My mom’s mother passed away last Monday after a 10 year battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. Our family gathered in Florida this weekend to celebrate her life. I had the joy of gathering memories from the grandchildren, which my cousin Lindsey read at the service, and I thought I’d share it below in case you want to get a glimpse into the kind of person my grandma was.
Our Grandma was a lover of children. First she had six of her own and in the blink of an eye it seemed, she had 17 grandkids too. Her life was filled up to the brim and overflowing with children. Our earliest memories include the delight she felt for us, the way she pulled us in tight for hugs and made us feel special every single time we saw her. Our Grandma was a safe haven.
She welcomed us with joy, always. She was strict and made us behave and we loved her all the more for it, for seeing that dignity tucked deep inside us, under all the layers of naughtiness, and helping us rise to the occasion and obey. She was also known to indulge us though, dispensing treats, sneaking us some of Granddaddy’s peanut M&M’s. More than one of us girls, found guilty of getting into Grandma’s jewelry cabinet, were joined by her at the vanity, as she helped us pick out clip-on earrings to try on.
Our grandma had a special closet in each of her homes, overflowing with toys, thrown open whenever we walked in the door. She thought of us at church rummage sales, picked out the most colorful clothes she found from the missionary bin for us to play dress-up. She always had us on her mind.
She made her life available to us. She raised us to know and love stories of our family—of her parents and siblings and Grandaddy’s. She didn’t just tell the good stories, she told the really sad ones too, even the ones where she sinned. In doing so she pointed us to God and His faithfulness and forgiveness, rather than to the idol of family.
Time and time again she snuggled with us on the sofa to page through stacks of photo albums, of us and our parents and their parents. She raised us to know with confidence where we came from, who we were in our family, and therefore who we were in the world.
She loved to cook and give treats. I don’t think one person in our big family can sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner without tasting Grandma’s mashed potatoes and gravy and her sweet potato soufflé.
As if piles of kids and grandkids weren’t enough, Grandma worked for years in a school for severely disabled children. When we went there to visit her it was scary sometimes, and yet even as very small children we swelled with pride that our Grandma loved people that others didn’t love—and often pretended not to notice.
She wasn’t just a lover of children; she was a defender of them.
For most of our growing up years, Grandma lived in neighborhoods with other retired people. Many of her neighbors were kind to us, but some of our fondest memories were the times the “old folks” had her up in arms for scolding the children — any children. She shook her head when they shot us dirty looks in the swimming pool for being too noisy. She said, “Oh don’t you worry about them, you all are just fine.”
She was a strong woman like that, we’d like to say a feminist in the very truest sense of the word. Grandma knew who she was and she didn’t need a fancy job title or a long list of credentials to prove it. She trusted that God loved her and created her for a purpose, and she was at peace with that purpose.
Some people would look on her simple, quiet life and pronounce it oppressive, even stifling, but Grandma understood the truth: She didn’t settle for her life as as a wife and a mom of six and a teacher; she chose it. She knew the secret that many people search the world over and miss: that in order to find your life, you need to give it up.
She lived the joy of that knowledge, even in the hard years.
Grandma was feisty! She didn’t pretend to be perfect and got frustrated; sometimes with us, sometimes with Granddaddy. When we played Yahtzee or Mexican train, she invited the littlest ones to be on her team so they’d win, and her competitive spirit made her a sassy player.
When Allison was a teenager and went to give blood at the American Red Cross, she was turned away for being a pound too light. Grandma told her, “Sweetie, you need to fill your pockets up with rocks and turn around and go right back in there. They need your blood!”
Though Grandma had many opinions, she was also one who loved without judgment. Both our grandparents were like that. More than once they opened their arms and their affections to someone who’d messed up, whose choices they disagreed with. Despite whispers of, “Don’t you know what they did!?” Grandma and Granddaddy chose the path of grace. Theirs was a love that bore all things, believed all things, hoped all things, and endured all things, for one another and for other people.
Over the last ten years, our beloved Grandma got more and more sick with Alzheimer’s Disease. Sadly, for some of us grandchildren, the majority of our memories of her are of visits to the nursing home’s Memory Care Unit, with its kind staff and sunny butterfly garden. They’re of a grandma who increasingly slipped away from us as she grew unable to recognize her own family.
And yet, we remember that she loved us. Her face lit up when she saw us, even if she didn’t know our faces anymore. She never, ever stopped inviting the little children to come to her. She hugged us. She held our own kids on her lap, cuddling them close, nuzzling their soft heads with her face.
On one visit, when Alden walked in the room to see her, he knew in his gut that this time she didn’t recognize him. After her warm greeting, he decided to ask her, “How’s your grandson, Alden?” and was treated to a gush of loving words. “He’s doing well! He’s doing great in school and starting to get into sports.” Alden said, “And how old is he now?” and without hesitating she said, “He’s seven!”
Grandma’s love was so true that it could bridge the gap of all the years of illness and fading memory and tell 22-year-old Alden, “I know you. I love you.”
We miss her so, so much. The memories of growing up in her love are the greatest gift she left us. We are very thankful God made us her grandchildren, and we’re thankful that today she is with Jesus.