Today, I was meant to post photos of my last week in Thailand — my last few blissful days in Railay followed by my last few hectic ones in Bangkok. Perhaps even a teaser of my arrival here in Manilla.
That was before I got the news that my Grandma Elaine passed away while I was in transit.
Now, the photo above is the only one that seems appropriate to post. I last saw my Grandma in December, right before I left on this trip. She was the same ol’ Grandma as always, though she was complaining of a chest pain that we would soon discover was an advanced cancer. When we hugged goodbye, I told her I’d see her in May at my little sister’s graduation. Three months later — gone. It’s hard to accept how quickly life can fade away.
I teared up as my Dad told me the details of her final days. When he told me that since my grandmother was transferred to the hospital, my aunt had printed out my blog posts to read to her at her bedside, I broke into sobs. I admit my Grandma and I didn’t have the storybook granddaughter-grandmother relationship — she wasn’t the most maternal of women. She was more likely to tell you your earrings were tacky and your scrambled eggs tasted like garbage than she was to go in for a snuggle and ask how school was going. Her wild stories, her blunt delivery, her crazy antics and her no-nonsense attitude left me shaking my head and laughing more times than I can count.
But my blog had made her feel closer to me, and vise versa. Many readers here have noted her, shall we say, colorful comments here in the past. She often told me that reading my blog was the highlight of her day. As her memory started to slip in her last year, I was the only one of her four granddaughters to receive a Christmas gift — a fact I decided to take as irrefutable proof that I was the favorite. “She probably just happened to read Alex in Wanderland that morning,” Olivia said, rolling her eyes.
Grandma Elaine and her family, June 2011
It was a blessing she went quickly; at least she’s not suffering any longer; she is in a better place. These are the platitudes we tell each other. Yet left alone with my own thoughts, I have little but guilt. Readers, it hurts me to even type this — I did not call my Grandmother after we heard the diagnosis. I could give you a million excuses, some more valid than others — There was an impossible time difference, I had bad internet connections, I sent her a handmade card from Chiang Mai with little elephants on it instead, I wanted to wait until she got better. I didn’t know what to say. I was afraid she wouldn’t know who I was. I could give you all those excuses, but I have to live with knowing that while I waited anxiously for my father’s email updates, discussed them with those around me, and thought of her often, I did not pick up the phone and call my Grandmother when I knew that she was dying of cancer. Shame on me.
I would do anything to teleport myself home for a week — to give my aunts a shoulder to lean on, to give my dad the kind of hug a person should get when they lose a parent, to be with family in the moment when I’m reminded that nothing is more important than family.
Yet I’m half a world away. So, instead, this — this post is dedicated my unlikeliest of supporters, a true firecracker, and one of my favorite readers of all time.
February 2, 1926 – March 10, 2013
Didn’t want to read and run dear. Thoughts are with you and your family. xx
Thank you Briony. Appreciate it x
Times like these are when distance feels the most unbearable. I am so sorry for your loss. My regards to you and your family.
It is undoubtedly every traveler’s worst nightmare. Thank you for the kind words…
A loved-one (specifically a grandparent) suddenly passing while we’re on the other side of the world seems to be a common hazard of this lifestyle. The same has happened to me, and I know how much it hurts. Sorry Alex.
Thanks Matt. You’re right, it does seem quite common — I guess we need to make sure to make our goodbyes really count.
So sorry to hear of your loss. Being away from family at this time is not easy so I hope you have the strength and support you need.
Praying for you and your family. Sending hugs x
Thank you so much for your support, I appreciate the comment.
Oh Alex, how sad. I didn’t call my grandma when she got sick either, and I stopped emailing her too. I don’t know why. I can only say that I thought she’d get better. It’s very hard to accept that flames are going out, even if all the signs are there. Maybe it was that way for you too. Or maybe you just wanted to hang onto the memories you had – her crazy antics, her blog comments – and not create new, painful, awkward ones over a long distance phone call. You gave her a gift – the gift of your writing, and that’s enough. Be proud of that.
Torre, thank you so much for this. Really, I can’t tell you how much it means to me to know that someone else had the same reaction I did to a similar situation, and to see those actions through a different lens. You just gave me a lot of peace.
Sorry for your loss.
Thank you, I appreciate it.
I’m sorry about your grandmother, but do *NOT* beat yourself up about what you did or did not do. That way lies madness. I was thousands of miles away on two separate occasions when my parents died – both unexpectedly, although 20 years apart. In both cases I drove myself nuts for a while over things I had or had not said or done before they died. But you can’t do that and stay sane. The clock doesn’t run backwards and done is done.
Take advantage of your feelings and let them be a catalyst to make you do better with other people you care for, and treat this situation like the life lesson it is.
And be happy she had exactly the contact with you, even in the hospital, that she loved. Reading blog posts about you doing what you want to do with your life. Guaranteed you made her proud.
Hang in there.
Thanks for this comment. I’m so sorry to hear about your parents — I’m not exaggerating when I say I can’t even imagine that pain. You are right in everything you say — and I’m going to call my other grandmother tonight.
Don’t worry about my dead parents – it was 27 years ago for my mom (she died very young) and 7 years ago for my dad.
I hope your other grandmother enjoyed the call. And keep enjoying your life to the fullest. The harsh reality is that we’re all born with a death sentence – it’s just a matter of when.
This is such a beautiful dedication to you Grandmother and family-
It sounds like she was an awesome lady.
Guilt finds everyone at times like this- you always think you could have done more but it is what you did do that counts.
You obviously gave her so much to be happy and thankful for so think of that…
My thoughts go out to you and your family,
Hi Jade, thank you so much for this. I am going to try to focus on what peace I did give her, rather than the ways I failed.
I’m sorry to hear about your loss, Alex. Don’t wallow in the Should Have’s. Instead relish in the funny stories you have of her (and celebrate her bluntness!).
Take care of yourself today. Will be thinking of you.
Thank you Diana. You give great advice… I’m going to take some of it 🙂
I’m so sorry for your loss… and actually when my paternal grandmother was dying I didn’t even visit her in the hospital and we lived in the same town. I think it’s hard to accept when someone’s sick so you just naturally avoid dealing with it… that’s how I felt anyway. Stay strong, my prayers are with you!
It sounds like avoidance is a more common reaction than I thought… and you know, to hear that I had a normal human reaction is bringing me a lot of peace. Thanks Ashley x
Sorry for your loss Alex.
Thinking of you, your dad and his sisters.
Warm regards. D.
Thanks David. Much appreciated.
I saw your instagram post about the news of your grandmother and my heart went out to you. And now, I have tears rolling down my face after reading this post (and I generally think I’m an unemotional person!). I don’t personally know you or your grandmother but as a granddaughter that has lost a grandmother in recent months, I can relate to much of what you wrote. Thanks for sharing your raw honesty and making me feel slightly more normal in how I handled the time leading up to my own grandmothers death. Hugs for you as you deal.
Cat, I’m touched. And I can related… some of the comments on this post have brought me a lot of comfort in knowing that my reaction was much more normal than I ever would have guessed. I’m sorry for your loss x
Agreed about some of the comments – I really appreciated reading them too.
Oh honey, I’m so sorry for your loss! I saw some of her comments and thought it was AMAZING that your Grandmother knew how to leave blog comments and followed your journey. BIG HUGS!!!!
What a blessing its been to have both my grandmothers follow along with my journey here! I love both their comments 🙂
I’m so sorry for your loss Alex. Sounds like she was a spunky lady to the end. Cherish those memories of blog comments and tacky earrings. My Gramps passed away 12 hours before I left for a conference in Spain. Nothing makes you feel as helpless as loss on the road. Prayers for you and your family.
Wow, Julie, that sounds awful I’m sure getting on that plane was a nightmare. Thank you for your thoughts x
Oh, Alex…these loving thoughts are a gift to Grandma Elaine, Dad, Linda, Karen, and to all of us who experienced Elaine’s unique brand of humor. She gave us all a LOT of laughs and that was her gift to us.
I love that perspective. Another commenter said I should see my writing as a gift to her. And now I will also see all those laughs as a gift from her 🙂
Oh Alex. I’m so sorry. I’m terrible with words during these situations as well, but your post is a beautiful tribute. I’m sure your grandmother would love this post. I wish I could give you a big hug. My thoughts are with you and your family.
Thank you so much for all these sweet and kind words Jen. I really appreciate it x
thoughts, prayers and love coming at you from all around the world today.
Thanks Ashley. It really has warmed my heart.
Oh Alex, I am so sorry for your loss my dear. I have often read the comments from your Gran, and was very impressed that she read and commented on your blog – my own Grandmother has never even switched a computer on! Don’t feel bad about not calling her, we all let things get in our way for whatever reason. You are in my thoughts xxx
Thanks Hannah. I know I am so lucky to have had both my grandmothers reading and commenting on my blog — and on Facebook! Two amazing ladies.
All my prayers, Alex, for you and your family! That’s one thing I know I’m possibly going to have to deal with, when I start my big travels.
Definitely a painful reality for many long term travelers :/ At least if you prepare for it you can make sure you’ll have no regrets later…
I am soooo sorry for your loss, Alex! *hugs* Don’t beat yourself up about not calling her. You always made her day with your posts and you saw her before you left for your trip these are the important things! My grandma had a stroke while I was on my way to South Africa but she didn’t want me to return because it made her happy that I was living my dream and got to see all those places that she was never able to see. I am sure your grandma felt the same way!
Thanks for the words of comfort Caty. I know you and the rest of the commenters here are right and I am starting to come around to seeing it that way 🙂
Such a beautiful post, Alex, and I’m sure your grandma would be smiling if she could read it. So sorry for your loss, I lost my great grandpa in December and my little cousin last month, so I know how difficult this can be.
So sorry to hear that, Sky. I’ve lost a cousin as well and it is a gut-wrenching horror to lost someone so young.
So sorry for your loss, Alex! Thinking about you and hope you are hanging in there. Glad you got to visit her so recently. It’s awesome that you were able to build a relationship with her through your blog though, even if you weren’t always able to visit in person. Both your grandmas sound like great ladies!
Thanks Jenna, I really appreciate this comment. I’m so beyond grateful now for that final trip to Florida.
I remember reading this post first time round and it struck a chord with me as I had just said goodbye to my grandmother before going off to South America. I was pretty sure it would be the last time I would see her as she had been getting progressively worse and had several stays in hospital. Fast forward to yesterday when I received news that she had passed away. The mixture of sadness, guilt and relief is hard enough to deal with when at home. But when you’re far away, there’s a real sense of lack of control or at least, it’s hard to find a way to come to terms with things. The way you have wrote this post has really put into words a lot of the emotions I am feeling. A very fitting tribute, it sounds like your grandmother was a real trooper!
Naomi I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. It really is a dark side of long term travel. My grandmother’s memorial service was two days ago and I felt very lonely and removed from my family not being able to be with them.
This is a beautiful dedication Alex. Sorry to hear about your grandmother and I hope all is well now. Although admittedly I did get a lot of enjoyment out of your description of her. Sounds like a woman who knew what she liked. My uncle died when I was in Thailand, then my friend Natalie was killed in a car accident while she was in Croatia and I was in New York (just a few months shy of her 21st birthday and her wedding) I understand how shit it is and how helpless it feels. I hope you are feeling better, I know it feels like you’re betraying your family by not being there but they’d understand and so would she xx
(and she’d probably have been bragging to all the other ladies in the hospital about how her granddaughter was travelling the world and writing about it and boasting how you were far too busy to call because of how successful you are. In a good way)
Thanks Sam, I really appreciate it. I like your version of events and hope that she was bragging away 🙂 I have learned from the situation, and it is a lesson I learn over and over again — to cherish the moments that I do have with the people I love.
I am so sorry about your loss Alex! I hope that time will heal all wounds! My thoughts are with you and your family! xxx
Thank you for the kind words Tammy, I really appreciate it.