The phone rang and a few moments later my daughter was tapping my shoulder softly but insistently. The window was dark save for a thin magenta line stretching across the horizon. I had been waiting for the call.
“It was Uncle David. GG is gone.”
“Okay, I’ll book the airline tickets,” I grunted, turned over and pulled the cover back over my head.
She was struggling to push down the handle of the small red suitcase so that she could stuff it under the seat in front of her. The woman standing in the aisle tapped her foot impatiently, waiting to take her seat. But Gertrude was nervous and focused on her task. Finally, the handle down, she shoved the bag with her feet until it fit snugly and tightly. She didn’t want the flight attendant fussing at her if it stuck out in the aisle.
Gert turned and smiled up at the impatient woman who, with an unnecessarily loud sigh, collapsed into her seat with a soft thud. They tussled a bit to find the right seat belts and then settled down to hear the safety briefing. Gert especially liked, “Put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others.” She thought that was good advice for living life.
Her attention turned to her surroundings. She noted with satisfaction the extra leg room, the video console above the closed lunch tray, and a recent People magazine rather than a boring in-flight publication. Gert also noticed the little red bag peeking out from under the row in front of her. The bag had gone along with her on many travels—to the Himalayas, the Near East, the Far East, the Middle East, and even to Africa and the Galapagos Islands. It always contained her medications, fiber for travelers’ constipation, a clean pair of undies and a spare pair of glasses, as well as a book or two. Her great-grandkids always recognized it when she came to visit; after all, it was a kids-size suitcase, which made them giggle. Gert really liked it, and the bag made her feel independent because she could take it anywhere without any help. Her favorite travel motto was: Don’t take more than you can carry.
The woman in the next seat sighed again, so Gert offered her a tic-tac from the little plastic case she took from her purse. The woman accepted, putting the small candy between her two pudgy fingers and giving Gert a small smile to match the size of the mint. But Gert considered this a positive sign and leaned in to speak.
“This journey has taken me a lifetime,” she confided. The woman sighed yet again, although her smile was slightly warmer. They traveled side-by-side for the rest of the flight in silence.
Gert fell into step with the throngs of passengers filing out of the plane and began the long walk toward the exit. Ignoring the people lined up along the route, Gert walked on—her shoes clicking softly beneath her, her little red bag rolling behind her.
Always hoping but never really expecting it, she heard a familiar voice calling her name. It was familiar in that odd kind of way that you recognize but haven’t heard for a long, long time. She heard it again: “Gert.” And then, stronger and more insistent, “Gerty!” She definitely knew that voice. She looked up at the crowd of people lining the path to the exit and there he was—with his arms outstretched, looking just like he did when they had been in their prime of life before she had lost him to heart failure all those forty-five years ago.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” he said as he took her hand in his. “Our hearts never failed each other.” Then he took the little red suitcase in his other hand, “And you won’t need this anymore.”
The sun streaming brightly through my window woke me the second time that morning. My mother, GG, was dead at ninety-nine years of age. She was on her last journey and it was okay.
From The Fourth Moment Get it on Amazon