Late last August, I got a panicked call from my mom. "Holly, babe, Grandma’s not doing well. I’m driving down tomorrow. How soon can you come?"
My dad’s high-school buddy picked me up at the Kansas City airport. As we headed up to the family ranch, I braced myself. I'd studied death and bereavement in college, so I knew a great deal about the whole process. But I realized that watching my 92-year-old grandmother Dorothy Ellis go through it would be the hardest thing I’d faced yet.
When I walked into her room, she looked like she wanted to leap out of bed and scoop me up like she did when I was little. Instead, I spent the next five days sitting by her side, saying the Hail Mary and singing "Silent Night" with her while she drifted in and out of consciousness.
I was ripped apart inside when I had to return to New York, but she gave me a look that told me it was okay. I was sure I’d be back soon for her funeral.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I got another call from Mom a week later.
Mom: "Grandma’s flying in a powered parachute tomorrow!"
I Googled it. It looked like a cross between a lawn mower and Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang.
Me: "Are you nuts? You can’t let Grandma go up in that thing! Put her on the phone."
Gram: "Hi, Sweetie."
Me: "Gram, you can’t be serious about riding in this flying death-trap."
Gram: "Well, at my age, I figure I’m going to go one way or another!"
You can’t argue with that.
And fly she did along the horizon. She looked as though she'd had the time of her life when she landed.
My uncle caught it all on camera, and I edited the footage. We chose the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz. When you have a grandmother named Dorothy from Kansas, well, what other song is there?
There were times I got overwhelmed editing the video, but watching the way she claps like a 6-year-old on Christmas morning in it, I knew I owed it to her to share that amazing memory.
She seemed to have a resurgence of appetite and vitality after the flight, so we hoped we might have one more Thanksgiving with her. But when I spoke with her on Halloween, I had a feeling it might be the last time. It was.
Holly & her grandmother
She was the Grande Dame of our family, and we all feel a void without her. But I’m touched by the way strangers are embracing this story and sharing memories of their own loved ones.
And you know what? Gram would have been tickled to pieces by all the attention, too.
Do you have any memorable stories about your grandparents to tell?