I wrote this 11 days ago after receiving an email from my Dad that my Grandmother aka Grammy’s body was finally failing her and she probably didn’t have much longer to live- most likely not even through the weekend. As usual, she fought til the end and hung on for 10 more days.
The past 5 days I was tramping across the Milford Track and had zero access to cell service/data, but when I finally got back to Queenstown today I got the note from Dad that Grammy had peacefully left us on Saturday, joining my Grandfather, ‘Pop’, up in Heaven.
I was having a very hard time with this initially for a variety of reasons, but after speaking with my Dad and Stepmom (Cherie) have felt much better since. This post is what I wrote at that moment, feeling the emotions I was, so wanted to post it unedited- even though I’m a bit more at peace now than I was at that time.
Though I’m still very sad that she is gone- especially for my Dad who has just lost his mother- in a way I’m finding it’s bringing he and I closer together. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever admitted sadness to him before or truly shared emotions (even though via text/email) with him before in my life. He responded with the words I needed to hear at the time I needed to hear them most. On top of that, Cherie wrote me one of the most amazing emails I’ve ever received also offering love, clarity, and guidance. I’ve learned a lot about both of them through this process and know that I will have even stronger relationships/love for them moving forward- something I think Grammy would be very happy about, even as she leaves us here in the physical world…
As I spoke with my Dad before I went into the woods, he told me he had just been with her and had read this note to her again. Though she was resting quite peacefully, he said it did inspire a squeeze of his hand- which makes me happy. I felt like I was there with him in spirit enjoying those final moments with her.
Leaving you with this- don’t wait to make a phone call, tell the people you love that you love them often, there’s never a better time than now as the time you’re waiting for may not be there when you’re ready, put family first… and if you’re lucky enough to still have Grandparents in your life, I know for a fact they’d love to hear from you- those are the moments they treasure.
Today I got some news that although in the back of my mind I’d been expecting, it was still terrible to receive. My Grandmother Frances Wallace’s body is being called back to the earth and her soul is soon to be up with the stars.
Not sure where to begin so just gonna start writing. I was in Phoenix just a few weeks ago. I had wanted to see her while I was back in the states, fearful that something like this would happen while I was out in the world. I had called to let her know I’d be in town and thought we’d have lunch and spend the afternoon together- she was very much looking forward to my visit, making sure to tell me NO cheese on the garden salad she’d asked me to pick up, and if I could keep the dressing on the side she’d appreciate it. I thought it was so cute. I was looking forward to seeing her too. This was the year I was finally going to work on the relationships in my life that were most important (many of which are the most ignored)… How I’m going to do that when I’m on the other side of the world is something I’m still figuring out- but I’m also trying to sort out my relationship with myself first before I can make real progress anywhere else- that’s what I’m telling myself anyway. But when I showed up to her residence, food and flowers (she liked when I brought her flowers) in hand, I was told she’d been taken to the hospital that morning needing another blood transfusion and she’d hopefully be home later. As I was led into her room to drop off the flowers, I saw the wooden owl I had sent her next to her bed, it made me happy inside. Why I didn’t inquire as to which hospital and try to go see her there is a question I’ll never be able to make peace with. I waited around Phoenix to see if she’d been brought home. She wasn’t and I ended up hopping my flight that afternoon to head to California and Seattle before heading out of the country again. I selfishly hoped she’d hold on until I returned in the summer, she’d been fighting this for years now, of course she’d have a few more months in her… But it seems as that was my last chance to see her, to talk with her in person and I missed it. And here we are a little over a month later.
My first memories of my Grandmother are of an older lady who was always kinda telling me what to do (or what not to!). I think that’s unfortunately the curse of being a Grandmother. Having ‘been there done that’ for long enough to generally know what’s best for people. Though most, especially a young grandchild, don’t want to hear it. The Grandfather gets to sneak you candy and sneakily let you do ‘fun’ things, he’s granted the stage to tell amazing stories, and gets away with jokes that are probably inappropriate for young ears… but hey, he’s the Grandfather. That’s how I remember Grammy and Pop anyway. Pop always had a little mischief in his eye. He was a kind man who took me for rides on his tractor, and fed me hot dogs. Grammy made me eat my vegetables, wouldn’t let me stay up late, wouldn’t let me watch TV- instead giving me books to read, and against all my pleading NEVER let me swim in the deep end at the local pool (even though she had suited me up with these ridiculous Oreo arm floats that would never have let me drown… That was my Grammy. The Matriarch. She carried the burden of having to keep the ship righted, no matter how much grief she received from its passengers.
After my parents’ divorce, I lost touch with her for over 10 years. My freshman year of college (over 20 years ago now…) I got word from my Dad that Pop had passed away, leaving her as my last remaining Grandparent. Even then it would still be 6 or so more years before I’d see or speak to her again. For no real reason other than that’s unfortunately just the way life worked out. I didn’t realize how special these relationships were or how short time really was. One Easter (a couple years after my Dad and I had finally reconnected), she flew up to Salt Lake to join us. There she was, same old Grammy. Much like it was when I first saw my Dad again, time seemed to have stood still. Though her appearance had aged, she still had the same beautiful voice, the same wisdom in her eyes, and the same loving embrace that had held me when I was just a child. It was nice to be home.
Over the years I’d see her at my Dad’s house, generally around Easter time. It was always a special treat when she was there too. I didn’t visit her at her home in Phoenix until 2007/2008 or so. I happened to be in town and asked her if I could take her out to breakfast. She happily agreed and when I arrived to the little semi- assisted community (though she needed none, she’d tell you), she paraded me around the common area like a trophy, introducing me, ‘her Grandson Brian’, to any/everyone she could. I felt so special. I felt like she was proud of me and wanted to show me off to all her friends… maybe that’s just how it is when you’re older and someone comes to visit, it’s a treat you wish you had more of but were going to savor it every time it happened. When we got into her little apartment I was speechless. The whole place seemed to be a shrine to us Grandchildren. Yes, there were pictures of Pop, and Dad/Cherie, and my Uncle George- but the majority of them were of Rachael and Mackenzie (my two youngest sisters) and Shelby (my cousin) which made sense to me as they had all grown up together… but there was Meaghan too, and me! My high school graduation photo, my senior football picture, pictures of me when I was little… Although I was honored beyond words, a huge part of me felt like I didn’t deserve it. I felt as though I barely knew her at this point- outside of what my Dad had told me about her life. Unconditional love, even when it’s unclear if it’s being returned- the burden of being a Grandmother
Over the years I’d see her whenever I was in Phoenix. I’d pop into wherever she was living at the time and it was the same drill. Walk around for all to see, just to make sure they all knew she had a hot date that afternoon. 🙂 Though it wasn’t the most practical, I did love picking her up in a Silver Camaro one Sunday- and although it was a chore for her to get in and out of (plus packing her walker in the small trunk), I think she liked it too 🙂 Anyone who was roaming around out front saw her speed off in a silver blur, man if they could’ve seen her smile… Once I picked her up (in a more sensible Nissan this time) and we drove about 45 minutes to go have mimosas and brunch at Del Frisco (usually we went to her nearby Good Egg, but I couldn’t deal with their food and wanted to treat my Grammy to somewhere ‘fancy’). She remarked how she loved going for a ride, something she didn’t get to do that often. We talked and listened to music as we drove. When she said ‘Oh, this is such fun…’ I smiled, then looked down at the speedometer and realized I was going 100mph! Yikes, hadn’t even noticed. Assuming she hadn’t either or I’m sure I would’ve heard something about driving safe. When I looked over to make sure everything was cool I just saw her sitting there in the sun, looking out the window and smiling… again savoring this moment, for however long it lasted.
Another special memory was when she got to meet Emma the first time. Although me and my Dad had reconnected (along w my stepmom Cherie and my two youngest sisters Rachael and Mackenzie), it took a little longer for my sister- again, just the way life happened to work out. So when we all found ourselves in Salt Lake for my Dad’s 60th (an amazing ‘rolling surprise’ pulled off by Cherie), Grammy got to meet her Great-Granddaughter for the first time. My heart was full. We were all finally together.
That was almost 6 years ago.
And life continued to move on in much the same way. I wasn’t the best at keeping in touch. I’d always tell myself I should call her but then didn’t. Once again falling into the trap of ‘I’ll get to it soon’, ‘I have plenty of time…’. I’d still get my updates on her health from my Dad. She’d had a few scares, but always came out on top. I guess these maybe led to my false sense of security that she’d keep on winning and I’d always have the time to get around to finally making her more of a priority, simply just getting to know her. Give her some momentary joy to know that this guy who she tried very hard to steer down the right path when he was just a kid, still cared. Sure I’d still pop in for the occasional visit, but it was only when I was in town for something else, never simply making time specifically to go and see her. Until this last attempted visit… but I missed… and was left with an uneaten salad. The burden of being a Grandmother.
As I mentioned, she kept the owl I had sent her next to her bed (in her former place it was next to her couch). What she must have though when I called her shortly after my Peru trip to tell her about the psychedelic trip I had taken in the Amazon and how she appeared as an owl to help guide me through my moment of darkness. Especially then as I was very raw still, very fresh from the journey, I’m sure I sounded crazy! But there she was to tell me, ‘Oh, that’s nice’, ‘Sounds like an interesting trip’, haha… good ol’ Grammy. We chatted a bit that day, I caught her up on what I had done so far and what I was planning to do, where I was planning to go. Honestly, she was the first person I really talked to about my Ayahuasca experience. Before Mom, before Dad. Because when I was in that ceremony- the most terrifying, suffocating, paralyzing, overwhelming experience of my life- she was the one that emerged to help lead me out of the depths of my hell. She was the owl in the midnight forest to explain what had just happened, to tell me why, and to show me where to go. She was there to make it all better. She was wise. After all, she had ‘been there done that’, she was the Grandmother- always there to right the ship… if you were just open to listening. I sent her that owl as a token of my gratitude. To thank her for being there and making sure I was ok. Once again I thought this would be when I’d finally begin to call more, to check in more, to show her I cared more, but once again, life kept happening, and I always thought I’d have more time… The burden of being a Grandmother.
Which bring us to today’s note from my Dad. Grammy’s soul is nearing the end of its journey here on Earth. Her vessel will soon return to the ground from which it came, fertilizing the soil with all the love, wisdom, and energy she’s gathered over the years. Rather than flowers, I picture an Oak tree eventually growing from that spot. Something strong and sturdy, that even when unattended, will survive. Through storms, and earthquakes, floods, and even fires… it will stand. It will provide shade to the weary traveller who just sees it as a nice place to rest, it will provide oxygen to a world who tends to take fresh air for granted, it’ll provide food and shelter for many animals, who will simply enjoy for the time being until it’s time to move onto the next home. Except for that one beautiful, wise old owl… I know she’ll always be perched there. Seeing and dealing with all the challenging situations life can throw at you, knowing what’s right when nobody wants to hear it, eternally giving thanklessly, and having the strength to do all this often all by yourself… being able to deal with the burden of being a Grandmother, which I guess is also the Blessing of being a Grandmother
So Grammy, I just want you to know… I promise to always eat my vegetables, I promise to read more books, I promise to go to bed when I’m supposed to, and although you know I can’t promise to stay out of the deep end, I promise I’ll always be careful. And when I find myself lost in the forest, I’ll always know you’ll be there to help me find my way…
Sleep well, Grammy. I hope I earn the right to join you in the stars one day. I love you.
Just a guy on a hero's journey...