One of my grandmother’s repeated phrases was, “We’ve got a lot of living to do.” Her enthusiasm for life was as refreshing as a child’s – Even as a 95-year-old who had lived through WWII, the Depression, the untimely death of three sons, and an exceptionally unhappy husband. Despite having experienced no shortage of heart crushing tragedy, her positive perspective was unwavering.
I’ve always admired Grandmother’s ability to see the glass overflowing, and wondered how she consistently met life with untainted open eyes. She attributed her strength to the ability to ‘endure’ (a word she repeated many times over many years).
“No one knows how to endure anymore. They reach for the bottle or pills. If your head is clear, you will eventually come to a conclusion, a solution. But you must endure. Even if there is pain or insecurity. Feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t work,” she’d say.
Grandmother was a consummate Good Girl and one of the last remaining Southern Belles, living her entire life in the Garden District of New Orleans.
Always a lady, she was not one to raise her voice or use ‘bad words.’ She did occasionally use the word ‘hell,’ but always with discretion and usually followed by an apology. The extent of her profanity was mostly descriptive as in, “She ran like holy hell” or “Poor thing looked like hell.”
One of her most frustrated moments was at 87 when she decided to try “the email.” I received this one and only message:
THIS IS SO COMPLICATED. I HOPE THAT UNCLE MIKE HAS THE TIME AND PATIENCE.
She never googled a thing, but encouraged me more than once when I had a question she couldn’t answer to ‘Oogle it.’
When she wasn’t irritated with the email, her words were far more poetic. She wrote the following in a letter to my brother and sister-in-law after their wedding when she described the moment this picture was taken:
“With the sky cloudless, a moment so sacred and breathtakingly beautiful…I found my way outside onto the warm white sand and vast blue seascape deserving of an artist’s paintbrush. A sunset background, the likes of which I had never seen before, and with my back to the ocean, I turned with all-out free abandonment and placed my gold handled cane deeply in the sand for support, raised my left arm with a flowing chiffon multi-colored gown and smiled. The sea breeze lifted the grace fold of my dress high and wide. I was elevated to serene happiness. I had lived the impossible dream. Oh, to experience such pleasure. If the sky had opened up and taken me that very moment, so be it. Joy prevailed.”
Grandmother would rather write letters or garden while listening to opera than sit at a ‘computa.’ She could still be found pulling weeds or even sawing into trees in her 90s. She may seem like a well put together southern Scarlett who lived in a fancy house, but she was humble and one of the most down to earth people I’ve ever known. She greeted everyone with warmth and referred to the termite man as ‘darlin.’
Despite her difficulty adapting to technology, Grandmother grew and changed with the times. She told me often that “Life is a learning experience,” and I’ve seen her flowing with many changing tides as a graceful guru in pearls.
Beyond her charm, she lived life with steadfast gratitude. Her usual response when asked how she felt was, “Couldn’t be betta!” Despite many trying times where she could have complained or spiraled into depression, she endured and even thrived. She believed life was a gift and no matter how challenging the circumstances, there was always a lesson to be learned or a divine plan taking place.
She made the choice to see magic and made even the most mundane parts of life sparkle. I once watched her eat Starkist tuna, fresh from a can, chewing slowly with eyes closed, quietly murmuring, “Superb!” She also kept her Listerine in a crystal decanter and enjoyed complimenting people over being complimented.
She was my biggest support. Last year when I started my skincare company, Essentiel she called as soon as the product arrived and said, “I want to be your first customa.” Since then, she used my moisturizer every day and told me repeatedly that her skin felt “soft as silk.”
I always left our long conversations feeling elevated. For years I’ve wrestled with worry and an overactive mind that can occasionally make me feel miserable. Grandmother’s wisdom was of a different generation, but always caused me to pause. “Watch out, the devil can get into your mind,” she’d say.
The last time I saw Grandmother was this past August. I sat at the edge of her bed just days before she passed. She told me that she was ready and ‘at peace.’ I thanked her for creating this family, and for being the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known, inside and out, and for teaching me to think, laugh, play and LOVE. I told her I could only hope have her grace, but would do my best to carry on her name in hopes to inspire others in ways she’s inspired me. When I asked if there was anything I could do for her, she she shook her head and assured me she was ‘doing fine.’ Then I asked her if there was any last wish I could fulfill for her in the future. She paused, looked at me in the eyes and said, “Just be you and enjoy life.’
I told her that I knew there were angels awaiting her arrival and she would soon be embraced with the warmest welcome. “You are one of them,” I said.
I wasn’t present when she took her last breath, but was told a single tear streamed down her face. I imagine she was greeted by a superb and glorious chorus of family and friends who welcomed her home.
Days after grandmother passed, this hand written note was found in her wallet beside a picture of her father…
Thank you for being part of my life. I wish you and your families a heartfelt holiday. I’m grateful for YOU.
I’d love to hear what you’re grateful for this season. Please share in the comments below!