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Our Family Ritual: Guess what? I love you.

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The conversation goes like this…

Me to my first born:  “Guess what?”

My first born:  “You love me.”

Me:  “I love you.”

The words are simple.  The conversation is short.  Nothing profound comes from our mouths.  Or does it?  When did this family ritual begin exactly?  How did it start?  What does it mean?  Not just the words, but the meaning behind the words.  Where they came from…  The answer in all of this is not quite as simple as those seemingly “simple” words.

The origin of “Guess what?  I love you.”

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On this day one year ago I sat next to my grandmother’s nursing home bed as she was dying.  My nana had been deteriorating for some time, but hospice had only just been set up earlier that day.  I was 8 months pregnant and emotionally drained.  It was my time to spend time with her.  All alone.  Just her and I.  My time to say goodbye.  That evening as I sat with her at her beside I tried to knit a scarf while she slept.  It was in an effort to keep my mind set on the motion in my hands, but my attempts were futal.  I didn’t get further than a row or two and honestly, to this day, have not finished that work.   Instead of knitting I sat and reflected on where we had been and how we got to that point in our lives.  For her it was the point of progression into the next life.  The opportunity to be reunited with my grandfather for eternity while leaving us behind.  For me it would become an integral point in my life.  One that made certain that my life would never be the same.

Her eventual passing had been mourned countless times over the previous 3 years.  She had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in the spring of 2009.  She fought through it with chemotherapy treatments.  I cared for her that entire summer.  (We had moved back to the St. Louis area just a few months before.  So my first born and I were able to be there to help my family.  We had been led back to St. Louis from San Antonio.  Everything happens for a reason.)  Her treatments cumulated with radiation to her brain to make sure that the cancer was gone once and for all.  Unfortunately, due to her age, the radiation left her with some major deficits.  She became weak.  She forgot how to walk.  Her short term memory was damaged.  Conversations with her often made a loop.  The deficits became worse and worse to the point that she had to be moved into a nursing home.  She reached the point of 24-hour skilled nursing care being required.  As I held her hand that night I thought of all of these things.  It was as if life was flashing before my eyes.  But it wasn’t my life.  It was hers.

There was so much I wanted to say to her.  So much that I need to say to her.  Her life was ending and my opportunity to tell her things was brief.  We had always been very close and throughout my life I had spoken to her almost daily.  Knowing that this would be the last time I would speak with her in this life was hard.  It was my time to express to her my love for her and tell her how much I would miss her.  As I sat there I worried that she wouldn’t hear my words.  Even worse that she wouldn’t understand.  I so very much wanted her to not just hear the words, but to know the words.  Without even dwelling on it I waited for her to open her eyes and then I said, “Guess what?”  From her lips, almost silent, she whispered, “What?”  With tears streaming down my face I said, “I love you.”  She nodded and then mouthed, “I love you too.”

This conversation continued over and over again.  Whenever she would open her eyes I would begin again, “Guess what?”  Knowing that her memories were constantly making a loop it was always a new conversation to her, but it always had the same result.  I was able to make sure that no matter what she knew that I loved her.  She didn’t just hear it.  She knew it.  This was my last time with her while she was still alive.  Those hours went by far too fast.  My family wanted me to go home to rest.  They were concerned the stress would cause me to go into labor early.  My nana passed away just over 24 hours later in the early morning hours of January 13th.

The next few days were a blur.  I helped with the remaining preparations for her funeral.  I assisted in dressing her for burial.  I spoke at her funeral.  Basically going through all the motions, but not really thinking too long on what was taking place.  She was gone.  My life as I knew it was forever altered.  I’m not exactly sure how I got through those difficult days, but I did.  We all did.  My family is strong, we are eternal, and we stick together.

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They are together forever.

I can’t remember exactly which night the family ritual started, but shortly after her funeral I was tucking our oldest into bed and before I left his room I said, “Guess what?”  The words just flowed.  It wasn’t planned.  They just came out without thought.  He peered at me with a question on his face and said, “What?”  I then said, “I love you.”  From that night on I said this to him countless time.  When dropping him off at school.  Before I left the house to run errands while he stayed behind with his dad.  Every night when I tucked him into bed.  It was always the same, “Guess what?” and he would say, “What?”  Until one day the conversation changed.  One day his reply was no longer “what?” it then became an answer.  When I said, “Guess what?” he said, “You love me.”  And I said in agreement, “I love you.”  He doesn’t just hear the words.  It’s not just a conversation.  He knows that I love him.  A very wise man once said:

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I’ve since begun saying, “Guess what?” to my younger children.  They are still young and the question doesn’t carry as much significance to them at this time.  But it will.  Even if I never accomplish another thing in this life I will forever know that my children know that I love them.  They don’t just hear the words.  They  know it.

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Do you have any of your own family rituals?  I would love to hear about them!

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