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She Finally Came Home


Last weekend I flew out to Chicago to meet my dad and brother. We drove up to Beloit, the small Southern Wisconsin city where my brother and I were born, for my grandma’s memorial service. She passed away in January of this year and her wish was to have her ashes sprinkled on the farm outside of Beloit that my grandfather built.

Losing a grandparent is like losing a big part of your history. When they leave this life as we know it many of their memories and stories go with them. It’s a very strange feeling to not have any more grandparents. It makes me wonder what it’s like for my parents, to be parent-less. I realize I am fortunate to be as close with my parents as I am an to have had relationships with three of my grandparents for as long as I did. The older I get the more I miss my grandparents and wish they were around. There are so many unanswered questions.

Spending time in Beloit was a little surreal. My dad’s family had lived there and owned a huge business for 100 years. There are names on college buildings belonging to my great grandparents and even a middle school named after my great grandfather. It’s a strange feeling to see all these names and wonder what they were like. We moved to Atlanta (where my Mom grew up) when I was four. I have some vivid memories of Beloit which seems odd since I was so young. My brother couldn’t believe I remembered so much because he doesn’t have any memories of that time. He was one when we moved.

There is this one memory that sticks out in my mind. My dad and I are in a narrow diner, sitting up at the counter. I’m drinking hot cocoa. I remember feeling really content, happy and safe. Afterwards he took me to the family company and introduced me to people. Even though I didn’t have the words for it I knew he was proud to be there with me. That might be one of my favorite memories of us.


We drive out to the farm and I don’t remember much until we are inside. The long hallway with all the rooms off of it. The light wood is everywhere and it even has a similar smell. The man who owns the farm now is kind enough to let us walk his property, come inside the house where my dad and uncle are sharing stories from when they lived there. It’s fun to watch them walk into a room. Their eyes change and the memories flood in.

We walk around outside and I see the patch of pine trees that my great grandfather planted for his grandchildren. They are over 60 years old and are so tall. It’s peaceful there and the energy is good. My Uncle walks to the car to bring Ggandma’s ashes out. They are much heavier and lighter in color than I would have imagined. The wind is blowing South East. We form a semi circle around a plaque on a large stone that says that is where my great grandfather planted all of those trees.

It’s late morning. The air is clean. A few, honest, heart felt words are spoken. My uncle spreads the ashes. The wind stops. Four magnificent hawks fly over head. There is a brief silence as we all stand there, tears streaming down our cheeks. This is what she wanted. Grandma told us for years the happiest memories of her life were living on that land and now she had finally come home.


At 4 p.m. we head to my uncle’s farm and it’s just as amazing as I remember. It’s been about 25 years since I’ve been there and it’s the first time we’re there with our cousins. The water is crystal clear and fresh from a well. There are fields of sunflowers (not quite in bloom), this beautiful tall grass, and the most gorgeous Weeping Willow I have ever seen. And another memory flashes in my mind. The Weeping Willow in our backyard at the house my dad built in Beloit. And the brown swing my grandfather built that I’ve always been sad my parents didn’t bring to Atlanta.

We eat a beautiful dinner. Laugh a great deal. My dad and uncle are hilarious together, always have been. I think of grandma and her stories of dinners at the farm and how my dad and his siblings would just tease each other the entire time.

Midwestern sunsets feel like home. You can see for miles and miles and the colors are like nothing I’ve ever seen. We say our goodbyes and get in the car. As soon as I close the door I see a lightening bug (now my Southern accent comes out a bit) and cheer with delight. Dad stops near the end of the driveway and tells me exactly where to look for them. We wait, patiently to see their amazing flickers. He urges me to get out of the car and catch one.

Another flash in my mind. Mom, dad, my brother and I are up at Lake Geneva in grandma’s condo. Lake Geneva is about 45 minutes from Beloit. I remember the Weeping Willows by the lake and running around with my brother catching lightening bugs at dusk. We just sit in the car, staring out the windows. Waiting for another flash.

I wanted to sit there forever.

We slowly pulled out of the driveway and head back to Beloit under that incredible sunset. There was this unspoken peaceful feeling between us. As we drive along the empty country road I look up at the sky and smile. She was with us the entire time.



  • Sydney

    I’ve been following your blog for nearly 2 years now, but for whatever reason, I’ve never commented until now.

    This is a beautiful post. I’m happy you were able to carry out her last wishes with your family. What really hit home for me was the part where you talked about being close to your grandparents. I have 2 grandmothers and 1 grandfather (the other one passed before I was born), but I’m only close to one of them. You have inspired me to try and get to know them better.

    I’m only 16, and so when I did spend time with my other grandparents, I was too young to really remember anything. But it’s never too late to make new memories.

    • ashley

      Hi Sydney, it is so wonderful to hear from you. Thank you for the kind words, I really appreciate them. What touched me the most is that this post inspired you to reach out to those two Grandparents and try to get to know them. It is never too late and I know you will learn so much from them and they will learn from you as well! Connecting with the elders in our families is very powerful. They are full of stories about their lives and our parents when they were young too. I wish you all the best in your journey to reconnect with them. Please keep me posted, I would love to hear how it goes! Wishing you a beautiful weekend. xoashley

  • Ashley, I found this extremely touching. I am glad that you and your family were able to honor her in such a peaceful and meaningful way. I completely get so much of what you wrote – Midwestern sunsets feeling like home, the memories on family farms, the lightning bugs…sometimes all I want to do is go back because I miss those things so much.
    Your post also made me think of Fahrenheit 451 and the quote from the character,Granger, at the end when he talks about his grandfather – missing what the man brought to life, his presence and the quote about how important it is to leave something behind: “Everyone must leave something in the room or left behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
    Once again, thank you for posting with such honesty. It is necessary and healing.
    Much love,

  • That’s a wonderful story, Ashley. Sounds perfect and reminds me of the phrase I often hear while doing yoga: going back to where we once came. Thanks for sharing! Have a nice day, Corina

    • ashley

      Thank you Cornia. Please forgive my slow response, it’s been such a whirlwind month. I love what you shared about going back to where we came from, that really resonates with me. Wishing you a wonderful Sunday. xoa

  • That photograph looks like an oil painting – stunning.
    Thank you for sharing this story and personal family time. It was so touching and beautiful. The moments where memory and present mix are some of the most beautiful I think, especially when you know you are creating new memories too. I feel like you’ll have that day in your heart forever. I’ve only had a few mid-west sunsets in my time (I’m a Sydney girl), but I do know just what you mean… xx

  • Judy Ripley Mankus

    Hello Ashley,
    This story warms my heart and I’m so happy to be learning from you!!
    I remember hours in that swing on the willow in your backyard. I lived across the street for a year while I was in college and your parents hired me to be with you and your brother who was born that year! We all travelled to Captiva Island together for a vacation and it was so generous of your parents to take me.
    It’s warms me to see the wonderful person that you have become. All the best!

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