When I was a baby, I met one of the most extraordinary women that I’ll ever meet in my life. A woman that I would come to know very well. I didn’t know it then, obviously, and I don’t remember our first encounter either. Nor do I remember the encounters to follow for several years after our first. But I do remember our last, very vividly. So perhaps we should start there.
May 29th 2020, my beautiful grandmother passed away. After several years of being quite ready to leave the pain and suffering that this world brings, she finally got the rest and comfort that I am certain instantly embraced her as she went to meet Jesus, whom she knew very well. I can imagine the excitement and joy she must have felt going to meet Him. All her life, she had been very close with God. Like a friend. Some wouldn’t understand the strength of her faith, but it was unwavering. My grandmother was the only person I think I’ve met that was so secure and so sure of her faith. I’ve never known someone stronger. She was kind, gracious, forgiving, and selfless. Her presence could wrap around you, warming you from the inside out. She always knew what to say and when to say it, but she didn’t say a whole lot most of the time. She listened. She always asked about you, and if the conversation ever shifted to her, she would shift it to someone else. I can’t remember an instance in which I heard my Grandma complain. She was full of gratitude, and that mindset of thankfulness encased everything she spoke of. She loved stories about her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She would lean her head against the back of her rocking chair, close her eyes, and smile subtly as someone would tell a story.
Her house was always full of people and kids. The noise and chaos that surrounded her was endless, reckless sometimes. But all the while, she sat in complete peace. She told me that the noise of kids screaming and toys being thrown about was music to her ears. And it truly was. She wouldn’t have changed that for the world.
Sometimes when I was younger, my family would go in to see Grandma on a weekday when no one was around. We would bring our school work and do it there in Grandma’s house. We would read to her or avoid school altogether and just sit and talk. We wrote her letters every week, even though we lived 20 minutes away and visited every week.
She always, always, always sent birthday cards to every single one of her grandkids… and she had a lot. My grandma had 11 kids in her lifetime. Out of those eleven, only one didn’t have kids of their own—he became a priest. But the other 10… kids, kids, and more kids. And then those kids had kids too. Point is, her memory was impeccable. She knew all about everyone’s life. She was like the family newspaper, full of all the latest information. Every time you sat down with her, she would begin to hand you pictures or letters that she had received that week. She tied us all together, I suppose.
She had a candy bowl that was in the shape of a cat that had a lid that when you opened it, a song would play. “What’s up, pussy cat, whoaaa ohhh ohhh oohhh.” When we were little, we would try to open it as quickly as we could so that we could place our finger over the button to keep it from singing. That way our parents wouldn’t hear it. Grandma had that cat with her for years, and not once was it empty. She always had food for anyone that would walk through her door. Usually the first thing she said after greeting me was something along the lines of, ”Oh, last night I made cookies, they’re in that tupperware there. Oh, and Beth brought these lovely chocolates here in this tin. And if you want food, the fridge has some ham and potato casserole from mass on Saturday.” Never ever did she not have something to offer.
She had a real cat too. Her name was Cinderella, and we were convinced that she was the devil. I was scared to death of that cat. She would hiss and bite and try to scratch us with her declawed paws. We were all scared of her. She would run to Grandma’s lap, though, and she would sit there for hours as Grandma petted her over and over, head to tail. They had some kind of special bond. That cat lived forever. We were all scared she would outlive Grandma and then someone would have to adopt her in. She didn’t, though—she died a couple years before Grandma. I do hope that they reunite in heaven though, and hopefully by the time I get there, Cinderella will have taken on more angelical traits and given up the whole biting and hissing act.
My Grandma used to come and spend the night at our house. In the summertime she would help us snap beans straight out of our garden. I remember us all sitting around in a circle with buckets, hands busy, as well as our mouths. I think I ate more than I snapped, but I saw Grandma eating them too, so I figured it was all right. I remember her teaching me to make pie crust in the kitchen of my Moms house. I would sit on the counter, covered in flour, my hands in the bowl with hers. She showed me how to measure out two-thirds a cup of lard, a pinch of salt, and how to add a little bit of water at a time, careful not to make it too sticky. She was always helpful, never liked to sit still while other people worked. I remember bringing in every kind of animal that we had on the farm to show her. Kittens, goats, chicks, baby bunnies, sometimes even calves or ponies. Mostly kittens, we always had a bunch of those running around. She was always so happy to see them. She would hold them as if they were babies and say how cute they were until someone would come get them off her lap and take them back outside.
I blame my Grandma for my addiction to coffee. I never went to Grandma’s house without drinking at least a couple cups. When I was little she would make it for me, two-thirds cream, one-third coffee, and a whole lot of sugar. As I got older, and as she got older, I would bring her coffee. And then we would sit, sipping coffee, looking out the window at birds. She always had several bird feeders right outside her windows, and she would tell me about each bird, like she knew them personally. She could tell which was which and how long it had been around, or if it hadn’t been around for a couple days. I guess that and reading is what passed her time when no one was there. She never had a phone, TV, radio, or computer. She read books, studied the bible, and wrote in her journals. She was the sharpest person I knew. Even at the very end of her life, at 89 years old, her memory did not fade, her hearing did not become muffled, her sight did not blur, and not even her personality waivered.
I have not been able to witness a more clear picture of God’s love than what my Grandma exhibited. She was an extraordinary example of what love looks like in the real and raw life that we live in. She gave of herself more than she even realized, and more than she ever thought she could. When you looked at my Grandma, you didn’t just see her, but rather God’s love in her, bubbling out of her. Through her smile, or her soft eyes, her gentle voice, and the touch of her hand. My Grandma was one of those people that simply being in their presence could put a gentle smile on your face and make you feel as if you were home. My Grandma was one of the greatest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
My Grandma taught by living. She didn’t talk the talk, but rather she walked the walk. I’m not even sure that she realized the example she left behind. She taught me what was truly important in this world of fleeting pleasures. She taught me that the biggest blessings in life are the things right around you that you so often take for granted, like the air in your lungs, the roof over your head, or the food in your belly. She didn’t care about what was going on in the world, but instead cared about family and friends whom she loved so deeply. There is beauty in simplicity, and my Grandma knew that very well. She thanked God for every breath, every day, every smile, and every pain, and with a smile and an assured nod, she would always say, “Aren’t we lucky ducks?”.
And well, lucky ducks we are.