We know from the moment we understand life is a journey that every voyage has a destination, every journey has an end. My grandmother, Mary Cross Horning, left the planet yesterday, her journey complete.
Well into her 90s, her departure wasn’t a total surprise. In fact, we’ve seen evidence of her packed suitcases – if you will – for many months now. Every Monday when I came to visit her, I could see that the metaphorical luggage was fully in view, and was inching a little more toward the door, ready for her to slip home.
She’s actually been disappearing, a little more each moment, over the last seven years, starting the moment my Papa skipped away from us without even letting us know he was leaving. Of all the things that I loved most about her, I treasured the great store of love she had for my grandfather. I’ve never seen two people more in love than they were.
My grandmother was clever, feisty, tender-hearted, and compassionate. She taught me how to sew, how to swim, how to make animal pancakes, how to play poker – with pennies, of course. When my sisters and I were little, she made us matching dresses.
She was incredibly organized, an amazing cook – her Peking Beef was out of this world – and quick with her wit and commentary. Once, at Disneyland, I didn’t want to go on the Jungle Boat Cruise (I was afraid of the fake hippos) and my great-grandmother offered to sit it out with me on a bench outside the ride. My grandmother grabbed my hand and hoisted my trembling body onto the boat, telling my great-grandmother she and my Papa brought me to Disneyland to have a good time and by golly, I was going to have one whether I liked it or not.
I am so glad she never let me give in to fear.
Toward the end of her life, she spent our visits together reminding me of her favorite memories. Her childhood home on Capitol Street in Washington D.C., eloping with my grandfather on the Fourth of July, the house she and my Papa and my dad had on the Chesapeake, the luaus on their San Diego patio, apricot cobbler by the pool, playing Scrabble, walks along Torrey Pines Beach and the Silver Strand, and always, always, how much she loved and missed my Papa.
I was in her house yesterday, sitting in her favorite chair, when the mortuary came for her and wheeled her away. A little whooshing sound seemed to follow the gurney, like the last little bit of who she was jetting away from me. And rocketing toward another place.
I love this poem by Henry Van Dyke, which captures all that I am feeling this morning – a Monday – as I contemplate NOT going in to see her. And I close with it.
I am standing by the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails
to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength,
and I stand and watch until at last
she hangs like a peck of white cloud
just where the sun and sky come down to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says,
‘There she goes!’
Gone where? Gone from my sight – that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar
as she was when she left my side
and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the places of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment
when someone at my side says,’There she goes!’
there are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout:
‘Here she comes!’