The note slipped out of a pile of papers I was shuffling through. It was a bit yellowed and the blue ink had faded some. But it was still legible: “I remember you every night in my prayers. —Love Grandma ‘M.’”
She wasn’t my biological grandmother. She was the grandma of a childhood best friend, but she took me on as an adopted granddaughter of sorts when I was young.
Grandma M was faithful, showing me how much she cared about me in small ways. She sent a card with a note in her signature script and a crisp bill of varying denominations every birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Halloween. The cards kept coming throughout my college and young adult years. When I married and had my first child, more cards started coming in—for my husband and my son now, too.
When my young family moved back to Ohio, my Grandma M happened to be moving into a retirement home. She told us we could have anything we wanted from her house—chairs, the dining room table, lamps and a coffee table, wall hangings, dresser sets and nightstands. Her generosity furnished our small rental home.
We made time to visit her when we could. I took my toddler son to visit her after her move to the assisted living facility. He made her laugh, as he cuddled her decorative teddy bears and batted a balloon leftover from her birthday celebration several weeks earlier—the helium-filled foil kind that now sagged midair.
But as my family grew, I became busier. I’d wake up and see the beautiful Victorian hurricane lamp she’d gifted us, and want to see her. But I had a newborn, or a child with a cold, or a work deadline. There was always something. Time passed and soon it had been two years since I’d seen her, although she less than an hour away.
The guilt gnawed at me. A visit would be embarrassing at this point. Visits could be awkward anyway—she couldn’t hear well and complained a lot. Her joyful spirit and contagious laughter were tarnished by her ill health, her relative isolation in a place she had no desire to be, and with staff she didn’t trust or like.
Recently, I was sitting in church when I noticed a woman in the pews ahead with a remarkable resemblance to Grandma M. I heard a voice inside me say, “Come visit me.” I resolved to go visit Grandma M—perhaps that very afternoon.
But soon the thought of the demands from raising a family, including my four-month old who had a cold and was especially needy, weakened the urgency of my resolve. I told myself I’d go soon, but not now.
That night I received an unexpected phone call that Grandma M was not eating or drinking. I made plans to go the next day. The next morning, the doctor said she was dying and had only a day or two left. She was no longer conscious.
I could have gone immediately, but I took my time doing a few things for work and waiting for my youngest to wake up from his nap. I received another call informing me that she had already passed. No one was by her side.
I felt like Grandma M had been trying to reach out to me, but I had made an idol of my own priorities. Surely in the course of two years I could have at least once sacrificed some of my time to visit a woman whom I had called Grandma since childhood.
I had become uncomfortable with quietness, and sought confidence in activity. Doing, doing, doing. The demands drummed on and I became numb to a life of listening. I became deaf to life and death, blind to the real power of smallness, too lame to love deeply.
In her life—one filled with generosity and care for others—Grandma M taught me about love. And in her death, she did the same. She continues to reminds me about what is really important: to find the small moments every day to show how much you care about the people in your life.