Because of the mess with the house remodeling, it's been two years since my last trip back to North Carolina, so I want to see everyone. The logistics are getting complicated. It's a good thing the Engineer never comes along with me on these trips, it would be pure torture for him.
Chapel Hill is going to be hard. One of my favorite, long-time friends lived there, but she died a few months ago. There's going to be a big hole in the heart of my Chapel Hill visit. My biggest regret in not making the trip last year was not getting to see Grace before she died.
Grace and I took each other under our wings when we first met. I was working for a business services company and hired Grace to answer phones during the night shift. She was a widow with MS and couldn't get out to work a regular job. We hit it off at the first meeting.
I never knew how old Grace was, but I do know she was a modern career girl in New York City during World War II and that she married an older man after the war and traveled throughout Europe with him working for "Stars and Stripes." Her stories of those halcyon days were fascinating.
She shared her calm acceptance of what life hands you and her wisdom with me. I brought her produce from my garden, caught her parakeet when it got behind her dryer and pumped up the tires on her wheelchair.
Grace was a trooper. She lived in her own one bedroom condo and was fiercely independent. She greeted any knock at her door or phone call with a cheery, "Hello, hello-oh!" Living in Europe had given her cosmopolitan tastes in food. She introduced me to quite a few new dishes. For many years, she would get on her electric wheelchair and go to the grocery store, bringing her groceries home in the back basket.
The first trip when she got the electric chair was to the drivers' licence bureau. She figured if she was going to drive it on the street, she was going to do it legally. She threw the whole office for a loop, but they consulted the codes and found out that she was indeed eligible to get a licence to drive it. They set up orange traffic cones in the parking lot and had her run the slalom - which she did in grand style. It was the first driver's licence she'd ever had.
Her last trip to the grocery store, one of her wheels hit a soft spot on the shoulder of the road. She tipped over and split her scalp open. Head wounds bleed like they are competing in an Olympic event, so she was soon blood soaked. She lay there pinned under her wheelchair, covered with blood for around a half an hour as cars whizzed by, ignoring her. Being Grace, she never shouted or begged for help, she just waited patiently until a city utility truck stopped. The guys put her in the front seat, pitched the wheelchair in the back and took her to the hospital.
I suspect that the only reason I found out about her misadventure was that the hospital refused to release her unless someone came to picked her up and sign for her and promised to stay with her overnight to watch for signs of a concussion. I was honored to be the person she chose to bail her out of the joint.
After her accident she took the city handicapped transport, but eventually became unable to do that as her condition deteriorated. She lost both breasts to cancer, which made it tough to wheel her inside chair, but she never asked for help.
After I married the Engineer and moved to Utah, I returned to North Carolina every fall and always went to Chapel Hill to see Grace. I would stop at the grocery store and run amuck through the aisles, buying all the nonperishable delicacies that I thought would tickle her fancy, then I'd get some fresh produce and french bread to stock her fridge. Ordering groceries over the phone didn't let her chose the best produce and her tight budget didn't let her get the little frills around the edges that she loved. I hope those groceries and the books on tape I sent her regularly made everyday life a little brighter.
I miss Grace. If I hadn't married the Engineer, I would have asked her to come live with me when she started failing. She would have said no. I know that. She would still have died of a sudden heart attack when her time came. I know I could not have changed that, but regrets linger.
When someone we love dies, it's hard not to keep mourning (heck, my eyes are dribbling as I type this.) It's hard not to keep mourning, but I think it does the person you loved more honor to remember the love and friendship with joy and to be grateful for having had the chance to know them.
Grace, I love you and I miss you and I feel so lucky that our lives intersected.