June 29th, 1999. Shoreline Amphitheater. Lawn seats at the Jewel show.
A few hours earlier I got a phone call at work. My grandmother had died. It was not too surprising. She was only in her eighties but wasn’t in the best of health. Alcohol had its ugly hand on her for a long time. Quite frankly I’m glad she went peacefully and not in such a way where she hurt anyone else.
Don’t get me wrong, she was a good woman. I loved her! I remember the last time I saw her. She had just moved from her town house into an assisted living community. I was helping move the very last of her belongings. We packed the hatchback of my ’86 Firebird and we left her home for the last time.
Her new place was nice. It was more of old age community than an assisted living community. But those that moved there rarely moved out. So eventually we knew it would be an assisted living community and most likely where she would take her final breaths.
After everything was out of the car and into her room we took a walk around her new surroundings. She was always very outgoing, always making friends. She would go to Club Med a few times a year when she was younger. Once she gave some advice to my mother, “Never turn down a chance to go on vacation.” My mom and I both live by this mantra.
We met some of her new friends and finally it was time for me to say goodbye. I was planning for a trip just a few days later. A friend of mine had agreed to go on a road trip from Pennsylvania to Santa Cruz in that ’86 Firebird.
Our route wasn’t exactly efficient. PA, OH, IN, IL, WI, MN, SD, WY, MT, ID, WA, OR and finally CA. Sweet California. I arrived there on 5/31/99. The day after my 21st birthday. Driving South on the legendary RT 101. The Pacific Coast Highway. It took forever but I was hoping it would never end.
I would spend the next two and a half months working as a bellman at a resort just south of Santa Cruz. Working with kids and checking people in by day and building fires on the beach by night. It was a dream.
Then one day I got that phone call. We had no cell phones back then. So my Dad called the number to the resort. I called him back from a payphone and he filled me in. She died peacefully, in her sleep during an afternoon nap. Apparently it was a very hot day and she had been sitting outside. Her body must not have been able to handle the heat. It was just a little over a month since the last time I saw her.
I couldn’t fly back, I had no money to do that. Certainly couldn’t drive home in time to make the funeral. So we decided it was best to just stay there. So instead of going to my Grandmother’s funeral I went to a Jewel concert. Alone. Not that going to a show alone was an issue. I enjoyed being alone. Maybe it’s the Gemini in me but I never really feel totally alone. I always have myself and my thoughts.
The most amazing thing about this situation with my grandmother is that we never really said goodbye. We hugged and she wished me a good and safe trip. But, for me, it was more of a “see you in a few months” goodbye then a “thank you for everything” goodbye. I have always felt that this meant that we had unfinished business. That, somehow someway, our paths would cross again.
This was 15 years ago. I haven’t seen any silhouettes of her in the night or had any dreams with her as the focus.
The idea of those we love looking down on us seems unrealistic to me. We’ll never know what really happens after we pass. Are souls floating around us like Casper the Ghost? Is there some big sunny party going on above us? Or are we really all just dust in the wind?
What I can say for sure though is that I treat each and every elderly woman with care, curiosity and kindness. I don’t think there is any better way to honor someone than to show interest and love towards the people that remind you most of that person.
With every interaction I can finally say to my grandmother, “thank you for everything.”
Thank you for everything.