It's a trip I know was coming. I got the text. Then made the call. The timing is uncanny. Five years ago, about this time, I flew back to the midwest to say goodbye to my grandmother - the most important person in my life at that time. To say good-bye. For the last time.
This time I'm driving. Freeways I've traveled for decades. Feeling bruises from long ago slug-bug games with my brother. We loved our California summers, not just because we'd trade the Iowa mosquitoes for SoCal's beaches, but it was great for our slugbug scores. 1000 points for the converted slug-bug truck. You'd never see one of those in Iowa.
I'm remembering these slug bug games on this very bit of freeway. I'm passing the McDonalds where my brother sprayed ketchup packets on the wall. But I'm not seeing grammy today. I'm 25 years older, driving my own car, the top down, sun burning the tops of my shoulders where I missed the SPF 70.
I smell the ocean. I see the Pacific Coast Highway exit. Dana Point. And I remember the last time I was down here. A sea funeral for my grandfather - the brother of my great aunt. The person I go to see today.
I'm mentally prepared for what I see, but it's never enough. The room is dim, light coming through the curtains, but no lights on. My throat catches, I hold back tears. I distract myself showing her the fragrant flowers I've brought. Deep purple stock and bright yellow sunflowers. I picked stock because I know it's very fragrant. I wonder if these stocks come from the field in Half Moon Bay.
I bring them to her face and she smells. A great big smile breaks across her face. I pull one from the bouquet and lay it on her chest, the rest go into a vase.
It is such a short time I spend with her. Talking is difficult, but she's all there - cracking jokes and smart alec comments. But she's tired. Oh so tired. She's had a long life. She just wants to be done. She wants to see her husband, decades long gone. I give her messages from family that can not be here. I sit with her. And then she wants to sleep. And I say my goodbyes.
I wish you well on your travels Ruth. You've been the best great aunt. Inspired me more than you probably know.