George and I were heading down to Long Pond in Massachusetts. It was a place my dad's side of the family had been going to every summer since I was little. We always stayed in a big, old house called Ashanty with my dad's brother and sister and their families and my grandmother, Gran. There were 17 people staying in one house on a pond for a week in August and it was always the very best time. This time, though, was different.
My grandmother had been diagnosed with lung cancer at the beginning of 1998 and it had progressed rapidly. By August, there was not much time left and Gran did not want to die in a hospital in Lexington. She wanted to be at the place she loved the most, surrounded by family. We were all grown, many of us were married, and a few had kids, but we all dropped everything to head down to be with her. My uncle and aunt had gone to get her and on the way back to the house, she had slipped into a coma.
Gran was put into a beautiful, old wrought-iron bed in the bedroom she always stayed in when she was visiting Pompey and Margi in their house. It was a little cozy room off the screened-in porch, facing the pond. All the windows were open so the gentle wind could blow through and she could hear the loons in the evenings. The living room and dining room were right next door so she could hear us laughing and talking as we had our giant dinners and know we were all there for her.
We all would go in to kiss her on the cheek and say goodnight before heading to bed. I was six months pregnant with my first child, so instead of having to walk through the woods to Ashanty, I stayed with my aunt and uncle, along with my parents and a few other cousins while everyone else headed over to the other house for the night. There was a feeling, that second night, a mystery none of us could figure out. The night was eerily calm and a misty rain was falling as we all headed to bed.
I had a dream that night. I heard a branch snap outside my bedroom window and knew without hesitation it was because my grandfather was there. He was coming to get Gran and bring her back with him. He died in 1975 when I was eight, from a heart attack. As he was finding his way around the house to her, I was sitting on the edge of Gran's bed, talking with her. She was no longer in a coma but was sitting propped up on the bed with pillows behind her back. She was holding my hands and we were talking. I was telling her the names George and I had picked out for the baby. She was the only person I told. She agreed Annika was the perfect name.
I woke up around 3 a.m. On my way to the bathroom, I ran into my uncle. As I became more awake, I heard the soft rumble of a car engine in the driveway and muffled voices downstairs. She was gone, he said. She passed away about 2:30 a.m. while she and I had been dream-talking about baby names.
A few hours later as cousins began arriving for breakfast, we all discovered every one of us had woken up at the exact same time in the early morning, at the same time she had passed. We had all had some experience of saying goodbye to her and we all knew PopPop had come to take her home.
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