We are burying my grandma today.
Friends have been so kind to offer words of comfort and support. Strangely, I’ve felt a twinge guilty to be on the receiving end of such emotional generosity. I’ve watched others endure a fierce anguish at the death of their loved ones. That hasn’t been the case for me. As I stood by my grandma’s bedside in her final hours, the primary feeling that flooded over me wasn’t grief – it was gratefulness.
We grew up 900 miles from my grandparents and were fortunate to see them once or twice a year. She was never part of my daily life, I can’t remember her babysitting us, and the longest period of time that we spent together would have been a week. We didn’t have deep, life-changing conversations and my children have only fleeting memories of her. Yet as I look back over the last four decades, I can see the significant impression that Grandma’s life has made upon my own – and in turn – on my family. When viewed as individual moments in time, our relationship looked like the close-up view of a Seurat painting – colorful, but lacking form and substance. I’m grateful that time has given me a larger perspective. Those individual dots of visits to Iowa and remembered birthdays and quilts made for babies were tiny brushstrokes of what became a masterpiece. Her life was a work of art in the truest sense – taking the raw materials of love for her Lord, her family, and all things creative – and transforming them into life-giving beauty.
Grandma’s life wasn’t easy. I don’t think she finished high school, she married young, and she and my grandpa endured the great depression on a coal-miner’s wage. They raised their four children in little more than a shack in a tiny town in Iowa. Yet they worked hard and dreamed of a better life, one where their children would thrive. And they did.
We remember Van Gogh for his bold use of color. Rembrandt, for his masterful use of light and shadow. Grandma’s life had distinct qualities that have marked her time on earth and those who knew her.
~ A quiet strength and steadfast faith. She was always a safe place for her grandchildren. No doubt, she prayed us into the Kingdom.
~ A home that welcomed all. And at all hours. When arriving after midnight on a trip from Tennessee to Iowa, she would stumble down the hall and greet us by sleepily asking, “Do you want some ice cream?” Every. Time. Candy dishes brimming with butterscotch , photo albums crammed with pictures of grandchildren (and the occasional newspaper clipping reporting that “Lem and Thelma Stolz had grandchildren in town visiting this week”), and walls covered in portraits that she had painted of her grandchildren, all declared that we were loved.
~ A love for all things creative. At 50 years old, she decided to learn to paint – because she wanted to paint her grandchildren. Within a year, she had won a blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair for her work. Many years later, she learned to quilt. The embodiment of her warmth and creativity, she gave dozens of quilts to charity. Our home enjoys handmade quilts for holidays, each baby that’s been born, children’s rooms, and even baby dolls. Such heirlooms are a rare treasure. When I visited Grandma near her 90th birthday, she had recently given up cable television. “I just don’t understand those old people who sit around and watch television. I need the extra money for my crafts.” She painted and quilted until her final years. We are the grateful beneficiaries of her work and her spirit.
~ A grounded presence. She had the rare gift of being both practical and tender. When my grandfather died, grandma was beside herself. She had lived more than fifty years with one man – each life bleeding into the other. Shortly after his funeral, she sat at the kitchen table, memories and tears flowing. Then the tears stopped. “Well,” she said. “Now I can eat chicken. And I can go back to potluck at church.” Grandpa didn’t like chicken, and his declining health toward the end of his life made church attendance difficult. She loved him deeply. She grieved fully. But she chose to see the good in life as it was given to her.
~ A love for music. When my mother was young, she and Grandma had a spot on the local radio show. In homemade matching outfits, Grandma played the piano and they sang gospel songs together. Even in the past few years as her memory and eyesight failed her, the music she loved dearly did not. She couldn’t remember her children or grandchildren, yet she could sit at the piano and play beautifully.
My grandmother will be missed, but we are eternally grateful for her legacy of faith, creativity, steadfastness, and music.
We are burying my grandma today. But the melody of her beautiful life will continue to echo into future generations.