Two years ago today, my grandmother died.
It was a long time coming. She'd been suffering from senile dementia for quite some time, starting with a hysterectomy and radiation treatments for uterine cancer in her mid-80s, followed by another major abdominal surgery when the radiation led to a bowel blockage. She never really recovered her faculties, fell into depression and more medical problems and slipped away from us over a period of years.
I'd made my peace with the idea of her death a long time before she died. When I visited, her face would light up the room, and I think she knew who I was. I'm named after my grandfather, her husband, and the connection we had was strong enough to shine through the mists that blurred her memories and perceptions in her last few years. But the woman I knew as my grandmother was no more, and so when her time came, I was ready for it.
I was also in Chicago, traveling on business the week of the terrorist attacks. I arrived in Chicago on September 10 and planned to return September 16, and I stuck to my original itinerary even when I knew my grandmother was near death because civilian airspace was still shut down and driving to Utah wouldn't get me back in time either.
I found out about her death when my cell phone rang at 10:00 Central time that Saturday. My mom spoke only a few words, and I spoke back what words of comfort I could summon from 1200 miles away, the detachment of the moment further wrapped in the horror of that entire week. And when I was done with that call, I went into downtown Chicago with my friend Matt and we spent the day wandering the art museum and the shopping areas and took a trip up to the observation deck in the John Hancock tower.
I celebrated her life on my own that night, at one of my favorite brew pubs: Taylor Brewing Co. in Lombard, just down Butterfield Road from my company's headquarters in Downers Grove and further down the road from my hotel.
I celebrated her life again when I returned to Salt Lake. Our family gathered on September 17 to share in the memories of my grandmother's long life. We passed around photos and played favorite songs and I gave a toast that I cannot for the life of me remember, but for which I still get compliments from my mom and my aunt and cousins.
We all returned to routines over the next few days: Back to work, to school, traveling back home for those few who didn't still live in Salt Lake. The immediate pain faded a bit, but the deeper sorrow lingered for my mom and my aunt.
We scattered her ashes near Monterey, California, on October 18, 2002, returning her to one of her favorite places in the world.
We were fortunate to go on that last journey with her.