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Joy Ryan and her grandson prove it’s never too late to make amends. Family is family.

At 92 years old, Joy Ryan proved that it’s never too late to do anything — whether that’s taking a road trip, climbing a mountain, or building a relationship with your grandson.

Joy worked a low-paying job at a grocery store deli until she was in her 80s and spent her evenings walking through a neighboring cemetery. In 1994, her husband died of cancer. Ten years later, two of her three middle-aged sons died. 

Joy Has Spent Her Life in Duncan Falls, Ohio, Home to Two Traffic Lights

grandma and grandson pose in ice cream parlor

Brad Ryan, now 41-years-old, is one of Joy’s grandsons. He saw her again for the first time in a decade at his sister’s wedding. Brad’s parents (Joy’s son and daughter-in-law) had had a very ugly divorce, leaving parts of the family angry and estranged. Joy’s relationship with her grandson Brad was a casualty of that unfortunate situation.

Seeing his grandmother again after all that time, Brad realized that Joy didn’t look healthy.

“The doctors didn’t know what was wrong with her, but she was very close to death,” Brad said.

Motivated by her frailty and his guilt, Brad decided to reach out to his grandmother again.

“For all those reasons, I needed to start from scratch and rebuild what was lost during that period of estrangement,” he said. “I set out to try to save her from this small-town experience, what I considered a really gloom and doom way to spend your golden years sitting on the porch in the same town you’ve lived in 80-plus years.”

Even though picking up the phone wasn’t easy, Brad did it anyway.

“It was admittedly very awkward in the beginning,” Brad said. “You can’t just pick up after ten years like nothing happened. So instead, you have to make a choice, and my choice was to just create something more beautiful.”

Brad Asked His Grandma to Leave Ohio Behind and Go on an Epic Journey

Brad had the perfect idea on how they could rebuild their relationship: What if he and his grandmother visited every national park in America?

In 2015, Joy agreed to go on this adventure with Brad.

Next to her grandson, Joy climbed her first mountain at 85. Together, the two slept in a tent for the first time and fell off an air mattress in the pouring rain. Brad showed Joy how much life there was left to live.

“And that’s what everybody needs to be reminded of,” Brad said. “If we’re lucky enough to live to be 85 or 92, how do we want that to look?”

Joy and Brad have driven more than 50,000 miles and visited 62 out of 63 parks o their bucket list.

“The idea that she would just continue to sit on that front porch and continue to take that evening walk through a cemetery instead of being surrounded by the most wondrous living things on Earth was what I couldn’t stand,” Brad said. “So that was my cross to bear until the opportunity finally arose that I could get her in the passenger seat and take off.”

Joy’s coordination and balance have improved with every trip they have taken, and though her knees have always hurt, she continues to hike with her grandson.

“As a result, she’s gotten stronger,” Brad said. “And everybody who’s followed us on social media every day, there’s a comment that she looks younger now than she did when we started, and that’s possible for anyone.”

Not only have Joy and Brad gotten to see more of the world’s beauty, but they’ve gotten to rebuild their relationship.

“When you spend that many hours on the open road, there’s nothing you don’t learn about somebody, and that went both ways,” Brad Ryan said.

They have one park left: the National Park of American Samoa in the South Pacific, about 6,8000 miles from Joy’s home in Duncan Falls.

“I’m looking forward to everything,” Joy said. “I’ve got something to look forward to. We got one more to go, and I know we will make it because my health is that good.”

A Family that Hikes Together Sticks Together

grandson and grandma pose on their national parks journey

Joy and Brad decided to to heal their wounds so they could really get to know each other again. Their commitment to family has changed their lives and by sharing their adventures to their 80,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook shows others that reconnecting with a loved one is always possible.


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