Gram - 9,242 miles, 508 hours
Shortly after you passed a doctor came into our room at the hospital and gave us a bag that included the clothing and jewelry you were wearing that day. I asked my parents to keep the small black and gold wrist watch that you always wore, and carried it around with me for years and years.
It first came with me as a timer while taking the ACT, which eventually allowed me to go to No' Dame - the school you always seemed to know I would attend. It ran out of juice in college but remained in my backpack, and was with me on graduation day. It was there on my first day of work at Deloitte, and I even used it to call on your strength during every session of my back tattoo. That theme continued until just last year after Caroline graduated from Georgetown, and we both stopped in Pittsburgh on our way back from moving her out to get tattoos to remember you by. Caroline's is a heart on her pinky finger where you always wore her ring, and mine is a set of pointe shoes just next to my ankle.
Your watch and now my permanent Gram badge of honor, stand as a reminder to me of your continuing presence in my life even after you passed, which I draw inspiration and resilience from nearly every day.
More recently, they've also reminded me of how valuable every moment we get to spend with our family is. When I first planned my sabbatical I had intended not to come home for Thanksgiving. I originally had some grand idea that the whole trip couldn't be interrupted by flying home to spend time with my family during my favorite holiday of the year. But in looking to you for guidance a few months into the trip, it was not even a question. I got in touch with my Uncle Paul and Mason, and the surprise was put into place.
Some airplane issues on the day I was flying meant that I would get in late, but the surprise was still intact when I showed up at Caroline's friend's house unannounced. Caroline dropped to the floor speechless, and after a few drinks with friends, we went home and dragged Peggy and Ted out of bed at 1AM. Dad sat on the steps genuinely happy to see me but shivering from the cold interruption, and Mom couldn't believe her eyes. Just like you her light shines so bright these days when the family is all together, and it fills my heart too.
The Turkey Day weekend only lasted for 72 hours, but outside of sleeping I think I only spent an hour or two away from Caroline, and a dozen or so from Mom and Dad. We got to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, work in the yard together, pick up the Christmas tree, and watch Love Actually. All of it was perfect. Coming home this time to everyone I felt the happiest I can remember since high school. I'm really starting to feel more comfortable in my own skin, and I think you'd be pretty proud of that.
I'm back in Arizona now and headed to Tucson for the final three weeks of what has been an amazing adventure. It'll be a long road back home, but I feel ready and up for the challenge. Each time I strap up my boots for another long day's ride on the bike, I slide my socks up and over the jet black pointe shoes etched into my left foot. Even though I won't have anyone riding with me while on the trip home, I know I have you watching over me at every turn.