My grandmother, who is unarguably the heart and soul of my extended family, passed away yesterday in North Carolina. Behind her she leaves a void that all of us know will never be filled.
And yet, to an extent, it already has.
In some ways, we measure ourselves by the impact that we make upon the world, and whether we leave it a better place than we found it. I, for one, know that my very existence is largely a product of my grandparents, who worked together to create something bigger and more meaningful than anything I’ll create in my lifetime. They built not just a family but one that works ceaselessly to improve the world through kindness and humor. And so while our hearts are unbearably heavy today, I take solace in the fact that my grandmother lives on—not just in the family that she created, but in the many acts of kindness that she instilled in others. There are truly parts of her in all of us.
When I graduated college, my parents had divorced, Kelly (who I’d only been dating for three months) was moving to Maryland for a job that she wasn’t sure would be permanent, and suddenly I found myself in an adult world with no job and only a hint of a direction. My brother had also joined the Air Force, and for the first time in my life, family felt like a distant thing to me.
My grandparents changed all of that.
Although they were in their seventies, they didn’t blink when they offered for me to come live with them until I figured out what I wanted to (or could) do. They knew their home of forty years couldn’t match the excitement of the Athens nightlife, and I’ll never forget my grandmother laughing as she told me she was aware of that. But in those weeks I lived with them, they instilled a sense of family that I didn’t entirely realize I’d been missing. We had home-cooked meals and talked about things around town and my grandmother silently (and happily) made meals that she knew that I liked, even though I protested. When my grandmother made up her mind about something (especially related to a kindness she was offering), it was best to just accept and be grateful. And I was and am so truly grateful.
As of yesterday, she is no longer with us, but in some ways she is always with us. She’s the catalyst whenever we decide to bring family together, and she bats away the hesitation we might feel when we hug instead of shaking hands. She’s the foundation of our sense of home whenever we walk in our front door, and the laughs we make whenever we see something silly (her eye rolling was the best). There are few things in our lives that she hasn’t touched.
I hope so much that in those final days, she smiled to herself and knew that her work here was done. I hope that she felt rewarded in knowing that she would be leaving the world a better place than she found it, and that her five remaining daughters (and their children) would continue to build on that impact long after she was gone. Most of all, I simply hope that left this world with a profound sense of satisfaction.
If you’re reading this, Grandma, know that I love you so much, and that we will never, ever forget you.