Saying Goodbye & Dragonflies

 younger redheaded woman smiling with older white haired woman, embracing

my grandmother, Doty, at her 100th birthday party

My grandmother passed away this spring.  She was 101, spent the day surrounded by family, and, wrapped in a blanket, peacefully fell asleep and didn't wake up.  I wrote about lessons she taught me in a previous post but what I neglected to share were the experiences she gave me, one of which was getting to go to a cottage since I was a little girl on the shores of Glen Arbor, Michigan.  

Her dear friend, Margaret, also my mother's Sunday school teacher in Ohio, had a house on Lake Michigan and invited my grandparents to stay there for weeks at a time in the summer and they, in turn, invited us.  And so we would make the annual pilgrimage from Texas and it quickly became my favorite place on the planet.  The huge open sky on Sleeping Bear Bay, icy turquoise waters, sand warmed from the sun and fragile dune grasses all became touchstones for my concepts of family, beauty, calm, and safety.  

view from the house of the lake

After my parents got divorced and my brother joined the Navy, my husband and I rented the cottage and even though it was just the two of us my entire family was in the house with us - at the path my brother and I posed for a sunset photo, the grill my dad had made burgers on, the garden my grandmother had walked me through, the table in the sunroom my mother used to set our lunches out at.  Through moves and changes in our family, that cottage remained a constant.  And all because of a friendship my grandmother had.  

Back to her - my cousin sent me off to Michigan this year with the request to scatter Doty's ashes (we called my grandmother Doty) at the cottage and lake.  And so Doty traveled in a Mason Jar that my cousin decorated with dragonfly stickers and a purple ribbon. I'm confident that dragonflies hang out in Michigan but I've never seen them very much.  The first night one nearly flew straight into my face.  And over the course of the week I saw them almost every day to the point that my cousin's decoration choice seemed spot on.  

the empty beach 

On a particularly hot day near the end of our trip the beach was empty and I felt compelled to finally take the jar to the lake to scatter some of the ashes into the waves.  I was only in to my ankles, wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  As I watched the waves spread Doty's ashes across the shoreline and then get pulled further and further into the water I stepped in deeper to watch them disperse.  "I don't need it" I thought, "but it would be lovely to see a dragonfly just a sign that you know I'm thinking of you, Doty".  But the skies were empty.  

If you haven't been to Michigan think of melted ice - that's what the lake feels like in June - it's freezing.  So much so I don't even bring a swimsuit anymore and haven't been in the water in years.  But I used to go in, when I was little, and the only adult who would ever go in with me was Doty.  She would don her flower covered white swimming cap and sensible suit and perform water ballets with me and would hold me in her arms.  "Come in, Erin!" I could hear her say in my memory.  And then the waves tugged at me, pulling me further into the water as I went in to my knees and then my waist.  It felt like the waves were drawing at the sides of my t-shirt, pulling me deeper into the water to the spot Doty and I had played at 30+ years ago.  My feet negotiated the stony bottom of the lake and I got in to my ribs - still freezing.  "Come in, Erin!" I heard her voice again in the back of my mind.  I took a deep breath and dropped to my knees as the crisp water rushed over my head.  I came up, out of the waves feeling invigorated, emotional, alone, and close to my grandmother all at once.  The sun shone brightly and the wind whipped around me as I stood in the lake and started to cry as I missed Doty and couldn't hold it back anymore.  Suddenly a dragonfly zipped by me and then another.  I laughed out loud.  It was only fitting that she seemed to wait until I had done a full and proper dunk before saying hello.  No more tears.

swimming with Doty (the pool was not as cold as the lake)

I don't necessarily think that my grandmother's spirit was in those ashes or know if she sent the dragonflies my way but I do know that the act of releasing her ashes and the fact that I saw more dragonflies last week than I have in my life made me feel close to her.  And I'm so grateful for every memory I have of her and that I got to have her as long as I did.  


  • Deborah

    Erin- what a beautiful and loving tribute to celebrate Doty!

  • Susan

    Precious. You are blessed.

  • Jessie Steiner

    Thank you Erin for such a fitting tribute to our amazing grandmother 🥰🥰 what a beautiful experience and lovely way to remember Doty. 🩷Love you!!

  • Charlie McMillan

    Erin, thank you so much for your thoughtful and loving tribute to your Doty, my mom. She always went for honest simplicity and as a girl who grew up on the shores of Lake Erie I know how much your actions and words would have meant to her. Love you girl.

  • Julia

    Erin- Such sweet and precious memories you shared. Isn’t it lovely when God gives us that little extra special thing when our hearts need it. I have the best memories of my grandparents and still feel their love with me and they have been gone a long time. They made me feel like the most special girl on the planet. Grandparents are special and your sweet Doty sounds like such a precious gem!

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