My grandmother died last night, and I am 4000km away. I woke up this morning (after a very poor and fitful sleep) and researched if there was any possible way for me to return to the funeral – but last minute travel is unreasonably expensive, and would cost nearly four times what we have paid in the past, the few times we could afford even that. The truth is, I should have gone back last fall as I had planned; or I should have made plans to fly back last winter when I heard how poorly she was doing; or, as I have thought so many times for so many years, I should never have moved away – then I would have had almost sixteen more years with her.
But life doesn’t get lived backwards. All I know is that she is gone now, and I lost my chance, sitting here pretty much on the other side of the world. And though I am far enough away that I can at moments deny the truth of this, it still hurts. It hurts a lot. I miss my grandma. I have missed my grandma for years, and now no amount of money, time, or desire, will bring us together again.
My grandparents were the joy of my childhood – visits, and camping trips, and family gatherings. They were my strength, and I would have done anything for them (including suffer silently through years of abuse so that they wouldn’t feel bad over what their son was doing – and I did, though it would have hurt them to know it.)
Until my 12th birthday, they lived close to us. Then my grandfather retired, and they spent half of the year in Florida. I cried when they left. I cried every time they left. But for the next three years (we bought their house on ¾ of an acre from them) they lived the other half of the year in a trailer on our driveway.
My first stop on coming home from school each day during those years was to visit my grandparents, and I spent weekends visiting them, too. There were very few moments in my life when I was as happy as during those days, despite what I was experiencing outside of their visits.
And then, when my son was born, I spent the first week of his life living with them. I don’t think I ever told them just how much I appreciated their help, their support, their love and acceptance of us. I guess I always just thought they knew, and speaking was never a strong skill of mine – though I did write them letters often.
They were married for 50 years, before my grandfather passed away – and there was never, not once, any doubt of their love for each other. He has been gone for 18 years now…
But then I moved away, and I have only been able to get back for visits four times in the past sixteen years – for a week when my brother was married, for a couple of days for my father’s funeral (which my church paid to get me to), for just under three months with my kids in 2008 (just before they were moved), and then for 3 weeks in 2014 for my mom’s 60th birthday.
I knew those last two times, that I might never see her again – but there was always hope… until even that was taken away. I said, “good-bye” during that last visit with pain and longing in my heart, and a strong wish that I didn’t have to leave – but I did.
In tears I left, and in tears I got on the plane (such heavy tears, that the airline decided I might be a risk, and had me go through a scan to ensure I wasn’t a danger.) And though I left, again fully intending to return soon (it always seems easiest when I have just made the trip, but then life gets in the way,) that was the last time I saw her.
My counselor tells me that having that as my last memory of her might help in time, as I never saw her when she was really sick – but at the same time, it feels wrong, somehow, to miss the funeral… to miss any of it, but really, there is no choice.