Author: Cathy Robertson

Today is one of the saddest days of my life. I was just told that my grandmother has cancer. Now she’s not expected to live more than six months. What am I supposed to do with news like this? My mom is depressed and horrified at this revelation, while I wish I could do or say something to make it all okay again. I have no idea how to help Mom or Grandma. Heck, I don’t even know how to help myself.
As I continue to put one foot in front of the other—attending school, doing my homework, finishing my chores, a weight of helplessness follows me. Nothing is the same, though. I feel like a zombie. Walking to school with my best friend, I try to talk with her about what’s happening.
“I just can’t believe this is truly happening. How can my grandma be dying? I know she’s not young, but then she’s not that old, either. We all tried to tell her to quit smoking, but she just wouldn’t. Mom says she couldn’t. I am so angry at Grandma, but I feel so sorry for her, too. I’m so confused and so sad.”
“I don’t know what I would do if my Nana was going to die soon. I would be so lost without her,” my friend, Debbie, commiserated. I felt like she understood how I was dealing with this, or perhaps not dealing with it.
“I just wish I could go back to yesterday and make all this not happen. If only there were a way to go back in time and change our reality.” I knew this was an impossible request, but as I wished for the changes, I almost began to believe that it could be a possibility.
“Let me talk to my Nana,” Debbie answered. “Nana knows things most people have no idea about, and she just might be able to help us. Just don’t give up hope.”
Feeling a ray of hope after what seemed like ages, my steps became light as I almost skipped the rest of the way home. Maybe there was a chance that something would change. Perhaps I really could change reality. Wanting to pass this hope on to Mom, I burst through the back door, yelling out to her to come to the kitchen.
“What is it, Emily?” Mom sounded a little miffed. I forgot that she didn’t like me to come through the back door hollering “like a banshee” as she always said. I had no clue what a banshee was, but they must be very loud and obnoxious.
“Sorry, Mom, didn’t mean to scream so loud. I’ve just been talking with Debbie! She thinks there may be a way for us to change the progress of Grandma’s illness. Isn’t that exciting?” Even to my ears this was totally improbable.
“Oh, Emily, where do you get these ideas? If the doctors can’t help Grandma, what makes you think you can?”
“I don’t know, but Debbie says there may be a way. She told me to not give up hope. Have you lost all hope, Mom?”
Mom just burst into tears. Great, now I had made matters worse. What was I thinking? How could I be so insensitive? I had wanted to bring my mother some new hope, but I had just actually highlighted how hopeless she was. What a dork I was.
“Honey, of course I haven’t given up all hope. It’s just that with these matters, the doctors usually know best. I don’t want you holding on to false hopes, either. It’s not helpful to ignore the inevitable or pretend this is not real. We all need to find a way to say good-bye to Grandma before she passes. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”
I understood all too well. She didn’t believe we could change the outcome, and quite frankly, I wasn’t sure I believed it. I just had to hold onto some hope that Grandma would not die; at least not within the next six months. I would say my prayers every night, and I would wish her well. That was my job, I told myself. 
Emily and I talked daily. I continually asked her if her Nana had given her this magical method to change my current reality. Emily had a different excuse every day. “No, I didn’t get to talk with Nana today.” 
“Nana doesn’t think we should interfere.” 
“Nana wants to be helpful, but she says she’s forgotten where the well is.”
“The well; what well? Do you know what she’s talking about?” I was beside myself with anticipation.
“The wishing well.  She claims when she was a child, there was a wishing well somewhere in the city, and all they had to do was throw a penny in this well, turn around three times, and make their wish. The wish would always come true. But she also warned me to be careful what you wish for.” Emily made it sound frightening. What could be wrong about wishing for your best friend in the world to stay alive?
Grandma was my best friend in the world. She was the one I talked with when I felt confused or hurt. She was who I called at least once a week, telling her about all the good and bad events in my life. Grandma knew what I liked, and she often made things for me, or even bought things for me that I liked, when she could afford it. It wasn’t what she spent on me, but the fact that she knew me well enough to know what I would want. How would I replace a friend like that? Who would I call when I needed someone to understand what I really meant, even when I couldn’t find the words to express myself? Grandma was there when I was born, and she knew me even in ways my mother did not. Grandma was wise and kind and benevolent. How, oh how, was I to get along without that person in my life?
I finally grew tired of hearing Emily’s excuses. “I have a novel idea,” I told her. “Let’s go find the wishing well for ourselves.”
“It could be anywhere in this town,” Emily responded, her eyes widening with every word. “Do you know what that means? Just how are we going to hunt down a wishing well in this entire town?”
“Your nana must have given you some clues. And besides, it’s not like we’re looking for a small object. A wishing well has to be big; don’t you think?”
“I don’t know. Nana said it seemed to magically ‘appear’ when they wanted to make a wish. We can go talk with her together,” Debbie suggested.
“I’m ready to do that,” I exclaimed. “Can we go today after school?”
“If Nana’s feeling okay,” Debbie hedged.
“Look, what is it about this well that you don’t want me to benefit from? Are you leading me on, or is there really such a place?” I was getting upset with Debbie as we spoke. She seemed to be keeping this contrivance a secret. I didn’t understand at all.
“No, of course I’m not leading you on. It’s just that Nana is so vague about the existence of the wishing well. She talks about it one minute as though it were just around the corner, and the next thing she seems to forget what we were talking about, claiming to have no knowledge of anything called a wishing well.” Debbie was as frustrated as I was. Maybe I would feel better after talking with Nana. At least I might get some idea of where this well was, even though she may not be able to give me complete directions.
“Hi, Nana, this is Emily; Debbie’s friend. Do you remember me?”
“Yes, I do. You’re the girl that Debbie goes swimming with in the summer, and sledding with in the winter.”
“Yes, that’s me. It’s really good to see you again.” I didn’t know how to lead into the questions I wanted answered. I looked to Debbie for help.
“Nana, Emily and I wanted to ask you some questions about the wishing well you found when you were younger. Do you remember the wishing well?”
“Ahhh, the wishing well. It was a magical object in a magical place on many a magical night. We had so many wishes in those days, and, yes, they all came true. Even the ones we didn’t mean to wish.”
This sounded ominous to both Debbie and me. What did she mean? I didn’t really care right at this moment. I just wanted to know where to find this magical well.
“Can you tell me where to look for the wishing well? Do you recall if it was near downtown, or to the east of town, close to the school; any way to tell us a landmark it’s near?”
“Look to your heart, child. It is there you will find the well, and there your wish shall come true. However, be forewarned that your wishes, however well-intentioned they may be, may not be for the best.”
Again, that warning. I still could not see how wishing to keep my grandma alive could ever be a bad thing. But what had her words meant about the location? My heart ached for the opportunity to wish my grandma alive. All the heartache I had felt for the last month had not changed the diagnosis nor the projected outcome. Time was flying by, and all I had to show for all my wishing and praying was more heartache. How could looking to my heart be an answer?
For the first time I began to doubt the existence of this wishing well. Maybe it was all a dream Debbie’s nana had, or maybe it was wishful thinking; no pun intended. I headed for home, more dejected than I had been the day I heard the bad news. It had been my job to change the outcome somehow, and now I was running out of hope. What could I do? What else could I do?
I prayed again that night. I prayed and wished for Grandma to miraculously feel better. I prayed and wished that she would somehow live. I no longer wished to go back in time; I knew I would have to live that dreadful day we had heard the news again and again. Simple and straightforward. I said it out loud that night, kneeling beside my bed. “I wish Grandma would live; that she would not die in six months.”
As I slept that night, I realized I was rising from my bed and walking into the night. I went out the front door and down the three steps to the sidewalk; turned right, past the row of hedges, past the neighbor’s house. I was at the corner. Walking north on Main Street, in the opposite direction of downtown. Past the last houses on Main and on into the wooded area at the edge of town. I didn’t want to walk into the woods. We had all been warned to stay out of the woods, and although I often dreamed of building a treehouse in one of the big sycamore’s white branches, I also hurried past the gnarled old trees for fear the boogeyman would reach out and hold me tight in his grip.
This night, even in the haze of sleep, I trembled as I walked into the trees. A shiver ran down my spine, even though it was the middle of September, and the temperature must have been about 75 degrees still at this late hour. I wound deeper into the woods, when suddenly I turned past yet another tree, and there it was. The wishing well. It was just as I had pictured it in my mind.
A stone cylinder with an A-line thatched roof covering the opening, a strong rope holding up the dangling oaken bucket. It was so picturesque, standing there in the grassy opening among the trees. It looked like it had been plunked down straight out of a fairy tale. Suddenly feeling the coin in my hand, I turned and chucked it over my shoulder down into the deep well. When I heard the splash of it hitting the water, I turned three times and stated in a strong voice, “I wish my grandma would live a lot longer than six months. I wish my grandma would live a lot longer than six months. I wish my grandma would live a lot longer than six months.” There, it was done.
My eyes popped open at six in the morning, and I leaped out of bed, full of renewed hope. I recalled the entire dream. But it didn’t feel like a dream. It was real. I knew it was real. I wanted to run and tell Mom right away; however, I knew she wouldn’t believe me, and though I wanted her to be as full of hope as I was, I also didn’t want to supply her with false hope. 
I did tell Debbie, though, and she was as excited as me. I told her in great detail about my walk into the woods, finding the wishing well, and my wish. “Do you think it was too vague,” I asked.
“No, it was very specific. It sounds like a very good wish to me,” Debbie replied.
I couldn’t wait for time to pass, to see what would happen with Grandma. Time did pass, and quickly at that. Grandma was still alive after seven months, eight months, and we were coming upon a year since her diagnosis. There was one very glaring problem. Grandma was very, very sick.
It hurt my heart to visit her. She was in bed most of the time now, and she tried to smile at me, but it was just too much effort. She moaned and tried to move around to get comfortable, but anyone could see she was quite miserable.
What had I done? In my selfish attempt to keep her here with me, I had doomed her to a long, painful existence. No, that was not my wish at all. I didn’t mean for it to be this way. I thought she would be as healthy as before her illness, and we could enjoy our long walks through the neighborhood, sharing ice cream cones, telling each other every detail of our days. This was not what I wished for my grandma, or me. 
As I cried myself to sleep again that night, I was so heartsick I thought I might die of a heart attack. The ache in my chest was so deep, and I sobbed until I could hardly catch my breath. That night I arose from my bed and began the familiar walk to the woods. I barely noticed the neighbors’ houses, the row of hedges, the sycamore tree reaching out. I tried to hurry, but I could only walk slowly past all these familiar sights, knowing what awaited me at the end of my journey.
There ahead, in the clearing, was the wishing well. I had thought long and hard about what I would wish if I was given the chance again. I didn’t want to just wish for Grandma to live; I had seen how that worked. I didn’t really want to wish for her to get better, for fear that would have dangerous results too. And I certainly didn’t want to wish for her to die. I thought perhaps I had learned a valuable lesson. I made a simple wish, one where I did not try to control the outcome. “I wish I could accept whatever happens with Grandma. I wish I could accept whatever happens with Grandma. I wish I could accept whatever happens with Grandma.” There, it was done. I wasn’t trying to control anyone’s future. This just asked for me to change my attitude. That sounded like a very good wish to me.
The next few months we had with Grandma were very happy. She rallied some, and though we couldn’t take our long walks together, I did wheel her downtown in her wheelchair. We watched the spring buds push through the frosty soil, and we talked about her childhood and my dreams and hopes.
Sometimes I found myself wishing that this could last forever, but then I recalled my true wish to accept whatever happened. Nothing lasts forever, and I learned to be happy in the moments we shared, the hugs she still gave so freely, and the laughter that rang around us every day.
She passed in September, at peace and with a small smile on her face. We had enjoyed her company for almost two years past her diagnosis. I learned so much about compassion and true love during those two years. 
I still cry myself to sleep some nights, missing Grandma so much. However, I don’t feel heartsick any longer, just heartache. There is a big difference. One truly is a sickness that can’t be healed; the other a longing, a hole where that person used to reside. That hole is filled a little bit every time I walk by the woods, or see a spring bud, or laugh out loud. At those times I feel Grandma near to me, and I know I will never walk this earth alone.

Share This

No data was found