furthest thing from my mind.

When I got home from school on my Sweet 16, I went to Grandma's house like I did every day. I got I don't know what all from my grandparents that year. The last gift my grandma handed me was a jeweler's box. I opened the lid and gasped. Inside was a golden horseshoe on a chain; the horseshoe's border was edged with tiny diamonds. Back then, I was an avid trail rider with my own horse: Little Man.

I immediately burst into tears and gave Granny the biggest hug I could without hurting her. Even though she was so sick, she fastened the chain around my neck. The next month, May 2006, is when her battle with cancer mercifully ended.

I haven't completely recovered from the loss. I sometimes doubt I ever will because she was such a huge part of my life. In the past decade, I've only taken my horseshoe off a handful of times. It's been joined on its chain by a college graduation gift from my mom: a medal of my favorite saint: Saint Michael. I pray that one day there's a cure so no one will have to watch their loved ones go through what can only be described as hell on earth.

Gone but not forgotten. Diane Endler (1937-2006)

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