My coworker has a dry-erase board on which she displays a new quote every so often. The last couple of weeks, it’s been a modified version of this gem by Charles H. Spurgeon:
A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were
helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered.
Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.
It made me smile the first time I saw it. Since my grandmother died last week, it has made me smile even more.
My grandmother was a truly amazing woman. She was born in 1931 in Sallisaw, a tiny community even today in Oklahoma’s Cotton Belt, to Georgia and Benjamin Franklin Davis. They later moved to Muskogee, where she always considered home. She was married to my crazy grandfather for 40 years and, if not for his mental problems, would probably still have been with him to her last day. She got a two-year degree from Connors State College, where she studied literature. She raised two children while also working, certainly an anomaly for a middle-class woman of the time. After my grandfather served her with divorce papers, she picked herself up and kept living the life she chose. She went to work at several different doctors’ offices over the years, doing administrative work and assisting in physical therapy. She was an active member of her church, the guiding force behind her class reunions (which happened every two years), the family photographer and record-keeper, a reliable friend, and an omnipresent grandparent. She was also strong, independent, vibrant, hard-working (even at 78, she still occasionally went in to her most recent employer’s office to help train new physical therapists), reliable, loving, and big-hearted. She watched what she ate, got regular exercise, and had her hair done at the salon every Friday. She had a kind word for everyone, a smile even in the hardest times, and an unending supply of encouraging and supportive thoughts. The only time I heard her complain during the past year of hospitalizations was at the very end. I last visited her a week before her death, at which time she told me she didn’t feel like company. As much as I wanted to be with her, I preferred her honesty, and I knew she appreciated me coming.
My grandmother considered nine of us her grandchildren, though three were not related by blood (and one not even by marriage). Being a grandparent was one of her greatest joys in life, and being the oldest, I always felt a special connection to her. I was forever her princess. I never doubted for a second that she was proud of me or that she loved me completely. We all had photo albums, and thanks to my several years of precedence, mine comprised two separate albums. Her home was a photographic shrine to us all. In fact, she so often had her camera in hand that my little sister called her “Cheese” for several years. She had a sponge-like memory and could quickly recall funny things we’d said or did throughout our lives. She remembered our ambitions, our quirks, what sports we played, our friends’ names, what foods we liked, and what we called her (Meemaw, Grandma, Grandma Margaret, Cheese or Mother Goose).
At the funeral last week, I met and hugged people who loved her throughout her life. I saw family I hadn’t seen in years – some in two decades. I cried with my beloved aunt, her daughter, over her memory and what we’re going to do without her. I shook hands with members of her church who remember me as a little girl. I knew these people better than the rest of the family, and it made me feel privileged, like I was in an important part of her life that no one else was. Even the man who mows my grandmother’s lawn was there. When the preacher asked him before the service if she was as meticulous about her grass as she was about her appearance, he told him that she was the only one of his clients who never complained. “She treated me like the valedictorian,” he said. She treated everyone that way.
My grandmother, Margaret Jane Davis Vance, most certainly carved her name on my heart, as I know she did on the heart of anyone she ever met.
Saying goodbye is taking its toll on me. I won’t pretend that everything’s fine, but I will get there. I remember a line from a movie saying that you lose people in pieces, not all at once, and it’s true. I suppose I’ve been lucky not to have lost a grandparent until age 25, but knowing that doesn’t make the pain any less. I’m sad, because I loved her. I regret that she left us before any of her grandchildren married or gave her great-grandchildren. I’m angry that she – the most life-loving and healthy-living of my grandparents – was the first to lose her fight against time. I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to see her again before her death, but I know you always feel that way. I’m still in shock, too, because we weren’t expecting the end to come so soon. I wasn’t ready to let her go. None of us were.
However, if my grandmother left a legacy, it is this: love with your whole heart, respect your body, embrace adventure, and never leave home without a dab of red lipstick.
You can read her formal obituary here.