"For June who loved this garden from Joseph who always sat beside her." Some people do spend their whole lives together. ~ From the film NOTTING HILL
Last week my grandmother's house was put on the market, the house she'd lived in for most of her 98 years. My mom sent me a photo of the house and it was so odd seeing it as an empty shell when it had always represented such life for me. My grandmother passed last September. It got me thinking, particularly during this week of Love, about how lifelong love surged through that home.
I'm blessed to come from a family of lifelong loves. I don't know the exact numbers, but collectively between my two sets of grandparents, my parents, and my sister and brother-in-law, there are well over 200 years of lifelong loves in my immediate family.
A few years ago when I went through a divorce, I remember Grandma saying to me, “Why would you want to do that? It’s so lonely out there.” I didn’t really hear her at the time, being wrapped up in my own wrath, but now I understand even more about how precious relationships and family were to her. Grandpa was the love of her life, and she lost him over thirty years ago. So, does that mean she was lonely? She never entertained the thought of marrying again. Grandpa was the love of her life. But, she was still gorgeous and still turned heads when she entered a room. So, when I asked her about it from time to time, she said, “No, I’ve had my husband, Honey.”
I’ll treasure a visit I had with her several years ago where she took me all around her home turf, showing me where she grew up, where all of the cousins lived, where ancestors were buried, where she was working as a teenager when she met Grandpa. She still had a twinkle in her eye when she told me how he came to her boarding house diner where she worked, day after day, sat at the counter, and ordered cola after cola until he mustered up the courage to ask her out. I’ve wished ever since then that I had a recording of that conversation. It was at once a fountain of youth for her, remembering her lifelong courtship; her voice and entire being becoming that teenager again. Grandpa was the love of her life.
But, I learned so much more about what loves make up a life from my grandma.
Her letters were all full of stories about her friends and other members of our family, minute details about what they were doing, detailed descriptions of her garden, or her weekly bridge game or the meal she was preparing for an upcoming event and then more progressively in later years about her health and the health of those she loved. Detailed letters that we would read to each other and laugh lovingly over her painstaking attention to specifics, mentioning the tiniest, what we considered sometimes to be the most insignificant minutia, down to the type of fabric, stitching and color the subject of her story was wearing. But, in the next sentence we said, “That’s her life, those details.” Grandma noticed everything. And it gave her great joy to share those moments. I will miss those intricate letters in her delicate, feminine hand. She loved to talk about the people in her life, but was never one for an unkind word. Rather she spent her life truly interested in the lives living around her. Those connections made up her life.
Even at the very end of her life, those connections kept her going. Mom said she was sticking around because she didn't want to miss out on anything. She wouldn't be rushed. In the last week, it was the love of her life, still with the patience of a man in love who showed up for her; Grandpa was there, coaxing her to come home with him. She was smiling and laughing, joyous in her final moments here, leading to her first moments there. It doesn’t get much better than that. I can just them picture together, him in his hat and suspenders, her wearing something in blue. Young, in love, anticipating an eternity together.
When I went back to Missouri for her funeral, I was nervous about entering her great house on the corner without her in it. At first it was odd. But, everywhere I looked she was there. From her wall-to-wall blue carpet, to her framed needlepoint, to the grape cookie jar that always held a delicious surprise (which now sits in my kitchen), to her pink robe and 14 housecoats, to her glass collectibles, to the wind that blew the chimes outside the porch window. It made me realize that the part of her that’s in those 14 housecoats and grape cookie jar is the part of her that will remain alive always for those who knew and loved her. Memories of a woman who loved and was loved. It makes the empty shell of the house now easier to absorb.
So, what makes up a life? Grandma answered that question for me. It’s love, and relationships, and connection, and a kind word and thoughtful gesture, and living every day in a way that honors all of that. Grandma did it simply, gracefully, perfectly.
Lessons to live by, as you think this week about the loves of your own life. Relish them.