My grandma is 86 years old and this June, she'll turn 87. Her name is Ethel (Price) Bowling, and she has lived a long, long time and has seen a lot of change and progress. My Grammy is my best friend.

She is one of the most influential people in my life. She means the world to me and, as I get older, I feel as if I am more and more of a reincarnation of her. So much of my "growing up" years include her, and she has always been there. She was always at every single dance recital, at every sporting event (that time I did soccer for a year, baseball for a year, softball for a year...), every birthday and choir concert, and just any old day I needed her. She would watch me after school and always wait for me at the top of our long driveway...we used to sit on the swings and sing, "When the sun in the morning, comes over the hill, and you wake to the sound of the mockingbird trill..."

Two years ago this month, she had a massive stroke that completely changed her (and our) life. The stroke almost killed her, and in a sense, it's surprising it didn't, because it was one of those "If she hadn't been in this exact place, at this exact time" kind of deals. My mom rushed to the hospital around 11PM and I was up all night - until about 5AM - when I finally heard any news.

She was in the hospital/rehab center until August, and then she moved in with my aunt and uncle, who are retired because she needs 24/7 care. At first, we were really hopeful she'd at least recover 50% - she was making significant progress, especially for someone her age, but then it just kind of...stopped.

It's hard to see her in this state. My grandma lived on her own, by herself, until the day of her stroke - she was 84 when it happened. She even worked until she was in her late 70's. She is fiercely independent, has so much knowledge and wisdom and has done so many things in her life.

I always promised her since I was a child that I'd build a pink castle and she would live with me...she always promised me she'd be at my wedding. My wedding is just a few short months away, and it's hard to know that she won't actually get to be there. I selfishly thought the reason she isn't gone is because of me. Of course, she is such a huge part of my entire life, why would I think any different? She and I were thisclose...and I honestly feel as if a part of her soul is in me.

With all my heart, I wish she could be there that day. But fiance and I have planned it out so that on our way from the church to the reception, we'll stop by my aunt's house to see her. She will get to see us in our wedding attire, and our photographer agreed to go with us and get a photograph. And that's enough. That's more than enough.

Above all else, though, I want her to be at peace. It's hard when you're faced with a situation like this, to remove yourself from the emotions and think about the other person. She doesn't remember much now (she had such a sharp mind before), you can't say much without worrying her (she was always a worrier), and she repeats herself a lot (always the same stories when we visit). She's more and more short of breath and sleeps longer and longer. I try to see her as much as possible, but it's hard to see this woman who was so strong, so powerful, so caring and loving, just sitting in a chair...a ghost of her former self. Visiting the body of her but not the mind. I told my mom that when the time comes, it will be so heartbreaking, but it won't be a shock because I already lost the grandma that was my world because of the stroke took her away.

I love her with all my heart. I'm so glad that I've gotten to have her for 22 years so far. That's a lot more than a lot of other kids can say. I have so many amazing and beautiful memories of her. I will never forget all the talks I'd have for her, knowing I could run to her when there was nowhere else to go. How, even after I became an adult, I couldn't wait to spend the night at her house. She even forced me to stay with her after I got my wisdom teeth removed at 18 so she could take care of me.

She is the greatest woman - as is my mother - and someone I will continually strive to be like for the rest of my life. I'm thankful she's given me things of hers that I can keep close to me after she's no longer here. The most treasured: a music box that plays the song "Unchained Melody." It's hard for me to hear that song anymore without crying, but I know it's "our song" and that it's a sign of her when I hear it. And I love seeing sitting on my table every day, with her handwritten note on the bottom that says, "I love you - Grandma Bowling."


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