All I wanted was a place in the Honors program.
Until I received the voicemails. Seven messages. From my mom. All in one night.
In my naivety, I never bothered to listen to the sudden influx of messages, assuming all was well.
Oh, how wrong I was.
It was the beginning of my second year of college, and, knowing that I was slated to graduate in only three years, I understood that if I wanted a spot in the Honors program, the time to apply was now. I had deliberately waited a year to apply to the program so I could have the best possible chances (and grades) going in. I wanted to graduate with honors so badly that absolutely nothing, no matter how world-shattering, could derail me.
Or so I thought.
One day, in late September, I resolved to transcend my ever-present social anxiety and work up the courage to ask one of my favorite professors for a letter of recommendation for my Honors program application. It was that morning that I awoke to the barrage of voicemail messages from my mom. It was that morning that, unconcerned and in hot pursuit of my ambitions, I cheerfully traipsed off to the psychology department’s office.
I was surprised and delighted to hear that yes, my beloved professor would love to recommend me for the Honors program. Joy swelled inside of me as I rushed back to my apartment to share the exciting news with my mom.
But my joy would not last long.
No sooner had I dialed her and uttered a cheerful “Hi!” than my mom stuttered:
“Your Grandpa’s…he’s…he’s at the end of his life. I’m headed out of town right now to go see him.”
I could hear the hum of the engine whirring in the background as I attempted to process her words.
The missed calls. I should have answered. He hadn’t been doing well. I should have known.
“What?!” I blurted, shrieking into the phone. “I… I didn’t know! I didn’t even listen to those messages!”
My mom apologized profusely for delivering the news in such a hasty fashion, but her apology could not quell the peculiar mixture of sadness and guilt rising in my chest, then sinking into the pit of my stomach. Why had I been so concerned with getting accepted into the Honors program? Why had my priorities been so skewed when my grandpa had very little time left on Earth? Why couldn’t I have seen how much life matters, how much family matters?
“I called because I got the letter of rec for the Honors program,” I cried. “I wasn’t expecting this! But I can’t go through with it now, not with Grandpa dying. I need to tell my professor that I’ve changed my mind before she writes the letter!”
I no longer wanted a place in the Honors program. All I wanted was to see my grandpa again, to hug him, to tell him I loved him one last time. I took no solace in the fact that the last words I had ever spoken to him were “I love you.” More than anything, I longed for a second chance.
Just one more chance to say “I love you.”
I will never forget my mom’s response to my sudden onslaught of doubt in my decision to apply for the Honors program. With a single sentence, spoken softly as she fought back tears, my mother taught me a lifelong lesson.
He would have wanted this for you.
She elaborated, her voice growing stronger.
“Grandpa has always been proud of everything you’ve achieved. He would be so proud of you now, knowing that you applied for the Honors program. I know that he would have wanted you to do this. You shouldn’t give up this opportunity.”
I knew, in my heart of hearts, that my mom was right.
My grandpa, an intelligent, well-spoken man, a voracious reader with the largest vocabulary of anyone I had ever known, had always deeply valued education and academic prowess. Even as his health worsened, his eyes never failed to sparkle as my parents recounted my sister’s and my academic achievements: an academic award, a place on the Dean’s list.
I understood then that the most venerable way I could honor my grandpa was to live, embracing my vitality and his values in a way that would fill him with pride. Life after death is not meant to be squandered away by relentlessly dwelling on the past; it is meant to be celebrated. Honoring lost loved ones by carrying their words, actions, and values into the world is the most powerful way to celebrate them, to keep them in your heart forever.
Two days later, on the first of October, my grandpa passed away. That day, I resolved to apply to the Honors program to honor his memory.
Six weeks later, on a blustery, dreary November day, I received news of my acceptance into the Honors program. As I danced across the damp sidewalk, umbrella in hand, unencumbered by the morning rain, I gazed up at the gray sky.
“Grandpa, I made it,” I whispered softly.
I could just make out a glimmer of sunshine behind the clouds and I knew, without a doubt, that he was beaming with pride.