I met Grace during my sophomore year of high school.
She was beautiful. Not in the stereotypical media way, but in the way that just made you smile. She held this type of personality that made you want to approach her and learn more about her. Grace was the type of woman who made you feel special.
I met her because of Peer Leadership. Peer Leadership was a group formed by two of my most beloved people, John and Linda, to help young people go through their Catholic experience with a person their own age. This group that helped freshmen and sophomores in high school go through their confirmations also aided them in their everyday woes and teenage angst. I met some of my very best friends through this program. And that in itself means the world to me.
Grace was friends with Linda. Linda, John and Grace are in their late 40’s, but still managed to communicate with everyone in the Peer Leadership group. When I look back on my experiences with them, I’m filled with tears. Not because it was sad, but because I received so much love from them. I never thought that I belonged somewhere until I met them.
They loved me for me. No exceptions. No excuses. They loved John. And I can’t ever be more thankful for that.
We went on our first retreat during our junior year. Besides all the high schoolers that went [you had to be an invited member of Peer Leadership to attend], there was John, Linda, Grace and Father Walsh. Faith became part of my life, but not in the let’s go preach to the undesirables kind of way. It was a kind of so How does God fit into your life? However fucked up it may be, I felt loved. Correction. I AM loved.
Grace was abrasive. She was quick to tease, fast to make fun of, and had a smart ass opinion. But at the same time, whenever she spoke, you listened. She had an aura about her. An aura that turned her into someone that you would want to listen to. Someone you would respect. And someone you would look at and have this feeling that she had been granted more knowledge than any and all of use combined.
I remember once she came to a meeting with a present for each and every one of us. She was from Central America, and most of her family still lived there. During a vacation to see her family, she helped make us all these necklaces made of thread. They formed a cross and hung around our necks. When I got mine…I can’t tell you how happy I was. To have someone think about you, when you never EVER asked for that single thought…there’s nothing more special. I have it to this day, hanging up in my room above my bed. I may not be as solidly Catholic as I used to be, but I can still look at that cross and feel a sense of love. Only because she thought of me.
Grace was that type of person. She wasn’t important. What was important was everyone else. She would sacrifice her happiness, her pride and her sense of self. Why? Because she felt that every person alive deserved to feel happiness. She was a selfless, loving caring person. She was the person you met on the street that you would allow to tease you. Because, after all was said and done, you felt special just because she looked at you.
Several years ago, Grace was diagnosed with cancer. She was given only a few years to live. Two, at most. What did she do? She made sure the last years of her life were spent with people that NEEDED her help. People that needed her input and advice and company and love.
The cancer was a serious one. It ravaged her body, and tore her apart from the inside out. She forced her diagnosis into a humiliating submission, fighting on past year one, two three and four. She forced herself to get up and go to work, even though she was now confined to a wheelchair. And despite the fact that her body had moved towards a level of degradation not previously expected, she fought on.
She failed. Grace suffered more than any one person I have ever known. She couldn’t cough. She couldn’t have sudden movements. She couldn’t even laugh. Because even a laugh…a sign of joy and life…would be strong enough to break her bones and cause her pain. There wasn’t a day in the last few years of her life that she wasn’t in excruciating pain. But she was Grace. She believed she would survive. She believed she would live. She believed she would crush the disease that forced her into submission.
At her worst, her body became but a shell. She couldn’t cough without breaking a rib. She couldn’t stand because her body would have given up on her. She couldn’t go out into public, because even the slightest cold would have meant her death.
During the last few years, though, she died. On the inside. Her vibrant personality and her fun loving personality was killed. She waited for death. She couldn’t go outside. She couldn’t talk with friends. She couldn’t live the most simple of lives. The people that she loved…that she would spend every hour of her day with…were forced to stay away from her. What was once just a face mask and friends a few feet away turned into breathing tubes and a few miles. Grace lost her contact with the outside world. She was alone. She was in pain. And she had no hope for recovery.
Grace died five hours ago. She died alone. She wasn’t given the chance to be a mother. She wasn’t given the chance to be a wife. She wasn’t given the chance to pass on all that she had learned in life. All she was given was the chance to be a friend.
I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to her. I didn’t get the chance to say how beautiful I thought she was. I didn’t get the chance to give her one last hug. I didn’t get the chance to say that, even though I couldn’t see her all the time, or share laughs with her for the past few years, she was always in my thoughts. I didn’t get the chance to say that she made an impact on my life. That she helped form me. That she helped make me who I am.
I didn’t even get a chance to say I love you Grace. Thank you for being my friend.
And now she is gone.
I write this to you in tears. I haven’t cried like this in such a long time, I don’t know exactly how to handle it. While Grace had only a few years time in my life, she had an everlasting effect. I will never forget her, because to forget Grace is to forget that one person that made you smile, laugh, love and feel loved even in the most dark of times. To forget Grace would be to forget what LOVE is all about.
I refuse to forget Grace.
Next weekend, I am walking the Relay for Life. I told you about it before. Then, I chose to walk because I believed that cancer was a horrible disease that should be halted. Such a horrible, painful disease should be stopped in it’s tracks and crushed.
Now, I walk for Grace. I walk for a woman who was denied a life. I walk for a woman who was denied the chance to raise a child. I walk for a woman who took time out of every single day to make someone else smile. I walk for someone who was killed by cancer.
Please. I’m pleading with you, now. Cancer took away someone I loved. Someone who gave themselves to everyone else but themselves. Honor Grace’s memory. Honor a personal friend. Honor a family member. Just please, remember someone in the next two weeks. Donate to Relay for Life.
I walk for Hope. I walk for a Cure. I walk for a Chance.
But now, most of all…I walk for Grace.
Grace Kelly. I love you. I miss you. And I promise that we will soon find a way to end the pain that you suffered with for so long.
I’m sorry I didn’t say goodbye.