Sunday, October 19, 2014

For Gran

Two years ago, on this day, my Grandmother, my Gran, Lorraine Marion Conyack Harle Yahn, left her tired, hurting body behind, released her physical tether to this world, and set off on the ultimate journey to the great beyond.

My earliest memory of my grandma is her driving me and my friend David to school. David lived across the street and he and I went to a Montessori kindergarten across town. David lived with his grandmother, he saw her every day, but this was the only time my grandma had ever taken me to school. She lived on the other side of the country, so this was an occasion, it was special. It was Christmastime and my parents were out of town. This would be the only time in my life I remember seeing my grandma during the holidays and the only time she was the sole caregiver for my sister and myself. Our relatives lived too far and flights were too expensive. Summers were for visiting. Holidays were for staying home. She would later tell me that her boss didn't want to give her the time off to come, but she came anyway, and was fired. She said she never regretted it, because she knew that it was important for her to make that trip and stay with us. It was just as special for her as it was for me.

I probably only saw her a handful of times over the next ten years, but she always called and sent cards on holidays and special occasions. Then when I was fifteen I went to the East Coast over the summer and stayed with various relatives for a few days at a time. It was the summer after my grandpa died and my aunts were still going through the house trying to clear it out, my grandma fighting them every step of the way. I was to stay with her a week and distract her while they threw out truckloads of old magazines, empty mayonnaise jars, my grandpa's lifetime supply of vitamins, and donated their own childhood toys and clothes and unopened items from The Home Shopping Network. One of the things we did was go see a movie, which neither of us had researched well, called Scary Movie. If I had to make a list of movies to never see with your grandmother, that would be one. Neither of us laughed, neither of us looked the other in the eye, neither of us ever spoke of the movie ever again.

I saw her more frequently after that, being older and having the means to travel to the East Coast to see her. Later in my twenties, I started calling my sister, my parents, and her, every Sunday. If I didn't call, when I awoke Monday morning there would be a voicemail from her berating me for not calling her. I hardly ever missed a call, but I still have a few of those messages saved on my phone. We talked about everything and nothing. I told her the zany things I was doing and the places I was visiting and she told me the things she or my mom, or aunts, had done when they were young. We laughed and laughed.

For her 80th birthday, a bunch of my family gathered in her town to throw a birthday party for her. She told me it was the best day of her life. On that day, we asked her questions about her life and sat around soaking in her answers. We knew they were important questions to ask and somehow we knew it was the last chance we'd have to ask them. We asked about her childhood, her loves, the places she'd visit if she had the chance.

"The rocky coast of Maine," she said.

That was the last time I ever saw her. But I had made her a promise.

"I'll take you there, someday," I told her. And so, I did.

That was two years ago, but this is the first time I've looked at the photos and videos. I wasn't ready until now. But today I'm also five years clean and sober, and I'm working on letting go of painful things I'm carrying around, or things I've put off because they'll bring about strong emotions. Today, something inside told me it was time to to visit the emotions around her death and let them go. So I'm doing just that.

I had two great friends with me on the trip, and the three of us and Gran had a blast. I could hear her laughter in the waves.

We took her to some local eateries for old fashioned ice cream and donuts.


 We took her to beaches, lighthouses, and islands.

And then on the last day, I left some of her there, and some of myself, too, and brought part of Maine back with me.

I just watched the video of that moment, and it was simple and poignant, and the perfect send off to someone who will always be with me, no matter where I go.

Just like the trip Gran knew she needed to make to see me when I was young, this was a trip I needed to take with her, and it was the best promise I've ever kept.

“I wish you could have been there for the sun and the rain and the long, hard hills. For the sound of a thousand conversations scattered along the road. For the people laughing and crying and remembering at the end. But, mainly, I wish you could have been there.”  -Brian Andreas, Story People

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


I was talking to a new friend last week about fear, having just watched Divergent with my roommate and being in the midst of another year of Delusion. If you are unfamiliar, in Divergent, people are placed into a video game-esque simulated situation within their own mind, where they must confront and conquer all their greatest fears, and Delusion is interactive horror theater where the audience must participate in order to advance the story. My friend mentioned the usual situations, like being trapped inside a car that is sinking in a lake, and then turned the conversation on me. The only thing that came to mind was getting sick again.

Most people fear outlandish or extraordinary circumstances that are highly unlikely and that they will probably never actually experience. My fear is something I've lived through. Something I'm familiar with. Something I'd be horrified to live through again.

And it has been on my mind, because my stomach felt ucky for over a week, which always kicks me into survival mode. I got it checked out, and, surprise, it's because I'm not eating the things I should be eating. I've gotten a little lax in my diet, and that's just inviting this junk to come back, so I'm cutting back again. Way to go, Genius.

That being said, I'm now realizing that what I told her wasn't the whole story. Yes, I'm afraid of having to tailor my life around this illness my whole life and I'm afraid of it always being in the back of my mind. But, I'm more afraid that I'm becoming bitter and resentful about it, and I'm afraid that I was actually a better person when I was sick. It's amazing how thinking you're dying changes your perspective.

Some of my closest friends have taken to jokingly point out when I say I don't like something, and it's upsetting to think that I've become one of those negative people. I've always been honest with my feelings, but I was never this vocal or curt in my life, even when I was in immense emotional or physical pain, and this is not who I want to be. I think I got to the point where I had nothing left to lose, and was so embittered about people not saying the things that needed saying when they had the chance, that I let my tact and grace filter out with the toxins in my blood, and now I'm left with a toxic viewpoint.

I thought I processed everything that's happened, but it's becoming apparent that I didn't and that is also scary. (I know it will take time and I'm working on it.)

I guess what I'm trying to say is that my fear is that I'm not allowing myself to be a better person after having lived through all this and if that's the case, then what was the fucking point? And even scarier, I know that there probably wasn't a point, because shit just happens, and I'm supposed to create a point, but I'm still so upset that it happened in the first place that I'd rather project that anger onto everything else in my life and poison the atmosphere around me than to fashion the point. And that is the scariest thing I can imagine.

I was given a second lease on life, and I'm happier than I've ever been in my life, so how dare I put out any negative energy! From now on, I'm going to stop saying I don't like things unless specifically asked and I'm going to start putting forth as much positive energy as I can muster. After all, you get what you give, right? I owe it to myself and to everyone around me. If I'm going to be a total asshole, then I may as well have just died. And that's probably the scariest thing I've ever written throughout this whole blog.

"Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones." -Thich Nhat Hanh