“I may not always be with you
But when we’re far apart
Remember you will be with me
Right inside my heart”
Today would have been my maternal grandmother’s 90th birthday. She passed away six years ago but her influence stays with me in so many ways. I just wanted to spend a few minutes talking about her. So many of my memories of growing up include her.
My Grandma “Mac”, as she used to sign all of our birthday and Christmas cards, was one heck of a woman. She probably knew my undergraduate recital pieces better than anyone else (except me). I had my senior recital scheduled for the end of January. In fact, it was about the second week of school for that semester. I had my recital jury in place of my semester jury during finals of the fall semester, then went home for Christmas. Things during the month of December had been so stressful for me because of finals on top of recital preparation and finalization of all the details. My grandma had moved in with my parents temporarily. She had some health problems that had been plaguing her for a few years and needed to be where she had help if needed. She was eventually able to live on her own again but at this point, she lived with my parents. She would spend her days in her chair in the room that had my piano. She had a TV there, as well as her crocheting, books, etc. So, I came home for Christmas so stressed and felt the need to practice but did not want to bother my grandma. So, I would find other things to keep me busy. At one point I was in the kitchen doing something and my grandma called for me. She had very little voice and so when I heard her, I knew to come. She looked at me and asked me if it wasn’t time that I did some practicing. I laughed and told her that I just didn’t want to bother her. I knew she had her “shows.” She then told me that she knew it was important for me to practice and she loved to hear me play. My mom had recently given me the Reader’s Digest Christmas book (I recommend everyone get this book!). So, I would warm up by playing my grandma Christmas pieces from this book and then I would practice my recital pieces. We did this for the entire Christmas break that I remained at home. My grandma knew my recital pieces better than anyone. She was unable to attend any of my school recitals but she made sure that I had a rose. She was with me in spirit then as she is now. I think of this time often and smile.
I want to share with you five things that I learned from this grandma. I learned many more than five but this number will suffice for today.
- When you are handed trial after trial to trudge through, just keep going. My grandma was dealt a life that I do not think I would be able to handle. She lost her dad at an early age, her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at a fairly young age, she buried two sons, and she had poor health during her later years. I know there were so many other things on her plate as well. She never gave up. She never said (at least out loud) that this was too much for her to handle. She put a smile on her face and trudged forward. She was a true example of enduring to the end. I hope and pray daily that I may become like her in this respect. Just keep moving.
- Be nice. Just be nice. I never heard my grandma say a cruel word to or about anyone. She was the epitome of the “sweet old woman.” When she died, I remember so many people saying how she was so kind and welcoming to them. I remember visiting her in the hospital this one particular time and a couple of the nurses were getting ready to transfer her from the bed to her chair. To do this, they had to use the hoyer lift. She would clench her eyes and hang on tight. She hated that thing. I told her more than once to pretend that it was an amusement park ride but she did not buy what I was selling. They got her situated in her chair, she smiled, looked up, and thanked them. She was constantly smiling and thanking people, even when she could have been yelling or cursing. I am not that nice now. I need to work on being like my grandma in that respect. I think that the act of being nice and grateful is something that is not being employed in today’s society. Just be nice and say thank you.
- Keep working your brain. You are not too old to learn. My grandma did not finish high school as a teenager. She earned her GED in the 1980s alongside her youngest daughter. I remember seeing those pictures and being so proud of her for doing that even while I was very young. It takes a lot of guts to go back to finish something that was started so long ago. She was never not reading a book and never not working on crossword puzzles. I think my mom is a lot like her in that way. Always keeping busy, always learn something. It is important to keep your mind engaged as you age, especially as the body begins to deteriorate.
- Family is everything. My grandma married at 16 and had 10 children. She remained close to her siblings as well. I remember going with her to visit her sisters and groaning because I knew that we would be gone for hours. I definitely liked some of her siblings more than others. Then, there was Memorial Day and my parents and I would take her to what felt like 500 cemeteries to visit the graves of her husband, son, parents, and siblings. 500 cemeteries…well, at least 3 or 4. My grandma was in her element when her children and their families got together. It did not happen very often because of the physical distance that separates some of them. Family is everything. When I told her I was moving to Oklahoma to get my Master’s degree, she shook her head and told me it was well past time that I found a husband. I laughed and shook it off as a grandmotherly thing of her to say. I sometimes wonder, though, if I wouldn’t have been married by now if I had heeded her advice.
- Always make sure that there are treats for people who stop by. My grandma was the queen of the chocolate. Her freezer would have bags of her homemade chocolate chip cookies (my favorite recipe ever) and she would have some in her cookie jar. If you put a frozen cookie in the microwave for about 20 seconds, it tasted just like it came out of the oven. My Uncle Chad taught me that trick when we both wanted a cookie but the only ones available were frozen. When we (the grandchildren) entered the house, we yelled hi to grandma in the other room and went to get a cookie before going to find her. She was a grand hostess and would always ask if her visitors wanted something to drink and then would ask specifics. She always had Coke for my dad, and sometimes even a chocolate cream pie in the fridge for him. She would keep other things on hand too but she always had lots of goodies! I remember once, in the later years, she told my dad to go get him a Coke from the fridge. He stayed in his seat and she definitely was not satisfied with that so she used her lift chair to stand up, then slowly (I mean SLOWLY) began walking with her walker to the kitchen. When asked what she was doing, she said that she was getting my dad a Coke. He told her to sit back down and he would get it. She waved him off and said that she needed to get us all a piece of the pie that she had made. Always make sure that those who visit you feel welcomed….and full.
The last time that I saw my grandma was two days after I had moved back to Idaho from Oklahoma. As soon as we returned to Idaho, my mom turned and went back to Utah to be with her at the hospital. A couple days later my dad and I went to be with the family. When I walked into her hospital room, she saw me, and smiled. Then she saw something beyond me, beyond this world, and I cannot tell you her expression. That day was the last that I saw her in this life but she is with me so often. The night of her viewing, when I saw her in the casket, I lost it. I had tried since she died to be so strong because that is what she would have been. I knew logically that the release from this life and its physical challenges had been a blessing for her but my heart did not understand. I still miss her more than I ever thought that I would but I feel her with me when I most need that reassurance.
My grandma was the most good-natured, selfless, kind woman that I have ever met. She was filled with faith and I cherish the letter she wrote to me in which she told me what she believed and that she loved me. She lived through some really rough times but she kept going. If I become even 25% of the woman she was, I will be doing well.
I know that this was a bit rambly but I have been meaning to write this particular blog for over six years. Waiting for six years to express my thoughts about my Grandma McMurray did nothing to ease how difficult this task ended up being for me. So, if you have something that you need to express to or about someone, do it now. Time does not necessarily make things easier, it just cements your memory.
“I wish I’d paid better attention. I didn’t yet think of time as finite. I didn’t fully appreciate the stories she told me until I became adult, and by then I had to make do with snippets pasted together, a film projected on the back of my mind.” – Jessica Maria Tuccelli