And There She Was

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I hadn’t planned to write anymore about my Gram on this site. But the line between personal and travel blog are often blurred here.

And besides, she just showed up. Inserted herself into a day planned only for exercise and frivolous fun after the long trip from Lake Atitlan to Semuc Champey.

She was just there.

A Simple Sign


Not as Grandma, or Grammy, but as Gram, just as we all called her.

I couldn’t not write about it, although wary of the fact that I do seem to write about death a lot, but goddess knows that was never my intention. Thoughts and words just ooze out of me on the subject, usually in staunch prevention of sleep. Up until six years ago, I never experienced any sort of deep traumatic loss, and now thoughts of it have a tendency to overtake me.

Such is our lot in life though. We must take in what is handed out, and do our best with it. Pete and I have dealt with our share of loss, but it did happily take our life in a pretty drastic direction, which we love.

My Gram began to appreciate that, even if she spoke of her desire to have us ‘home’ in every conversation. She was a traveler herself, having made it overseas to Germany to explore her roots. To Hawaii, to Jamaica, to Mexico. In fact, her last trip was only two months before she passed – at the urging of her family she made the long journey south to break up the oppressing winter of her home in the north. At 88 years old, that was no small feat.

And she loved it, and I am sure was grateful for that time with her family as her health quickly declined. For those new experiences and memories shared with those dear to her.

As I sat near her during her last hours, I thought of peace, that love, and her beautiful soul that we were so privileged to know. I thought of all the times she followed me around to my curling events, her hilarious birthday calls that she never failed to make, and one of my favourite days of last year, where we sat around her kitchen table and she tried to recall stories of her life as I sat taking notes. Of when I asked her what she admired about Grampie and she answered: “Well, I don’t know, I just loved him I guess.” And when she told tales of games she played as a child, her chores as the oldest of thirteen children, and of course about eating the bland but highly economical ‘Lumpy Dick’ every Friday for supper.

But curiously, other notions pervaded my thoughts more strongly. That even in the agony of death, there could be some elegance in the ritual of it. In the care she was being given by loved ones, and in the coming together of her family who did not always like being together.

All I could feel, and see, was radiant light.

I felt proud to be there, to be a part of the transition. I almost feel selfish in saying that – it was a death after all, a death of someone I love dearly – yet I found deep personal satisfaction in attending to it. I feel wholly changed by the experience, and at a profound peace with myself, my Gram, and our relationship.

Perhaps that is what happens with over-exposure to death. The appreciation for the circle-of-life follows.

And then, there she was. Snack dab in the middle of the remote Guatemalan jungle, after a steep climb straight to the top of a slick mountainside. With my bad curling knee aching, and my clothes soaked in sweat. She was there, welcoming me, offering me a view of paradise.

Semuc Champey - Aerial view

I’m not one who typically looks for signs and meaning, but this was too obvious. I surprised myself by not being overwhelmed with tears. Instead, I felt pure joy.

And I couldn’t help wondering –  what did this sign mean?

To tell me that I’ve had my fun, but now it was time to go back to a good country? (Which is how she always jokingly asked for me to come home.)

Or, as a dear friend said, am I exactly where I need to be? Am I on the right path?

I believe Gram’s intention, in raising strong-minded daughters who raised strong-minded granddaughters in turn, is that we would have the foresight to interpret for ourselves and choose our own paths in life.

And I believe she had faith in me. I choose b.

We all need these symbols of peace, these moments where we can feel a connection with loved ones we’ve lost, it is part of the healing process. And this was mine, in the most unlikely of places, but with astute timing. For that, and many other things, I am forever grateful to my dearest Gram.

(And I hope, I hope, I don’t have to write about this again for a very long time.)

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  1. I really appreciate this post! I know exactly where you’re coming from when you say that death just keeps popping up in conversation/writing…as a fellow traveler who experienced a couple of profoundly deep losses in the past 3 years, I still find so many experiences relate back to those losses. Death still dictates a big portion of my life, but in a positive way as you described: it gives me a deeper appreciation for so many things, even when the pain occasionally resurfaces and brings tears to my eyes. I used to be a little embarrassed about bringing up the topics of death and loss so frequently, but I’ve realized that even when people are unsure how to respond, they really appreciate you sharing your perspective. So keep telling your story, it is enlightening for those who haven’t experienced loss, and is comforting for those of us who can relate 🙂

    1. Christina – I’m so sorry for your losses. I’m glad this provided some comfort, as your comment provided me some in return. One thing I believe is that we don’t talk about it enough, we’re just meant to endure in silence. Even writing about it is a great release for me, especially when I can connect with others in this way. Thank you. 🙂

  2. Both my grandmothers loved to travel, and one of them, traveled all over the world after my grandfather died. When I visit a place one of them went to, say 20, 30 years ago, I always feel this wonderful sense of connection, even though neither of them is still alive.

    1. What an amazing legacy to pass on, the gift of travel! And to provide you with a special connection to these places – when I visited southern Germany last year, I felt the same way. 🙂

  3. I think it was just a sign that she was with you.

    Your experience with her death is what we all wish for when seeing someone we love so much pass…some sort of peace and appreciation for what is.

    I have no doubt, just from your stories, that she would be proud.

  4. A few years ago, my mother-in-law and father-in-law passed away within 3 months of each other. They died the way they lived, beautifully, with their faith and family surrounding them. My mother-in-law, Mayme, spent time alone with each of the 83 members of her immediate family in the days before she passed, and when my turn came, she told me I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose. Mayme knew, before I did, that I was meant to do something more than clean my house, do laundry, and raise my family. She started me on this new path I’m taking, and trust me when I say, your Gram was there, in that place, to let you know you are where you should be. She must be very proud of you!

    1. Wow Kiki. Thank you so much for sharing that, what a beautiful experience. Keep pursuing your path – it was obviously meant to be, and I’m glad Mayme pointed that out to you. 🙂

  5. My grandparents always had a love for travel that they passed on to me. It is nice when you stumble upon things like this – you know they are looking after you. 🙂

    1. To come upon this less than a month after she passed was incredible. Glad that your grandparents had such an influence in your kick-ass life too. 🙂

  6. I look for signs constantly. I’m always in need of that reassurance that I’m doing the right thing at the right time. For you, you didn’t need one to start or continue your journey. Unlike me, you didn’t need that. Instead, it came to you when you least expected it, like a hug or a pat on the shoulder. You’re here and it’s all good.

    1. Michelle, you’re sweet. No, it wasn’t a sign we got to do the right thing, it was a giant swift brutal kick in the ass. That works too. 🙂 I hope you find what you need. 🙂

  7. This was so beautiful Dalene. I have no doubt that it was a sign that you are on the right path, and that your Gram will always be there to share it with you, beaming with pride every step of the way.

  8. Feel free to write about death or your Gram any time…I will always be a willing reader 🙂
    Death informs Life & Life is about relationships. Clearly your Gram was/is an important relationship so really, what else can you do but keep revisiting how it affects you.
    I was beside my mom when she died and I know what you mean about feeling pride at being there. I felt honoured as well as devastated. It’s a curious and profound experience. It only makes sense that it would continue to inform you and your writing. Thank you for an eloquent post.

    1. Thank you Colleen, and I’m so glad you shared the fact that your experience with your Mom was similar. I thought I was slightly nuts, and maybe even feeling selfish. But it was quite profound, and I couldn’t help but feel the impact changing me. Honored but devastated. 🙂

  9. Aloha!
    Finland trip getting closer!
    Murunen cafe is in sotkamo Market square, and we are waiting for you guys with the best chocolate Cake in the world, homemade Apple pie with caramel crust and our own local special : kaenuu-pie. We Wish you guys have time for a stop here 🙂

  10. I really do think our loved ones show up in unexpected ways just to say hi and let us know we’re doing ok. So I vote option b, I think your Gram is proud of you, happy for you and wanting you to know you’re doing just fine.

    1. I know that some people find pennies and dimes that are signs of their loved ones nearby, and I’ve never really noticed that myself. Perhaps one needs to be looking for that, and it’s just too small of an item for me to notice. I apparently need big letters carved in obvious pieces of wood! 🙂

  11. What a post! What a tribute to your Gram! I just lost my grandma last month, she was 88 too. You feeling your granny near you is a confirmation that the caringly watches over you. Hugs.
    Sharing with you a post I wrote on my Grandpa –

  12. My Gram (and just that, too, Gram) also has an insatiable love of travel, which she unknowningly instilled in me since I was really young. She recently traveled from Nova Scotia to New Zealand to spend a month with me in January. That was the plan, for her and Grandad to do, before Grandad suddenly got cancer and lost a quick battle.

    Together, we shared many similar sort of moments, where we’d both stop and think of Grandad and having him with us. I’m glad that she follows her dreams and sees her plans through, she’s such an inspiration.

    Big of love of the gram, they’re amazing 🙂

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