the passing of time and the ones we love

If you’ve known my family for any length of time, you’ve most likely heard this story. When we were younger, every once in a while my sister and I would have sleepovers at my grandparents’ house. This was very exciting, because that meant we got to sleep on the canopy bed, or as we liked to call it, “the bed with the roof on it.” One evening in particular, I was being a little, shall we say, resistant to spending the night. Mimi did her best to try and coax me to stay. I couldn’t have been more than 5 at the time. “We’ll have hamburgers!” she said. Nope. “We’ll make popcorn and watch a movie!” Nope. “Ice cream!” They pretty much threw every kid’s dream at me, until I finally had had enough. “I don’t want hamburgers, I don’t want ice cream, and I don’t want to sleep on that bed with the roof on it!

I can still hear her chuckle at the end of telling that story.

One time when she picked me up from preschool, I convinced her that it was okay for a friend to come home with me to her house. I mean, I thought it was okay. What else did we need? Being the days of word of mouth, she of course assumed I – an adorable and presumably trustworthy four-year-old – had cleared this with the appropriate parties. I learned a great lesson that day. One, bringing home random children from school is NOT okay. And two, my grandmother had the patience and grace of a saint.

She taught us manners with safety pin chains. She let me wrap my own Christmas presents in nondescript boxes. She tried to teach me how to crochet, but unfortunately, I was a lost cause. “Clean up as you go” is something I can still hear her saying as I notice my own habit of leaving every single dish and ingredient strewn haphazardly about while cooking.

Not a day goes by that I’m not reminded of some kind of influence or impression she has left upon me. What would Mimi do?  She would welcome everyone she could into her home and into her heart. She would prepare a meal for a sick neighbor or church friend. She would extend an invitation to a surly, introverted teenager to help her come decorate her Christmas tree. When I think about how I want my children and grandchildren to see me as they age, I could only hope that they have half the admiration and respect I hold for her.

In a poem from Helen Keller:

“What we have once enjoyed
we can never lose;
All that we love deeply,
becomes a part of us.”

Mimi will always be a part of me, her empathy, kindness, grace, and humility guiding me throughout my days. And while I miss her terribly, it brings me great comfort to know that she is surrounded my love up in heaven, watching over us.

For Mimi, you now sit upon the bed with the highest roof. And I hope to sit with you some day again.

 

• • • • •

I was honored to read the above words at my grandmother’s funeral. It was hard and sad. That evening as I nodded off to sleep, I would see her face and hear her voice, only to snap awake and find myself in a hotel room, Christian and his iPad the only others in the room.

The next day, my parents and sister offered to watch the kids while Christian and I stopped by to visit my grandfather before heading back to Austin. He’s still at the rehab center recuperating from a broken leg. The same rehab center where he once could wheel himself to the room next door and visit with his wife. I know the service was hard on him. He and my Mimi were kindred spirits – always together, physically and emotionally. It’s hard for me to envision one without the other.

After the service on Thursday, Christian and I had poured over an old scrapbook that had belonged to my grandfather’s older sister. We told him about some of the photos we saw: him in his military uniform around 1945 (age 20), early photos of him and my grandmother in the 50s, family photos of the two of them with my mother and uncle in the 60s. We jogged his memory, and he told us story after story from his life. How joined the Merchant Marines after he was turned away from the Navy due to asthma he later wished he had never admitted to. How he and my grandmother traveled by train to Louisiana on their honeymoon and got burned to a crisp on the shores of Lake Ponchartrain and had to endure a painful, single-berth train ride back to Dallas. How he sat in a parking lot in his patrol car on the day Kennedy was shot, listening to the entire ordeal unfold on the radio, the only on-duty Dallas Police Officer for miles, since almost everyone else was downtown looking for the shooter.

Before we knew it, two hours had flown by. His dinner had come. We needed to get on the road and find dinner for our own children. There wasn’t enough time.

“If you have anything you want to do,” he told us, “do it now. Time goes by fast. So fast.” And I wondered what it was like to have such a life to look back on, so many stories to tell. My grandfather has led a marvelous life. A significant part of it has ended, but he’s still here. I honestly don’t remember the last time we had this kind of opportunity to just sit and talk with him, not just surface conversations about the kids or life in Austin. We weren’t there for an obligatory check in. We were there to see him. And I hope he felt seen.

Because our elders, they need to be seen. Time goes by too fast. And they are still a part of us.

Thank you all for being here and reading my words. xoxo

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17 Comments

  1. Your grandparents sound like truly wonderful, wise and beautiful people. I’m so sorry for the loss of your Mimi. Your words for her are beautiful. As was your visit with your Grandfather. Much love to you and your family, Leigh Ann.

  2. Leigh Ann, what a beautifully heartfelt post. So saddened to hear of your grandmother’s passing, but such memories to forever cherish are irreplaceable…hold them tight. God bless your grandfather!

  3. Oh Leigh Ann. This is such a beautiful post. Grandparents teach us so much and yours sound like such wonderful people. xo

  4. Oh man. I’m so sorry for your loss, but I love your perspective. Yes. My grandmother… she is always with me. In the way I love my kids. In the way I cook. In the way I do a lot of things. And every time I hear Cady sing I think about how much my grandfather would have loved her. He would have played and played for her and taught her so many things about music. Time really does go by so fast. And there never is enough of it.

  5. I am so, so sorry for your loss, but thank you for your words.

    I love those little bits of her you shared; it makes me think of my grandma and the way I think of her when I do big things, like plan Easter morning for the kids or little things, like paint my toenails red.

    Sometimes you hear something EXACTLY when you need to hear it, and I needed to hear this today. Not that it’s about me, but THANK YOU.

  6. That was absolutely beautiful Leigh Ann and it made me cry again just like at Mimi’s memorial service. She was a very special person and we are in large part who we are today because of her. She taught us so many things with love and patience. I’m glad you got to have such a nice visit with Pop. I know he enjoyed having you guys there to talk to. He called later that evening and said he really enjoyed your visit. I know it meant a lot to him. XOXO

  7. This is touching Leigh Ann. It is sad and beautiful and hopeful. I’m sorry about your grandmother. So much love to you!

  8. Such a beautiful post! I’m so sorry for the loss of your grandmother, but glad you had such a meaningful visit with your grandfather. Those stories and memories are treasures. Hugs to you.

  9. What a beautiful post. Your grandparents sound like they were amazing people and make me wish I had known my known better. Sending love. xoxo

  10. I am so glad you got to read these words at the celebration of your grandmother’s life. I am so sorry for your loss.

    The stories, all the stories. i love them too and I get sad when I realize that we never seem to have time to hear them all. I’m just glad you got that time to sit and listen,with your grandfather.

    Thank you for sharing this, it was beautiful and touching.
    xo

  11. So sorry for your loss — she sounds like she was a tremendous person.

    To this day, I still find myself asking what advice my grandfather would give, were he around to give it (I lost two of my grandparents when I was quite young, and my mother’s mother lived a great deal away, but my father’s father was . . . well, in some ways, he was more of a father to me than my actual father was). Something tells me that I’ll always do the same.

    Saturday, I spent the day at a funeral for my friend’s wife — so say that I’m worried about him is an understatement.

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