My Grandmother and I Share a Chronic Illness, and Her Example of Strength, Grace, and Love Has Gotten Me Through My Darkest Days

Photo: Courtesy of Nitika Chopra; Graphic: W+G Creative
Who has inspired you? Challenged you? Shaped you? In honor of Women's History Month, we're recognizing the women who made us who we are today. To all who came before, the mothers, grandmothers, mentors, teachers, and trailblazers... thank you. We kick things off with a letter from chronic illness advocate and Chronicon founder Nitika Chopra to her grandmother.

Dear Nanima,

I remember when you got sick like it was yesterday. I was only 8 years old and it was years before I would get my own autoimmune disease diagnosis. You have always been such a bright and beautiful light in my life and to see all that you had to go through with your health, for the last 32 years, has shaped me deeply as a human being.

The moments that I will cherish most with you, for as long as I live, are the countless times you have looked me in the eyes and held my hand and told me how proud you are of me. Not because of any external accomplishments or because I have achieved something that society deems credible, but because of the way I have navigated living with two debilitating chronic illnesses since the age of 10.

And I am so deeply proud that you are my Nanima. I’ve witnessed the full force of your strength many times—when you were put on ventilators, underwent multiple surgeries, and ultimately had a tracheotomy, which changed your life forever—and your example has allowed me to access my own strength while navigating my health. But when I think of you, I rarely think of the pain that you have been through. Instead, I’m flooded with visions of your bright smile, your child-like laugh and sweetness, the way you love telling stories, and how incredible you are. I will always aspire to be as graceful, wise, and generous as you.

You have always been there: on the days when I felt like I couldn’t fight with my body anymore, when I thought that God forgot about me, and when my heart was broken from relationships that didn’t seem to fit in my life anymore. You understand my struggle even without me telling you about it because it’s a struggle that we have shared throughout so much of our lives. It’s not something that we would ever wish to have in common, but I am glad that you have been a part of my health journey and that I have been able to move through the ups and downs in my life with so much more ease because I saw how you have done that for years.

I know that by the time you were my age, you had already had three children and been married for over 20 years. The love that you and Nanaji have shared over the years has also shaped what I believe love truly is. In your relationship, I see that love is loyalty, love is having grace for the other person, love is being strong when the person you love feels weak, love is being honest even when it’s not easy, and love is uplifting when it’s with the right person. I have seen all of those qualities and so much more throughout my life when it comes to how you and Nanaji love each other and I am grateful to have been a witness to your love for so long.

For the rest of my life, I will always know that I have become the woman I am in large part because I got to have you as my grandmother. I see so much of you in my mom, too, and I love seeing your qualities reflected in her spirit. When I think of the women in my life who have had the greatest impact on me, I immediately think of you. Being a guiding light, showing me what grace looks like, and moving me closer to my truth just by being yourself. Those are the gifts that you have given me and they will always be with me. I love you, Nani.


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