- Susan Berry
Since I was five years old, my grandmother's cabin has been my favorite place to visit. As soon as I arrived, I’d quickly run up the uneven stone front porch steps and open the sliding glass door. The clicking sound it made as it slid along the worn track beneath signaled that I was safe. That the modest cabin by the beach was more than my grandmother's home, but a much-needed sanctuary from the turmoil in my life. A place where love always ruled the day.
With the door closed behind me, I would hear my grandmother call out from the bedroom, the sound of her voice like sweet music to my ears. “I’m back here, dear.”
More often than not, I’d find myself standing and watching from the doorway as she tidied up the room or finished dusting all the photographs of her children and grandchildren neatly arranged on the bureau. Then, with her careworn face lit up with a smile, she’d open her arms wide, beckoning for my embrace.
A quick bite to eat which most times included a piece of chocolate, was usually followed by a collection of pail and shovel, then off we’d go down to the beach where we’d spend our fun-filled afternoons. We’d collect shells, dig up geoducks, or comb the beach for the perfect rocks along the shore to put into the polishing machine my grandfather had given her for an anniversary present the year before he died. And at night, after polishing those collected rocks, we’d clean up and eat dinner in front of the big brick fireplace in the living room she’d laid by hand. I was captivated as I listened to stories of my grandmother's youthful adventures. To me, she was larger than life and I simply adored her.
And no matter how old I got, when it was time for me to go home, with tears of separation wetting my face, she’d kiss my cheek, promise I could return soon, and secretly handed me one of those polished rocks from the beach. A tangible talisman to take home with me. A reminder of her love that was meant to sustain my heart until we could be together again.
But on a gloomy summer day, my life was turned upside down and changed forever as my beloved grandmother passed away with me by her side. It was as if the world had stopped, and I won’t even attempt to describe the loss I felt as I fell to the floor in a sobbing heap. Gone was my friend, my confidant, my real-life hero. The depth of my gut-wrenching grief was substantial, and to this day, I can’t talk about it without crying. Grief is not a momentary sentiment, but a lifelong battle that requires courage to keep it at bay. And although the effect it has on our daily life seems to lessen with the passage of time, it can rear its ugly head anytime when memories are triggered by a song, a place, or even by a whiff of a cherished Grandmother's favorite perfume.
After her passing, when it was decided to not sell the cabin but instead keep it in the family, it was a bittersweet decision for me. I felt an abundance of relief knowing that I could stay there anytime I wanted and see her things in the house exactly as they’d been when she was alive. But my heart felt the tug of despair knowing I would do so without my best friend by my side.
As the years went by, I spent every weekend I could at the cabin with my own family telling stories about my grandmother. Taking them to the places we had spent our time digging up those geoducks and hunting for the perfect rocks. And each time I’d open that sliding glass door when we returned, I could still hear her voice calling out to me. “I’ve missed you.”
But those years weren’t kind to the cabin by the beach and it fell into disrepair. So, when it was decided amongst the family the time had come to sell, my heart broke from the tortuous realization that no longer would I have the connection to my grandmother that the cabin had afforded me. The comfort it had bestowed on me all these years would be gone, and I felt as broken as I did the day she died.
Today the cabin belongs to another family. And my fondest wish is that the new owners are blessed with a home filled with the same kind of unconditional love I experienced as I grew up there. That they make their own family memories finding treasures on the beach.
For myself? All the memories of those glorious summer adventures I went on with my grandmother are something I’ll carry in my heart the rest of my life. And I know, one day we will embrace again—her careworn face smiling as she takes my hand and leads me to our next great adventure.
And each time that I’ve used that old rock polisher I brought home with me from the front porch of the cabin, I no longer feel sadness, but rather a peace in my heart—a continued connection to my grandmother that time has not erased.
I’ve learned a lot on this journey of grief. And while the lesson has been difficult and painful at times to go through, I’ve ended up in a place of contentment of sorts. A knowledge that reinforces the most important part of the journey has been to realize that the love we have for the ones we’ve lost in death is not confined to the four walls in which they lived, but rather a flowing energy that cannot be extinguished by time. A love that will continue to soar beyond our physical being—to wait patiently for the day when our hearts are reunited once again with those we’ve lost. To the day we take our own eternal journey to whatever comes next with the joy of our loved one once again by our side.