When I was little, my mom made me a card bag. Every birthday or special occasion, I would collect the cards I received and deposit them into that gallon Ziploc bag with my name on it. I now have two of them since they hold 21 years worth of cards. Every so often I like to look through them to relieve the memories and think about the special times and people God placed in my life.
Today was one of those days. I decided to purge some things only my seven year-old self deemed worthy enough to keep. The cards are in chronological order starting with cards my parents received when I was born, to my recent 21st birthday. When I look through them, I can look at the year or age I was and remember the theme of my birthday party or the events that surrounded that day.
When I was four, my mom planned a star-themed party where I was a princess and all the guests arrived in costumes of their choice. I still have a doll named Katelyn that my parents gave me that day.
I had a bowling party when I turned seven and invited several school friends. Some of them drew pictures in their cards or wrote their names in ways that make me smile. I also accepted Christ that year and was baptized months later; an event commemorated in some of the cards.
My ninth birthday brought a backwards party that Mommy planned in her usual amazing fashion. The guests received invitations they could only view by holding them up to a mirror and they sang Happy Birthday backwards before I blew out the candles on my cake iced with “Happy Birthday” also spelled backwards. I even received a card from my grandma where she wrote backwards!
Grandma. Or Gramma as we called her when we were little. She sent me a card every single birthday or special occasion, always telling me how much she loved me. As I looked through the cards from my 11th birthday, I remembered my family and I had been in Cleveland helping my grandma when she had surgery for breast cancer. We arrived a day or so before my birthday and (although I didn’t know it at the time) they had planned a surprise party for me with many of my cousins, aunts, and uncles from both sides. Looking through the stack of cards from my cousins, I remembered how cool it felt to have a birthday party surrounded by extended family. Then I came across one of the cards. My grandma’s card.
To anyone else, it probably looks simple. Not really a special card. She wrote inside but some of the words are misspelled and sentences are missing periods. Still, it touched me.
From Grandma +
Chris, 11 years Ago
I was blessed with a beautiful
little girl Now you are A
Preteen you CAN’T grow any
Love Gramma +
I smiled as I read her note, remembering how appalled she was that I read it out loud. I was about to put the card aside when the year caught my eye. “2004”
Of course, I thought. That’s the year I turned eleven.
I was about the put the card away when I realized another reason that date was significant.
My grandma passed away from complications with her heart in January 2005.
2005. That meant I was holding the last birthday card I ever received from her. Suddenly, I couldn’t see the card anymore. Tears blocked my vision.
If you had told me my 11th birthday would be the last I’d spend with my grandma, I probably would have laughed at you. She was fine. She had cancer but from her demeanor, it wasn’t anything to worry about. Her surgery was successful and she was recovering well. I had plenty of years left with her. She would use her amazing sewing skills to make my prom dress, she would attend my high school graduation, make my wedding dress, meet my first child (and hopefully her first great-grandchild). She was not supposed to be gone so soon.
But she was. She is.
I appreciate those eleven years I had with her but wish I knew then how precious they really were. I wish I have given her more hugs, talked to her more on the phone, said “I love you” more often. But I can’t live in the past. Gramma is gone and I cannot live my life thinking “What if?”. I know I will see her again one day and will be able to tell her how much she means to me. Until then, I can cherish the relationships I still have.
I can be kinder to my siblings, more respectful to my parents, closer to my extended family, and more open and present with my friends. I want to live a life like my Grandma’s where I touch every person I meet, leaving them changed for good. Even when I am gone I pray people will know without a doubt that I cared.
As this year comes to a close, I pray I can create, cultivate, and repair more meaningful relationships for those are the things that last forever. Life is precious. Time spent with loved ones are priceless. Cherish them while you can.