She's been gone longer than I knew her in this world, but her impact on my life is still as strong as ever. I've been thinking about her a lot, as I do in the month of April leading up to the commemoration of her passing.
The theme was Ghost.
My grandmother died on 21 April 1986.
I had been living and working in southern California at the time, a long way from home. When she went into the hospital for the last time, I took a long weekend and drove up to see her. It was difficult for me. I wanted to come home.
She told me to hang in and do my best. And she told me that if it was what I really wanted to do with my life, then everything would work itself out. Of course it wasn't what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a Marine. But that wasn't going to happen no matter how much I wanted it.
I felt selfish for bringing my own problems like that. But she told me she was at peace and there was nothing she would rather do in her final days than help her grandson figure things out.
Gram was always such a presence in my life. The story goes that just after I was born, they couldn't get me to make much noise. I didn't cry or fuss much...just a few random grunts. And one little fist kept escaping from the swaddle package. No matter how many times they wrapped me up tight, that little fist kept working its way free. And my eyes were open and wandering from sound to sound.
They tell me that when Gram came into the room and spoke, my head snapped to her and my eyes fixed on her. These are the words my mom has always said Gram spoke to me.
"Well hello there. I'm Grammy and of course you must be Travis."
And that was when I started to make a lot of noise. If Gram left the room, they say I "looked" for her and fussed until she came back. I had a bond with her. She was one of the three women who raised me...along with my mom and my sister. They made me who I am.
Now this is a story about ghosts, and I promise I'm getting there.
I knew the moment Gram left. I knew she went peacefully after such a long and draining battle with emphysema. I called my supervisor and quit my job. I knew I was on the wrong path and I knew I needed to go home. I wouldn't be able to get through my grief without my mom and my sister.
And even going home, I struggled for a long time as I tried to get used to the idea that I couldn't get in my truck and drive 90 miles to see Gram anymore.
One night about six months after she died, it got to be too much. I got in my truck and drove to her. She's in Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno CA.
I'm not a religious man and I don't accept the concept of any god or supreme being. I wasn't raised with any kind of belief or study in that kind of thing. I am spiritual in my own way and it doesn't have anything to do with any ideas about religion or heaven or angels.
I believe we all come from a well of energy, and when we die our energy returns to that well. I believe that we are all connected to the energy in the well.
I'm not looking for a debate or discussion. I simply state the way I think so you have a context for what I experienced.
It was after midnight when I pulled to a stop on El Camino Real. Golden Gate National Cemetery is huge. But I knew where she was...almost as though I was being guided to the spot.
I got out of the truck and walked to the fence. I was looking down the row of headstones, and her place was about 75 yards from where I stood. She's buried there with my baby Uncle Joey who was stillborn in 1954.
It was oddly peaceful to be standing there. A lot of stuff was working itself out in my mind. I could feel her with me. And so I asked out loud, is it ok with you now? Is it better? Are you at peace now?
When I was little, Gram used to play a game with us. Every time she entered a room, she'd flick the light switch off and on three times. So just as I finished asking my questions, the lamp post over my shoulder flicked on and off three times.
And I knew she was ok. She was better. She was at peace. And I could be too.
When I got back in the truck, I felt light. For the first time since she died, my thoughts were clear and I wasn't sad. There was an overwhelming presence in the cab with me, but it wasn't oppressive at all. It was warm.
As I drove away from the cemetery, the presence coalesced and Gram was there in the passenger seat. I felt her there, and I saw her there. I told her I loved her. She rode with me for awhile. We had our real final talk about where my life was headed, until she started to fade as we approached the San Mateo Bridge.
Her ghost faded away, but her presence remained. She has been in my heart every day since then.
I've seen her ghost return twice since that night. She was there when my sister got married, and she was there on the day my niece was born.
I swear I heard her say, "Well hello there. I'm Grammy and of course you must be (my niece's name)".