I was 10 years old when my extended family cut us off. All of them except for my grandma. And it wasn't like we had two sides of the family, because we weren't ever introduced to my dad's side; no fault of his own because he didn't really know them either. So I clung to my grandma.
She'd make surprise trips from California to see us, always called on birthdays and holidays if she wasn't with us, wrote letters so we'd have something to look forward to in the mail. I remember one summer, she took me and my older sister to Cali with her, and we spent a month parading around the state like a bunch of single girlfriends. It’s rare when family is bonded by friendship just as much as blood. And because of all of her love and effort, I didn't care that all I had for family in my life was six people.
But when I was 14, things changed. We got the news of my grandma's stroke on our way home from basketball practice. My mom answered her cell phone, and within moments her smile melted away. She drove home even faster.
I remember gathering in the living room and praying. God gave me only a month to say my goodbyes. I never got to see her, and the last time I spoke to her on the phone she didn't recognize my voice. It was only a few days later that she passed.
It has been 13 years, and I'm still trying to be OK with living my life without her, still trying to hide my envy for girls with living grandmothers, knowing I'd never see her again.
But I did.
Six months ago, I was looking through my mom's jewelry and came across a ring — a stunning opal a little bigger than a Tic Tac sitting prominently in the middle of a diamond border that surrounded its entire shape. It almost looked like a sunflower. I slid the silver band that carried it right onto my ring finger.
"That was your grandma's," Mom said.
I raised it to the sunlight and let it glisten. It belonged right there on my finger.
That ring didn't leave my finger after that day. I felt my heart again, like it was beating with a purpose. I felt close to her again. I could talk to her because this ring was a part of her, and now it was a part of me. We were bonded again.
Looking at her pictures was different all of a sudden. I could feel her. Something would brush my shoulder every now and then. A breath would brush my cheek when there was no one beside me. I’d be talking to her in my head, and the sun would shine out of nowhere right into my eyes, and I knew she heard me. She was letting me know that every conversation I had with her was heard. She was with me again.
I had always believed in ghosts or spirits, but I’d never seen one. And when I actually saw my grandma it was completely unexpected.
I was sitting in my car in the parking lot on my lunch break, still stewing over a customer that got in my face. I was almost in tears because I was sick of people and sick of my job. As I looked down at my ring, my grandma's voice ran through my head.
"It's gonna be OK. You can cry on me if you want to," she'd always say.
That's when I looked up, and just across the lot, there she was — her thinning red hair, her round body sitting on little legs that lifted her no more than five feet and two inches. But it was her eyes that made me realize it was her. Not the color, but the way she looked at me — her eyes were always smiling even if her mouth wasn't.
Just as I was about to get out of my car to go to her, my coworker came alongside my door and took my eye off my grandma. I slipped passed my coworker and hurried to the middle of the parking lot. There were customers scattered throughout, my eyes bouncing off each one as I searched for my grandma.
“You OK?” My coworker asked as I slowly made my way back to my car.
“Uh, yeah. Let’s head inside,” I said. But I knew I saw a ghost.
I thought I'd be scared if I ever saw one. I thought my heart would jump out of my chest and that I'd want to scream from the rooftops that ghosts are real, that spirits weren't just a fantasy. But I didn't do any of that.
I wanted it to happen again, though. I wanted more time with her. But I knew I wouldn't become one of those people obsessed with luring spirits. Something about it was just so peaceful, though, that I wanted it more of it.
I never really thought about the spiritual world seriously because I never thought it would happen to me. I never thought I'd get that clarity. And now I believe that, definitely, our lost loved ones still watch over us. My grandma's ring brought her back to life for me. She wasn't ever really dead to me; it's just that I was never able to see with my own eyes that she'd never left. My heart needed that confirmation.
I'm OK if no one ever believes me. I've learned that the spiritual and supernatural are very personal. That ring unlocked something inside of me and allowed her spirit and love to grace this world again. I can carry her with me in this small piece of jewelry and know with certainty that she's walking with me. Maybe sitting at the table across from me when I'm at dinner. Maybe dancing right beside me in the nightclubs. Maybe taking all the junk food out of my cart at the grocery store.
And when I'm really ready to give up, she lets me see her sweet face for a moment so I know it's going to be OK. Just like the days when we were just like a couple of girlfriends.