“To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today my grandmother – my Nana – was laid to rest. She passed away last week after a long and courageous battle with cancer. I’m so very grateful for thirty-four special years of her love.
While this blog is dedicated to those doers and makers and dreamers here in Winston-Salem, at the core this is my space to take note of the meaningful moments that unite and inspire us all. I’m certain almost everyone reading this has lost someone they love, and when that happens you are instantly reminded of the preciousness of this one life. As I have become more rooted in my community I have come to realize that in the end what is left of us here on earth are the memories we have made with others. Or as Maya Angelou so beautifully put it, “how you made them feel”.
I had the great honor of writing her obituary, and at first this task seemed so sad and hard. But it wasn’t; it was heartwarming and humbling, and honestly the hardest part was keeping my word count in check. That’s never been my strong suit.
My Nana led a fairly simple life on paper but it was what she did with those in-between moments of her day that made her time here so extraordinary. She was a passionate, lifelong learner who truly left everything she touched more beautiful than she found it. Receiving a handmade card from her was like opening a piece of art. I distinctly remember a paper butterfly once popping out of a card when I opened it. It scared the crap out of me at the time, but oh the drama in that presentation. She probably made thousands of those cards for the sick and the lonely and the deployed even as her own health faded.
She loved QVC and we would tease her about her love of QVC. In our family, Christmas season officially began when QVC packages would start arriving at your doorstep marked with her name and “do not open until Christmas”. Our twelve days of Christmas were spent guessing what ‘special value’ had caught her eye on our behalf. There were some winners. There were some duds.
My Nana believed there is nothing that a glue gun couldn’t fix… and I mean nothing. And she made everything she touched sparklier. Although she lived in a small modest home it stuck out like a sore (yet shiny) thumb on her block. She somehow transformed her yard into a botanical garden that rivals the wealthiest. There were beautiful park benches; even the grass felt soft and special.
She was a tiny woman. I’m 5’10 and she was 4’11 so I spent most of my life talking down to her (with respect). She often told me she spent most of my life talking to my chest (“or lack thereof”, I would say). But what she lacked in height she made up for in spirit and tenacity. She also teased her hair a bit and that helped.
She was incredibly gifted and creative. She was always taking some new art and design or craft class. And she would always end up teaching that very class in less than a year’s time. I kid you not. She was fierce – and clearly a type A.
She loved my Papa deeply – although she did call him a ‘slow poke’. I can still hear her voice echoing throughout the house…. “JAAAAAAMES!” She always needed his help with some new project or sorting through her art supplies; and he was always there whenever she called him. They were married in 1955 and celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary this year. The two spent their newlywed years traveling while he served in the Navy and she often reflected on those early years as the time when she discovered her personal strength and sense of adventure. Those stories live on in me.
She was my champion and she called me her ‘old soul’. She taught me the importance of self-care and creative outlets. She also taught me how to work a sale. When I was with her I laughed and learned often. And in her final years I listened closely to all the wisdom she shared. We didn’t agree on everything but we did on matters of love.
I miss her terribly already but I feel energized just knowing she’ll be with me often. Having her by my side is my new secret weapon. With her spirit in my mind I go into this new week more intentional in how I want to make others feel and how I can leave this world more beautiful than I found it. Because after all, that’s what really matters. Thank you Nana for this lesson.
With gratitude and love,