Spring is wonderful, the time when the earth wakes from its dark and dreary slumber. When the grasses grow and flowers bloom. When the world comes out of hibernation and the birds start to sing again. It is such a beautiful and miraculous time of year, a time of new life and rebirth… but this time last year instead was a time for me to say a sweet goodbye.
My last-living grandparent, my 86 year old grandmother passed away on April 8, 2009. And as I approach the one year anniversary I wanted to pay tribute to a remarkable woman. At her precious homecoming I remember thinking what a beautiful person she was and how blessed I was to have known her and to have been loved by her. I still absolutely believe this, however, in the year since her death I think I have come to realize and understand the deeper level of what she was to our family and what she sacrificed for us.
I could write a novel about how she had a hard life, I would have no shortage of material. I would write about how she, like most her age who lived through the Great Depression, lived through hard and desperate times. How she grew up in a textile town and married the boy down the street. How she worked as a seamstress to feed and raise eight children while dealing with a difficult husband. How she watched her father, mother, sister and brother pass away one by one entirely too soon. How she watched helplessly as her husband and later two of her sons went to war for this country and how she worried day after day over their safety and whether she would see them again. How she cared for her husband after a detrimental stroke until his death in 1993 while also battling her own health problems. How she aided in caring for her children as they also started having severe health problems of their own. How she took on raising some of her grandchildren. And how she then watched as four of her children passed away, something no mother can ever be prepared for.
I say all this to paint a brief picture of everything that my grandmother would have never mentioned. She never complained, rarely outwardly grieved. She was neither an optimist or a pessimist, she simply focused on the task at hand and took life for what it is. On the exterior she may have seemed hardened by years of these difficult challenges, but underneath that toughened shell was a good woman. Simple, caring…
You see this was my father’s mother and many of you know that my father passed away nearly four years ago. In the years that followed his death, my beloved grandmother became my connection, my lifeline to the side of the family that I felt slipping from my grasp. Without the presence of my father, and with the deaths of several others in the years prior, the family that shared my name started to become a distant memory to me. But with Grandma, I was able to continue to feel like a part of the family and she provided me with a sense of belonging and helped me to keep my dad’s memory alive. I can only hope I was the same comfort to her as she grieved for him too. That by staying in touch with his child, she in turn, also had the gift of continuing to feel her son’s love.
But she was great about keeping me up to date with the happenings of the family. The aunts, uncles, and cousins that a busy life often prevents me from visiting with, well, I could always count on the family roundup session with my grandmother when I would visit her. She would fill me in on all the details of everyone. She had an amazing memory. Never failed to remember a birthday or anniversary, who was married to who, which children belonged to which parent, which child had their first basketball game or lost their first tooth, who changed jobs or went to what doctor for what ailment, etc… and this was no small feat because our family is quite large.
Even more amazing was the fact that not only could she recite the entire play-by-play of any event in her own life or the life of anyone in our family, but she could do this for any other person or family group that came across her path. Her neighbor down the street, the lady that styled her hair, the man she met at the grocery store while picking out oranges… she could tell you anything you wanted to know about these people. And it wasn’t in the way that a nosy gossip would be, she simply was interested and was genuinely concerned about other people’s lives. I suppose that’s how you are when you’ve dedicated your life to caring for other people.
The fact is, my grandmother loved people. She loved taking care of and checking on others. She loved talking to people. I can’t ever remember a time when she did something simply for herself that wasn’t out of necessity. She would have given anyone anything she had to give if she thought they needed it or if they asked.
She was a good woman – a good-hearted, hard-working, strong, Southern woman. She wasn’t emotional or affectionate, she didn’t shower anyone with compliments or gifts but she had a way of making you feel loved and fiercely protected. She was, after all, the truest definition of a mother – she would fight to the end for any one of her family.
Though she was not one to give gifts she did bless me with a few – probably without even realizing it.
On the days leading up to her homecoming, we had some sweet moments of small talk there in the quiet hospital room – just she and I. Nothing major, nothing earth shattering, just simple and sweet. Quite reflective of her personality. But as she ventured in and out, between this life and her next, for a moment, as she’d done so many times before, she made me feel connected. This time she brought together my world with the one in which my dad now resides. I know he was in that room with us those days, I could feel him. And I know he was eagerly waiting to welcome his mother with a warm embrace. Though it was quite sad and a reminder of everything I’ve lost, it was one of the sweetest moments of my life.
I am so blessed to have been her granddaughter. To have learned from her, to have witnessed her grace time and again through life’s joys and most difficult challenges, to have been loved by her so freely and abundantly. These have truly been some of the most precious gifts I will ever receive.
There are countless things I could write about my Grandma but today I will just simply say that she was filled with goodness. A goodness that felt like home every time she was in your presence, a goodness that helped sustain me through one of the most devastating losses of my life, a goodness that reaches beyond the grave and will live on in my heart forever.
I can only pray that I have somehow absorbed a little of that goodness because if I have, I will be better for it. I am a better person because of her.
The Little Ship
I stood watching as the little ship sailed out to sea. The setting sun tinted her white sails with a golden light, and as she disappeared from sight a voice at my side whispered, “She is gone”. But the sea was a narrow one. On the farther shore a little band of friends had gathered to watch and wait in happy expectation. Suddenly they caught sight of the tiny sail and, at the very moment when my companion had whispered, “She is gone” a glad shout went up in joyous welcome, “Here she comes!”
~ Author Unknown