This I Believe: I Believe In Bananagrams

Sep 8, 2011

Essayist Emma Gregory.

“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 with each other that say, “Now how is this fair?” while my mom happily continues to build her ultimate crossword. When the tiles are finally gone, my mom throws her hands in the air and yells “WOOO HOOOO!” That was one of the many times that my mom had beaten our butts at Bananagrams, and the feeling of relief that the round of humiliation was over wasn’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 life line 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 frankly, “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 he lived one year longer than the doctors initially said he would, it became clear that Uncle Ken was approaching his time. He became very tired. In those now seemingly too short moments when he was awake, my family and I 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 can be left out. But that time is important. When Uncle Ken needed to rest, we chose playing Bananagrams together over more solitary activities. We weren't distracting ourselves from the truth when we played. We were using the time that we could have been crying to play a silly game where we could all smile and make memories with each other. 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. 

We never let cancer get the best of our family's remarkable ability to persevere, and we never let cancer get the best of Uncle Ken.

Bananagrams, filled with silly competition and snarky remarks, was our fuel. I think our ability to be the happiest family we could possibly be, while cancer was destroying a loved one, was the reason that Uncle Ken lived as long as he did. As silly as it sounds, our spirit as a family lies in those Bananagram tiles. I believe in Bananagrams.