I Believe in Bananagrams

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“Take a letter. Okay, take another. Ha! Take a letter!” We all groan, looking at our Z’s ,K’s and Q’s seriously piling up. We exchange looks that say, “Now how is this fair?” My mom happily continues to slide around her letter tiles, building her ultimate crossword. When the tiles are all used up, my mom throws her hands in the air and yells “WOOO HOOOO!” This is one of the many times my mom has beaten our butts at Bananagrams, and the feeling of relief that the round of humiliation is over isn’t unfamiliar. But then, of course, someone says, “Who’s in for another round? How about this time you have to use one dirty word!” And there we are, once again, all in.

It’s just a silly word game, right? But I believe in Bananagrams. The game was my family’s lifeline in 2007 when my mom’s brother, my 46-year-old Uncle Ken, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Specifically, he was diagnosed with malignant glioma, the same cancer that Ted Kennedy battled. When Uncle Ken saw on the news that Ted had the same disease as him, he said, “That man’s a dead man.” He always had a unique view on his cancer and on the time he had to live. Some people couldn’t understand it. See, Uncle Ken had this motto, “It is what it is.” And because he lived by it, we did too. Especially in his final months. We had to.

Even though Uncle Ken lived one year longer than the doctors initially said he would, it eventually became clear he was approaching his time. He was very tired, and mostly our job as his family was just to hang around his house while he slept. In those too short moments when he was awake, we would stop whatever we were doing to be with him. And when he was sleeping, usually what we were doing was playing Bananagrams.

I think when people talk about battling cancer, those long hours of down time are forgotten. But that time is important. So while Uncle Ken rested, we chose playing Bananagrams together over watching movies or listening to iPods alone. And instead of crying together, we played a silly game where we could all smile and make happy memories. Don’t get me wrong, we cried and held each other plenty, but at the time, focusing on good things was more important. We followed Uncle Ken’s life motto and celebrated his life while it lasted. We were making the most out of what it was.

Bananagrams, filled with silly competition and snarky remarks, was our fuel. I think our ability to be the happiest darn family we could possibly be, while cancer was destroying a loved one, was the reason Uncle Ken lived as long as he did. We never let cancer get the best of our family, and we never let cancer get the best of Uncle Ken.
As silly as it sounds, our spirit as a family lies in those Bananagram tiles. I believe in Bananagrams.


Bonnie Kline Smeltzer
State College, PA
Sep 09, 2011

Thanks for sharing Emma!  It is a powerful statement about your family, your Uncle Ken, and what you believe!

Daril Miller
Pittsburgh, PA
Sep 10, 2011

This is beautiful, Emma.

jody Gular
Richmond, TX
Sep 10, 2011

This was well written and I really enjoyed your take on the situation. I am Barbara’s cousin and although I never had the pleasure of meeting Ken, my family was praying from far away for him often.

Kathy Pollard
State College PA
Sep 17, 2011

Thank you, dear Emma, for sharing you experience and family.  Lucky Uncle Ken, to have such a warm and loving, (and functional) family.  We all gained from your lovely thoughts.

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