My grandmother was an extraordinary woman. Her life is a celebration of all that is good and right in the heart of mankind. She was not as powerful as a head of state but her influence resonates far beyond these walls. She was not rich but she leaves behind a treasure chest full of the best things in life and the greatest qualities we can ever hope to find in another human being – unconditional love and acceptance, friendship, kindness, courage, compassion, honesty, integrity, humility, humor, loyalty, selflessness and a profound insight into the human condition few will ever know.
Though hers was a humble and simple existence, her contributions to this world are immeasurable. She lived – quite literally – in a house by the side of the road patiently waiting for and welcoming any and every opportunity to be a friend and caretaker to those she loved and those that happened by.
I was not there to record my grandmother’s last words. But if given the opportunity to leave us with one parting thought, I imagine it would be this:
“Take care of yourselves – and each other. Don’t allow the things in life that matter least to overtake the things in life that matter most. The world is full of strife and disappointment – it’ll break your heart sometimes. But it is often in the face of life’s great adversities that we discover our greatest strengths. And when the struggles of this world seem insurmountable, when everything seems dark and dreary, remember… faith, hope and love – these three – will help you find your way. Don’t ever give up on life. Don’t ever give up on love. And don’t ever give up on each other.” My grandmother never did. “The world is full of possibilities,” I am sure she’d go on to say. “If you only take the time to imagine them… This world is full of the grace and beauty of God’s hand – if you only take the time to appreciate it. There will always be work to do. There will always be bills to pay. But as Emily Dickinson reminds – ‘You will never pass this way again.’ So play and frolic through the splendid fields of this world. But every now and then remember to stop, rest and consider what’s important. Learn to see beyond horizons and never turn away from the promise of your potential.”
My grandmother worked hard, sacrificed much and endured the pain of a body that betrayed her spirit. But she never lost hope. She never lost faith. And she never stopped sharing the most enduring gift of all – her unconditional love for all that happened by.
One day, while praying in the Church of St. Damian, outside the walls of his hometown, St. Francis of Assisi heard a voice coming from the Crucifix, “Francis,” the voice said. “Go and repair my house which is falling down.” In time, Francis came to the realization that the voice he heard was Jesus asking him to go out and repair his Church.
This meant going out into the world and reminding it what the Gospel message was intended to provide but somehow overlooked in the translation. It also meant honoring God by taking care of those in need.
Turning his back on a life of wealth and privilege, Francis proceeded to devote himself to caring for the neediest of God’s children – the sick, the poor, the hungry… And that he would rise to the challenge of this monumental task, Francis prayed:
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your Peace.Where there is hatred, let me sow loveWhere there is injury, pardonWhere there is despair, hopeWhere there is darkness, lightWhere there is sadness, joyO Divine Master,Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to consoleTo be understood as to understandTo be loved as to loveForIt is in giving that we receiveIt is in pardoning that we are pardonedIt is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
My grandmother’s life was an answer to this prayer. She hurt. She suffered. But she always put the well-being and comfort of others ahead of her own. If you needed something and she had it to give it was yours. She was going to help you regardless of the effort or consequences involved. If you were hungry, she fed you. If you needed a dollar, she gave it. If you were hurting, she comforted you. If the circumstances of your life caused you to doubt, she restored your faith and inspired you to rise above it. If the world seemed dark and hopeless, she gave you light to see it more clearly. She forgave your faults and welcomed you into her life just as you were – no questions asked or conditions given.
I’ve heard it said that the secret to immortality is to live a life that is worth remembering. My grandmother was a woman of strong convictions who believed that she came into this word with a simple mandate – to honor God and love those she encountered along her journey. She honored that commitment. And for that she will be remembered.
My grandmother worked hard, sacrificed and endured so that her children, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren could have the opportunity to go out into the world and stake their own claim. She succeeded. Her legacy is one of great hope and inspiration. And the world she leaves behind is a much better place because she lived.
I remember as kids, whenever we blew out our candles or pulled on the opposite ends of a wishbone, we always wished for the same thing – that our grandmother would live forever. In our hearts, she always will. And to the world she will live on with every act of kindness we perform, with all the pain and suffering in life we soothe, with all the love we give and the friendship we share. With these things, the wishes of our childhood will come true – my grandmother will live forever.
Please allow me now to take one last opportunity to remind you, as grandma would – take care of yourselves and each other, make sure you eat well, take the time to relax and enjoy the wonder of life’s simple pleasures, don’t forget to visit from time to time and don’t go out at late at night. But if you must, be careful and be sure to wear a hat so that you don’t get sick.
Goodbye ma. It’s time to rest from a job well done. Don’t worry about us – we’ll be fine. We love you. We miss you. We pledge our lives to honor you. And thank you – for everything.