I sat holding her frail ,tiny, wrinkled, and bruised hands. Years of dementia had stolen her memory, but her sweet and pleasant demeanor remained. She sat in an oversized reclining chair that seem to magnify how tiny she had become. Her gaze looked off to the side towards the light coming in from a nearby window. Cognizant of the fact this very well was our last time together, I strived to fully be present in that moment. I attempted to bring her gaze to focus as I told her the things that granddaughters tell their grandmothers. She was much more interested in the light. She briefly broke her stare, as her eyebrows raised, when I referred to Granddaddy by his first name, “Joe.” Her husband. My dad’s father. And dweller of the Eternal Light for sixteen years.
I do not imagine anyone likes goodbyes. I detest them so much that I tend to avoid them at all cost. Even to the extent of damaging precious relationships because I would rather move to the ‘next chapter’ before giving the closing of one the attention and care it deserves. My father’s sudden death did not allow me the opportunity to even think about avoiding a “goodbye.” Our last conversation was trite. No hug. No letter. No goodbye. But here I was, an opportunity to not only face, but rather embrace the ‘goodbye.’ Instead of stumbling over words to grandmomma, I started singing as we sat together. Her gaze broke one last time, as she looked into my eyes, opened her mouth and made an audible sound along with my singing. Finishing out the only verses of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” I knew by heart, her fragile hand squeezed mine. (If you have been following the story I am telling, this is the same dear hymn my father and I sang together in the dark, just days before he passed. He sang every single word of every single verse to our God, as his hand squeezed mine. ) This moment I found myself on a Tuesday morning by the light with grandmomma was essentially a gift. A gift to say goodbye to my sweet grandmother, and a chance to do the same to my recently deceased dad.
Do not mistake my ninety three year old grandmother’s fragile hands as weak. Quite the opposite, my grandmother’s long life was the picture of strength. She was the epitome of a strong woman, and she lived a life that reflected that. Even as an adult, it can be hard to imagine your parents, much less your grandparents as anything but, well, ya know, ‘mature.’ (I look in my own mirror, very aware of the new lines that appear daily. I refuse to believe that hair shining in my hairbrush is gray. Nope. Couldn’t be.) I could not have been more thrilled to get a peak into my grandmother’s full life as my aunt beautifully shared bits of her story during her funeral last weekend. I beamed with pride through the tears to learn more specifically, how my “sweet little grandmother” was also a FIERCE WOMAN! Her own mother was widowed while she was pregnant when my grandmother was just three. They survived the Great Depression in a multigenerational home through hard work, positive attitudes, and hope and value in the importance of education. Against all odds, my grandmother graduated valedictorian of her class and hopped on the train, all her belongings in a trunk, to attain her college degree. She found romance and love while working at the Ware Shoals Inn the summer before her senior year. She did not abandon her educational pursuits. She and granddaddy married, and he served in WWII. While in the Pacific, she was essentially an independent woman. She navigated life in San Francisco and knew she had to live with the knowledge so many military wives have—their beloved may not return.
She maintained this fierceness her entire life. As my aunt said, “she artfully integrated work and family….she was a happy person…she was intentional and consistent.” She did this with grace and care. She never complained or bemoaned her responsibilities and embraced obstacles as challenges instead of roadblocks. I believe that I, along with my fellow millennials(and really let’s not leave out the Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers) can learn a lot from my grandmother, and women of her like. Let’s not let the term “Steel Magnolia” go the way of the Dodo bird or become synonymous with ‘unicorn.’ May we be women who weave together strength, steadiness, and tenacity with grace, gentleness, and cheer. May we lift each other up as we travel down our winding roads, always pointing each other to the Light. The true Light—our true God, our one Savior.
May we not forget what Paul told to the early church in Galatia, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”-- Galatians 3:28 (ESV)
Carry on, my sweet and strong ladies—and gentlemen, too!