Sunday April 22, 2012
We’re here on Earth Day to bring closure to and celebrate a life on Earth that was well-lived. For me: Grandmother—but also daughter, sister, wife, mother, great-grandmother, aunt and great-aunt and more but in the end all the names still add up to Joelmae.
In April, four years ago almost to the day, I wrote in some notes the random quote: “Can’t be anybody but myself.” I didn’t put where it came from so either she said it, or I just figured she would have.
I also figure that seeing this family and knowing how many other family members and friends are thinking about her fondly today would be pleasing to her. She touched many lives and each one was forever changed by knowing her but she wouldn’t really want the credit, she wouldn’t want to be the center of attention, and she certainly wouldn’t want any fuss so I have to preface all this by apologizing to her because we’re going to do some of that today.
She always had a passion for stories and loved telling them, even right up to the end when it was painful to speak and hard to focus her eyes she’d still perk up at a chance to talk about her experiences teaching little children, or something funny she remembered from books she’d read, or even thoughts and dreams she’d had.
She loved stories, and she loved children. Probably all children, everywhere. During the past few weeks there are a couple of things she said that have really stuck with me. One is her expression of complete satisfaction with the influence she’s had on young lives. Seeing the look of discovery in children’s eyes, or seeing them learn to do something they thought was impossible was one of her greatest rewards. The looks in their eyes was all the thanks I need, she told me.
Watching the grandkids run back outside to play she also told me, “So many memories. Still a lot of time to make memories—so make them good ones. They can help when other things hurt.”
There are so many stories about Jo inside each of us. My charge now, and for all of us, is the telling and re-telling of them. Today, tomorrow and from then until always we must continue to pass on the stories of this great life because it’s in the remembering and the sharing that she will stay just as real as ever; little memories can become larger and stronger, and her Spirit can continue to work in our lives.
Her brother got the wings, but I think, had the situation been a little different, we might have had a couple of flyers in the family—or at least one pilot and one person who jumped out of perfectly good airplanes with parachutes. She was the young acrobat, the little girl who would run and jump off the edge of the table into her father’s arms because it made him laugh, and the grown lady who always wanted to go on the Six Flags rides that would take you up slow and drop you real fast.
We all know that, later in life, her health prevented her from physically doing so many of the things she loved, but her Spirit never changed. Her positive attitude toward life was the same. It seemed like there was no replacement of heart parts or brain surgery that could keep her down. In fact it was the day after her brain surgery that we called the ICU to check in with the nurses and we were surprised because Jo just… answered the phone. I guess she was done recovering, thank you very much.
There’s a photo of Jo and John that fascinates me because it captures the early years of a relationship and in many ways defines the people in the picture, especially because I have the benefit of knowing how the next 60 or 70 years of amazing adventure is going to play out for those kids.
For one thing, look how good she looks. I mean, John was a fortunate guy. You can tell he knows it. Look how devoted he is to her. Decades later nothing has changed.
I love the fact that this photo also captured a young woman looking headlong into the world ready to take on just about anything that her life could throw at her—smiling.
Life, indeed, did heave some mighty challenges her way.
I respect my grandmother greatly, but I can’t make the pedestal too high because if I do, she’s unreachable. I prefer to remember her as this girl. A woman facing sometimes impossible odds who met them all head on with a smile. A smile she kept even in her final days on our Earth and even told us, “I think I still have plenty of those left.” If she can do it, so can I, so can all of us—and that’s a legacy.
We all have stories. Tell them. Tell them over and over just the way she did and tell them with pride knowing that she’s listening in and she’s smiling because that’s what she fought to embody: a positive, hopeful attitude. My grandmother is not here anymore, but she is “here” and while it breaks our hearts to say goodbye to the physical person, Thank God she doesn’t need that shell anymore because now she can fly.
Every time we remember her, she’s there. Every time we do a kind thing or think a kind thought, she’s part of that. And as we build up our storehouse of happy memories we know that she’ll be there right near the entrance.
Probably promising to help us get it organized in there… someday.
I saved another story for the end. It’s a story about me that I only remember because my grandmother would re-tell it to me with such pride. My parents had brought little pre-school Damon to visit Jo and John and meet my new cousin John. As we were leaving, I stuck my head out the window and called out to her, “Grandmommy Jo! Grandmommy Jo! Don’t forget! You’re my very best friend!”
She reckons I might have been a little concerned that she had someone new in her life. Well, she didn’t forget, and now because she didn’t—neither will I.