Not all of the travels of this yogi are filled with sun, sand and good times. Recently, I took a trip that was quite the opposite. At a young age, I lost both of my grandfathers. I lost my paternal grandmother when I was 16 and my father at 18. I’m almost 41 now and have been fortunate to have had my maternal grandmother in my life to celebrate milestones and life events. Not many people can say that. In fact, she was a great-great grandmother to my granddaughter. We had 5 generations in our family!
Three days ago, I received a message from my mother that my 97 year old grandmother (who was under Hospice care), was not expected to be with us much longer. I immediately booked a flight to Pittsburgh, which was the closest airport to her. I had plans to leave for a yoga retreat that Friday and was worried that she would pass while I was away. I rearranged my flights, packed my bag (to be honest, I’m still not sure exactly what is in it as it is sitting next to me right now!) and headed to the Greenville airport to board my flight to be with my family. As I arrived at the airport, I had thought I had my boarding pass downloaded to my phone; however, once I found myself in the security check-in line, I realized that it was not my boarding pass, despite the fact that it said e-ticket on it. My heart immediately sank. I quickly ducked out of the line and ran as fast as I could downstairs to the ticket counter. The gate agent confirmed that indeed, it was not my ticket. I had packed a small bag (for both Pittsburgh and Thailand) so that I could just carry on my luggage and not worry about checking a bag. I begged her to just give me the boarding pass and pleaded that I could make it through security in time. Tears rolled down my face as she informed me that FAA regulations would not allow her to issue my boarding pass due to time constraints. I had tried to keep it together, but at this point I began to “ugly cry” right there…at the ticket counter…in the middle of the airport. The attendant gave me the phone number for American Airlines reservations and told me to call them to see what they could do about getting my on another flight. Once I got an agent on the phone and began to explain what had happened, again, I lost it. No longer could I hold on to the tears that I had been fighting back in an effort to be strong for my family who was already there by my grandmother’s side. The fear that I wouldn’t make it in time had taken over and panic had set in. As the agent on the other end begged me to be calm, she assured me that she would get me to Pittsburgh, and she did. I boarded the next flight without incident. Arrived in Pittsburgh, got my rental car and headed to my Gram’s side.
When I arrived at the nursing home, it was after 11pm, but my mother was there waiting for me. To see my grandmother, laying in her bed, tiny and frail from the wretched effects of the dementia that signaled her body not to eat. The horrific scene that my mother had described for me the day before and earlier that morning was one of agony and pain. A vision that I would not wish on anyone, especially my beloved grandmother. To help relieve the pain and suffering, morphine was administered and she lay unresponsive. She looked peaceful and calm when I arrived. As if she were simply asleep. She appeared to be pain free, as we all had prayed for. We stayed with her a few more hours before heading to a hotel for the evening.
The next morning, we met my aunt and uncle at the nursing home. We shared stories of Gram and spoke of fond memories as we sifted through photos from the past. She was a mainstay of our family. I grew up looking forward to holidays at her home. I remember singing “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go…” each Christmas. Countless Christmas cookies that we just couldn’t get enough of! I even recall my oldest daughter sneaking into one of the boxes of cookies made with Hershey’s kisses and we found her sitting on top of the kitchen table pulling all of the kisses out and eating them. (I knew she was too quiet!).
Holiday traditions like the customary Christmas shot of whisky, the holiday wafer from Poland and the ham and kielbasa after midnight were things that I longed for each Christmas along with the routine trip to Kraynak’s Christmasland the day after Thanksgiving. Daffin’s chocolate eggs in our basket each Easter.
Eating food picked right from her garden. Sitting on the back porch in her rocking chair and watching the hummingbirds as they fed at the feeder that she religiously kept filled for them. Going school shopping at Hills and getting the red cherry Icee and popcorn followed by a trip to Reyers…The World’s Largest Shoe Store! Trips to our family camp that her husband and family had built by hand. (It wasn’t fancy…it even had an outhouse!) Cookouts, s’mores and walks across the street to Bob’s Trading Post for ice cream are some of my fondest memories.
We continued sharing memories as my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter arrived from Missouri. They had driven all night to be there. Despite fatigue and a flat tire, they had made it. Thankfully, they were able to see her one last time. I truly feel as though she was holding on until they got there. Eventhough she was unresponsive, I feel that she knew we all were there. A few hours later, she was gone. It was inevitable and we knew it was coming, yet it seemed surreal. All of those memories we had shared earlier that day had flashed before my eyes. Thoughts of my own children and the rest of my family that was surrounding me rushed into my mind.
While each of our birthdays was celebrated with a Tootsie Roll full of change (and sometimes bills!), my Gram celebrated her 97th birthday this past January. She was never one to make much of a fuss about herself, but she was definitely celebrated. She was welcoming to anyone and everyone. If you were a guest in her home, you can be sure that she would put out a spread for you. Her kindness and generosity were immeasurable and she will long be remembered for the presence she had in my life and those around her. As I hold on tightly to those memories and the legacy that she left, I honor her strength and tenacity that she had until it was time to let go. Holding on when it’s time to let go is painful. It hurts like no other pain. Yet as I write this, ugly crying again, I feel lightness for her. I feel calm knowing she is no longer in pain. I feel peace knowing that she is at peace. And this letting go has left me holding on to one thing…love. The love that was felt and the love that was shared. The love that will be celebrated during her service. The love that will never be forgotten. That is what I will hold on to and never let go of.
“Lokah somastah sukhino bhavantu” ~May all souls be happy. May all souls be at peace. May all souls be free of suffering.