My grandmother passed away yesterday and I am still surprised at how much grief I feel at her loss. She was a beautiful, kind woman who loved deeply and gave graciously to everyone she met. I was blessed to spend a lot of time with her during my childhood and adolescent years. She had one of the biggest impacts on my life.
When we remember the lives of our loved ones, we often point out the great things they have accomplished – actions that are obvious and laudable on a large scale. We admire people who change the world in recognizable ways and we forget the smaller actions that of the day-to-day. My grandmother was a great woman whose small gestures in her daily life had a bigger impact on my life than any would-be world-changing actions I might admire in others.
One of my fondest memories of grandma is also my most embarrassing. It reveals my selfishness, but it is an important memory that I cherish. Each of us spent one week each summer with my grandmother when she lived in Tampa. She would plan a few fun outings during our time there, but she would still go to work and visit my great grandmother in her nursing home. I remember the day that Grandma had planned an outing to Lowry Park with my cousin Rebecca and me. We eagerly awaited the trip, but received the news that morning that we had to visit our great grandmother first. We were only four or five, and I was devastated that I had to wait until the afternoon to go to the park. Not only that, but I had absolutely no desire to go to the nursing home. I probably threw a hissy fit – I vaguely remember crying. My grandmother pulled me aside and told me in that gentle way she had that I needed to put others before myself. We would be visiting my great grandmother not necessarily because we wanted to, but because it was important to her that we visit. We needed to let go of our plans to do something for others, and I needed patiently wait for the activity we would do that afternoon.
Her words and actions impacted my life. She spoke with such patience and kindness that I felt severely chastised and reacted with embarrassment at my own actions rather than with irritation with her. I was truly repentant for my attitude, but I doubt I would have felt that way if she had approached me in anger. She, too, did not want to postpone our trip to the park (an admittedly fun event) in lieu of visiting her mother in the nursing home (at this point my great grandmother had severe dementia and visits were increasingly stressful for everyone involved). But despite her desires, she prioritized that visit and put her mother’s needs before her own. During our visit to the nursing home, I watched how my grandmother treated everyone she met. There were some incredibly sweet people who would treat us with love and kindness. But there were also some people with minds warped by dementia and Alzheimer’s; they would yell at us in anger, confused at who we were and what we were doing there. Grandmother would describe how those people used to be different – they were kind and loving when she first knew them and they were not purposefully acting angry. She treated everyone with dignity and respect regardless of how they treated her. She cared for people deeply and she expected us to do the same. I am so grateful that instead of preventing me from seeing these things, she showed me how to love people who were different, older, unkind, and unlovable. My grandmother’s love was not controlled by her feelings but by her desire to live like Christ.
I made more wonderful memories with her as I got older. She would take me to work during my summer visits where I would spend the day with her at Belk Lindsey, behind the candy counter. I would explore the store, secretly pretending that I was Corduroy the Bear on a big adventure. She would occasionally buy me one set of paper dolls from the toy section upstairs and I would sit on the floor behind the candy counter, playing with the dolls. She introduced me to all of her coworkers and would occasionally buy me a treat at the end of her shift. She was careful to be beyond reproach; she would sign out of her register and have a coworker to sign in before she would make her purchase. We would leave the store, candy in hand, a smile on my face.
The years went by and she moved south to live near us. My mother was involved with committees and my older sisters’ after school activities, so I spent many afternoons with my grandmother and grandfather. We baked cookies, took walks, played games, read the Bible, went through photos, talked about days long ago. I heard stories of the men that she dated while working at MacDill Air Force Base, before she met my grandfather. I learned a little about her parents and a lot about her numerous aunts. But most of all, I learned that loving someone meant dying to myself. My grandmother was loving and kind, patient and understanding. She was a beautiful person and I miss her deeply. I know that she is in a better place now and that I will see her once again. But for now, right now, I miss her dearly.