This past weekend I went to Mansfield, Texas to see my grandmother one last time. This post will be a record of my thoughts and reactions to that trip, to seeing a woman I loved so close to the end of her life, so be warned that it might be sad so you might want to check out quilt along posts instead.
It's simple to say that when you take a trip like this you go with expectations, however illogical, of the person you love still being the person you loved so many years ago.
My best memories of my grandmother were when I was in elementary and middle school. Neither her house, nor the house I grew up in were air conditioned, but Grandma's old farmhouse was built into the side of a hill and her little den room was always cool and comfortable, no matter what the temperature outside.
I'd go over to her house many days on the weekend, and many of my earliest craft projects: crochet, knitting, and beadwork, were stitched out on her couch. She was always excited to see what I was working on, always interested, and always asking questions.
I especially remember the long days I'd spend with Grandma in the summer. By the time I was 11 or 12, I was visiting all by myself as my sisters had long since decided hanging out with grandma was "not cool." Her house was a peaceful place and we'd watch TV together (I didn't have one at home) and within a few minutes Grandma would nod off.
She'd wake up about every 2 hours to ply me with food: ABC soup with Ritz crackers, sliced green apples, Pepsi, and peanut butter cookies. She just wanted to take care of you if you were visiting, and the best way she could do that is with food.
I remember the way she'd say my name when I walked in "HEY! It's
LeeeAHH!" She had a high pitched voice that went higher when she said
my name. It was a funny thing I never thought about before, but I
realized on my trip to Texas that I wish I could hear her say it that
Unfortunately by the time my dad and I arrived, Grandma could barely hold her head up, let alone speak. She's 88 years old, frail, and tiny. She's had a series of small strokes that have left her unable to walk, talk, feed herself, or move unaided.
Seeing her in that state was hard, but I wanted to see her one last time. I needed to say something important to my grandmother that was far overdue and should have been said years before.
I wanted to say "thank you."
A simple gracious thank you to a woman who was kind and gave me a peaceful place to hang out. A thank you for the support and interest she showed in my crafty projects, which made me feel like I was doing something interesting with my time.
Because without her, without those peaceful days and her time and attention, I wouldn't be the person I am now. I probably wouldn't have valued those crafts or abilities the same way, and wouldn't have continued to pursue them the way I have.
Of course, when you start looking back it's easy to fall in a pit of recrimination. I should have visited her more in high school. I should have stayed with her when I came home from college. I should have continued to visit and spend long hours in her house even when I no longer needed that peaceful place anymore.
I fell into that mode for a few days, but then I remembered - all that is in the past, and I can't go back and fix it.
I can't change how I acted or what I did. I could only go now and see her one last time and thank her for what time she gave me, and what time I gave her.
Seeing her tiny form I was struck again by the simple truth of life and death: we come with nothing, and we leave with nothing.
Grandma may be surrounded by family members, being cared for by her daughter, being talked to by various grandchildren and great grandchildren, but in her current state we could be anyone. She can't see us or recognize us to know we're there.
So whatever sense of accomplishment she might have felt at raising 5 children, does she even remember that now?
And this has led me to question: do we truly leave anything behind?
I've stumbled across this question for days. As a quilter, I'd love to think that my quilts will outlive me, that they will rest on the walls and beds of my grandchildren and great grandchildren. I'd love to think that the love and care I've stitched into each quilt will last to touch and comfort more of my family, even after I am gone.
But is this a guarantee? No. There are no guarantees, none at all. I'm no more guaranteed grandchildren, any more than I can guarantee my quilts won't be donated to Goodwill when I die.
So what is guaranteed? What do we leave behind? I've thought about this a lot over the last several days, and finally I found the answer.
We leave our memories.
I've shared my best memories of my grandmother. She might pass away this weekend or next, but I have this memory to look back on and can remember her sweet, caring nature.
And that is the lesson I've taken from seeing her last weekend, so close to the end of her life. That in this world, the only thing we can guarantee is how people remember us.
It is a simple reminder to be kind.
Kindness may seem such a simple thing, a thing to be taken for granted.
But by building a house on kindness, good memories will be quick to follow. Memories of laughter, fun activities, or maybe just simple peace and contentment with a warm summer breeze blowing through the window.
This made me think of the old saying "You reap what you sow."
Whatever you plant in the ground will grow up to become your life later. I plan to make a quilt based on this saying, a quilt that illustrates this choice because it is a choice we make every single day: kindness or anger, peace or discord.
What are you planting?
Let's go quilt,