What more appropriate place to hear news of my Grandmother’s death than at the airport. She, the world traveler. She, who skipped across six continents over her beautiful and expansive lifetime, who didn’t stop boarding planes and chasing adventures until well past ninety.
I sit here looking through the glass at the glinting, shiny nose of a plane which could have (or another like it) ferried her spirit to the Pyramids of Egypt, the cathedrals of Europe, or to the warmth of the Tahitian sun. I think now that that is where she is headed. Heaven via a layover in Bora Bora, if in fact the two places are not one and the same. It will be many years before I can answer that.
The retrospective races through my mind in a flash flood of images. The velvet dresses, “Made with Love by Grandma” inscribed on the tags, my sister and I proudly twirling like princesses in the yard under the summer shade of the dogwood tree. The hikes through the woods behind our house in Connecticut and then the art lessons- paints and brushes laid out as we tried to paint what we had just beheld. The glimmering lake, the lush thick foliage, the trees. A lily pad. The stroke of her brush made nature more magnificent, while mine resembled more a paint-by-number Monet. While viewing my
tree or vase or mountain from across the room, the colors seemed to blend in harmony-but up close it was a crazy mess. I didn’t care. Neither did she.
There are so many- the treasures she would bring back for us which were more than jewelry or hope chests or clothing from afar. The treasures were the stories: of being hoisted up onto a camel by an enterprising Egyptian, or of the smell of the spices in China, or the hilarity of a bumbling tangle of logistics in South America. Grandma and her dearest and most frequent traveling companion, Virginia. But the most precious of all treasures were the paintings. I, who have never been off the continent of North America, believe that I have indeed been, because of the gift of her talent. I have seen the Taj Mahal, St. Peter’s Cathedral, and the vineyards of Tuscany. I have been breathless at the sight of full sails in the South Pacific and visited dramatic seaside Mediterranean port cities, brightly colored buildings and homes precariously clinging to the rock that holds them stable.
She was a rock. Holding her boys, Bill, Charlie and Richard, and raising them with discipline and purpose after the untimely death of her husband. I imagine that she wasn’t always the most pliable, but I am sure that she was always loving and wise and fair because that is how they all are, in the indisputable contrasting variety of their beings.
I am now flying above the Rocky Mountains, my plane dancing in and out of the clouds, the snow-capped peaks crowning the magnificence of the landscape. I wonder if she is also. So many places to dally, so much beauty for us to rest our eyes on. It calls to merge with our souls. I see a form, a stratus cloud floating below the cottony cumulonimbus. It seems a form, head cast downward, arms outstretched. I wonder.
She the farm girl, growing up in the 1920’s, riding horses and carts- Henry Ford’s Model A a technological marvel. What must she have thought, beholding what I see out my window for the first time? The ethereal mountains of clouds obscuring the views of twelve thousand foot earthly peaks, and them all dwarfed by the perspective of height and illuminated by the rays of the sun, with nothing to cast a shadow but the clouds on each other and our minds own introspections.
Was she afraid? Was she breathless? Did she have a window seat with her face pressed to the glass, unable to look away? Or was she in the aisle, listening to every subtle shift of the engine and mechanics, feeling every bump and tilt of the bird it in her stomach, counting the minutes until her feet were safely on the ground? No way. Even as I ask the question I know the answer to that part of it. I wish now that I had that story, or even the chance to ask her about it. Her first flight. Her first airborne adventure. Today, her last on this earth. But not her last.
The jar cracked for her today. The jar containing the seawater of her life, buoyant on the
waves of the ocean of Existence, God and Time. No more obstacles, no more barriers. Today she is free to dance on the shorelines, dive to the wondrous depths, and to reflect the sun eternally. There is only harmony now.
I am in the security line at the airport when my sister calls me, trying to get to see her before she departed this Earth. I didn’t make it.
In Terminal A, I order a chai latte and a blueberry muffin at the DazBog Coffee counter, hand the girl six dollars and a nickel, and turn around and leave without either one. Moving forward on the moving walkway, I let out an expletive Jesus probably wouldn’t approve of (or maybe he would think it was a prayer?) and turn around. I walk in double time against the treadmill, against my fellow passengers, who were no doubt wondering what is wrong with the crazy lady, mascara running like wet graffitti down her face and the violin on her back swatting at them like a pugel stick. I walked backward, on that conveyor belt, backward against my grief.
I was going to play for her. I didn’t make it.
I get back to the coffee counter, and there is a cup by the register. I ask a woman if it is hers, and she laughs and says good-naturedly “Yes! I need that! I would fight you for it.” I smile at her and say “Today, I might let you win.” But I know that it’s not true. The cute girl remembers me (how could she
not? I was simultaneously laughing and sobbing in her line ten minutes ago, triggered by the phrase ringing in my head “death is an incontrovertible fact” and the divine comedy of it all. She hands me my breakfast and smiles at me. I smile back.
I didn’t make it. But if I had, perhaps this flight would have been wasted on a spreadsheet or the novel of the moment, or maybe on a nap. Instead, I notice that the cumulonimbus have turned to cirrus, and a vast desert of soft white stretches to the horizon. I briefly wonder what side she is on, and then I realize that she is on all sides, beginning another grand adventure, trapped by no hospital bed, force of gravity, or even dimension. Never again trapped, bound or restrained. Except briefly, eternally, in the arms of God. And ever present in our hearts.
I descend into her land. The land that has always been hers. Northern California, its mountains more hills, its farmlands and orchards abundantly fruitful and nourishing. Lakes appear before me as we descend the clouds, their dark liquid fingers spreading out like cracks in the surface of the earth’s old, weathered skin. I know I will not find her here as I have ever known her before, in visits for introductions and weddings and Christmases and in the festivities of family gatherings.
But I will still find her in my family, and we will be united in our grief and our love and in the celebration of her. And maybe I will learn a secret or two, or something about myself, seeking refuge and enlightenment in her loft studio, where her brushes will still be laid out- the medium ready, waiting for an inspired hand. Maybe it will be mine.
I will Adventure on. I will take the spirit and joy that is her deepest essence and legacy and I will spend my life as she spent hers, in awe and wonder at the incredible journey that is our lives. Difficult, tragic at times, achingly agonizing when we lose those to whom we owe our very roots and the reach of our branches. And, at the same time, kaleidoscopic in wonder, symphonic in possibility, and transcendent in love.
I wonder where this shiny bird will take me next. I don’t know this. But two things I do
know. I will Fly. And She will be my guide.
I love you Grandma.