When my grandmother died suddenly a week ago, no one was exactly surprised. She was, after all, 102 years old, and more than ready to leave her long and full life behind. But I suspect that even if she had died decades ago, she would have been ready then, too. It's just part of how she lived: the part that made it possible for her to remain positive and without complaint during her 11 years in a nursing home -- even when her hands, and her eyes, and her ears, and her legs, and her back, failed her. Acceptance.
I was blessed to grow up in my grandmother's house. After my parents divorced when I was 7, my grandparents took in my mom and me. She was much like a second mother to me, filling in some of the gaps that occurred because my mother had to go back into the workforce to support us. She never taught me how to speak Slovenian, but she modeled a certain kind of vivacity and spiritedness that shaped my life.
Grandma was a wildly creative and amazingly strong woman: progressive in her thinking, blunt with her words, generous with her time and wisdom. She welcomed everyone, but was not someone you'd want to cross. When she was younger, she had a temper even hotter than mine. (The fact that it was tamed in her later years gives me some hope!) But there was a flip side to the intensity of her personality, too. My grandmother was persistent and tenacious when she needed to be and never backed down from a cause she thought was right. The word "feisty" comes to mind. But she was also a person who could set aside hurt or disappointment when it mattered, and forgive with her whole heart.
I wouldn't say that my grandma was a religious woman. She wasn't raised in a church-going family and she didn't take her own family to church much either. But I have rarely seen anyone who trusted God more than she did. She accepted losses and blessings equally, always making the best of the former and the most of the latter. My grandmother had few regrets. It isn't that she never did anything wrong, it's just that she was able to accept her faults, mistakes, and sins and move forward without a lot of looking back. At the baseline, she accepted who she was as a person, warts and all, and just lived. She never cared about what anyone else thought or said about her. She was free enough to find contentment in simply being herself, and encouraged others to do the same.
My grandmother will be missed by all of us, and that's a lot of people. She had three children, six grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, and 11 great-great-grandchildren. She moved from Cleveland to live with our family when she was 83 years old. We had six children and my mom with us at the time, and were moving from Salem to a larger house in Wakefield. Those years, with four generations under one roof, had their challenges. But they were also filled with joy and the blessing that comes from being family, even when you don't always agree, even when somebody is driving you crazy, even when you lose track of the perspectives and preferences you ought to take into account.
"When the old ones die, then you're the old ones." My grandmother often repeated proverbs her mother used to say. Now I suppose my mother, who has modeled self-sacrifice and care so beautifully all her life, is the old one, and it will be my turn next to move into her place as the caregiver. That is how it is, and how it should be. Those who go before us aren't saints or devils, they are only people who falter at times, but in whose path we follow. Rest in peace, Grandma. And thank you for teaching us all how to accept ourselves, one another, and the will of God in life.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.