As a longtime journalist, I often expect the words to come easier. But sometimes, they’re just nowhere to be found. Multiple times in the weeks leading up to this issue’s deadline, I sat down to write this column to no avail. I’d start with an idea, thinking this is it, and then it would fizzle away.
In hindsight, I know my failed writing attempts weren’t really about a lack of words: They were connected to what was happening outside the office and in my personal life. My attention wasn’t here, but rather 200 miles away, in my hometown, with my family, who had recently received sad news about my grandmother’s ailing health.
I believe things happen for a reason, and the fact that this issue of Experience Life is all about being “here and now” isn’t mere coincidence. As I was editing these pages full of insights on being present and cultivating focus while processing the news about my grandma, I realized I needed to be more present in what was happening. I needed to see her. I needed to be there.
So, with my family in tow, I headed home for a weekend with the sole intent of spending lots of time with Grandma. My kids showed off their coolest tricks, while I got her up to speed on everything we’d been up to. We had coffee together one morning and sipped root-beer floats later that night. We sat outside in the sunshine and talked, like always.
In more tender moments, I helped my mom and aunts attend to my grandma’s needs, while trying to commit everything about her to memory: the sound of her voice and laugh, the feel of her skin, her signature scent.
I hugged her goodbye that Sunday feeling grateful for our time together — and hopeful that she’d be there when we came back for our next visit. Her health wasn’t great, but in my mind, she had at least a few weeks left with us.
To everyone’s surprise, though, she took a turn for the worse the next morning, and two days later, Grandma passed away, surrounded by those who love her the very most.
As the words return and I finally write this note, it’s been just over two weeks since that day (though two months by the time this issue is in your hands). I’m only beginning to come to grips with the fact that she’s truly gone; the grief stemming from that reality is sharp and profound. Yet I know this is a gift in its own right, and I’m trying to be mindful of the lessons within it as I begin to move forward.
In his best-selling book Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn (this month’s amazing cover subject) writes about mindfulness: “This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. If we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives but also fail to realize the richness and depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation.”
In daily life, it can be easy to take things for granted. But in this loss, I’m reminded once again of the importance of presence, community, and, especially, family.
Reminiscing on my grandparents’ deck after my grandma’s service, surrounded by my great big family, all I could think was that it doesn’t get much better than this. What’s happening right here, right now, it’s worth paying attention to.