Two months ago, one of my aunts sent me a pair of sandals that belonged to my grandmother. My grandmother died in 2009, and as my aunt explained, this was the last pair of shoes she ever bought. They’re a size 7, exactly my size. I never realized we wore the same size shoes.
My maternal grandmother was more like a mother to me, as she encouraged me to go to college and pursue my dreams, leaving behind the abuse, addiction, and general chaos of my childhood home. During my first year of college, I lived with her on the weekends, and every Sunday night, as I headed out the door to return to campus (an hour’s drive away), she’d hand me a brown paper bag packed full of snacks. She’d even stick a $10 or $20 bill on top, which I’d always try to give back to her.
Her life wasn’t easy—she worked nightshifts as a nurse, took care of my alcoholic grandfather, and raised my cousins who’d been abandoned by my addict family members. I wanted to give back to her, the way she gave to all of us, without question and without expecting anything in return.
So, when she was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, I panicked. There was so much I wanted to show her—all the places I’d gone during my studies. I always sent her postcards, but after graduating college, lacked the funds to make return trips, which I wanted to do with her.
Within a year, the disease took her. I didn’t go back home for the funeral, because she was full of life, and I couldn’t bare to see her in a casket.
During this past month, I’ve had some heartache and trials. In navigating my way through the sadness, I’ve tried to live in the moment, going on small adventures.
Today, I put on her shoes, and drove out to the sunflower fields. As I stepped out of the car, I thought about my grandmother. Yellow was her favorite color. She would’ve reveled in the joy of the beautiful blooms.
Then it occurred to me, she lives on in me. At least, biologically speaking, part of her is in me. So maybe, just maybe I can still take her to all the places I’d wished to show her before she passed.
Together we walked the fields, watched the people enjoying the beautiful day, and photographed the bees and flowers. I didn’t feel the loneliness that has pervaded my thoughts for the past few weeks. Instead, I felt fulfillment in the sun, the wind, and the life around me.
All the places these shoes will go. We’ll go. I’ll go.