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