Eunice.

I have one grandparent left, and she is dying.

I have written often of Marjorie, my mother’s mother, who had such an indelible impact on my life and who shaped my life in a very profound way. Plenty of people know how much I still look up to her and try to emulate her as an open-minded, graceful woman.

But I haven’t ever written of Eunice, my Mamaw, my father’s mother, and only my immediate family knows how I try to model her. If Marjorie was the rebellious yet steadfast imposing figure of a wise, independent matriarch, Eunice was her counterpoint as the quintessential grandma figure–chickens, gardens, cookies, kool-aid and a big round huggy frame. I feel so blessed to have had both as examples of what graceful older womanhood can look like.

This is a rather difficult post to write, not because I’m not inspired or I can’t find the words. This is not one of several drafts, rather it is the first time I’ve attempted to write on this subject, which perhaps is what makes it all the more difficult. It’s that I am ashamed I’ve never felt compelled to talk about her or tout her gentle spirit. Her influence in my life has been subtle: most recently, I couldn’t figure out why I wanted my chicken coop to look a certain way until I remembered it’s exactly like hers was.

As I’ve come to accept and learn from my Grammy’s death, there are things about a person’s life that we only learn after they’re gone. There are versions of them we will never know or couldn’t imagine, and of course, there are thoughts, desires, and dreams that were never voiced that die with them. This is the sadness of death–we will never fully know those we love before they’re gone. I’m lucky with Mamaw in the sense that I have gotten to know her as an adult, whereas with my Papaw and Grammy, both of them died before I could truly understand the beauty of their spirits. I can comprehend Eunice, and although I am so different than her in a lot of ways, I’m still like her in others.

I think I get my frugality (at least when it comes to food & cloth) from her. She’s the one who first taught me to can–we made tomatoes last winter. She is also the inspiration behind my desire to quilt–to keep that part of her legacy going. My memories of childhood are laced with quilts she made–quilts my mother still has and uses, quilts that covered my college bed. I want to be able to create beautiful things and pass them on, the same as she. I want to be as generous and giving as she was, sacrificial in her time and energy for those she loved.

As her end approaches and I learn about her life from her and others around her I am astounded at how much she has endured and conquered, and saddened I didn’t take the time to ask her about these things earlier. She was born into a poor sharecropper family with an unloving father and an overworked mother, and yet, because of her humble beginnings (she was picking cotton when she was 4!) she learned how to make the very most out of the very least. She never failed to do what was necessary to feed and clothe her family, especially when it seemed impossible.

She was always a caretaker, which is perfect for the role of a military wife–my Papaw was in the Marines and later, in the Navy. They moved frequently, and as is common to military life, as soon as you get comfortable you get orders. She didn’t complain–she packed up their life and moved all over the world with him. The older I get, I realize how much it must have hurt to always be leaving their friends and the beautiful life she had constructed. But then I remember how much she loved her husband and children, and I know that’s all that really mattered to her.

As my friends and family have children (and some lose them) I have come to understand how strong and brave she has been her whole life–stronger and braver than I have ever given her credit for. She lost many children: a stillborn full-term daughter named Sophie, and several foster children they couldn’t take along. She has opened her heart and home many times and had her heart broken, over and over again, and yet she still does it without hesitation.

My most vivid memories are of living with them while my father transitioned to Germany. She was a very vibrant grandma. She’s the one who taught us how to pull an egg out from underneath a broody hen, who would snap a chicken neck for fried chicken that night, and who never failed to make her famous buttermilk biscuits and tomato gravy (I am HUNGRY just thinking about it!) for breakfast if we asked. She has always been a strong, caring, stout, lovable woman–silly about getting her hair done but unafraid to get dirty when necessary.

That’s why it was unbelievably hard to see her this past weekend, a gaunt version of herself. She’s been sick for 11 years–DOUBLE the time doctors gave her (which should give you some idea of her resiliency and determination) but this entire time it hasn’t felt like she’s been sick–because it was so background to who she is. But she is now very obviously sick, and it is heartbreaking to know what is coming. When my Papaw died, I was too young to be afraid of what that meant. When my Grammy died, it was sudden and unexpected–i didn’t have time to consider life without her. With Mamaw’s time so close, this is my first encounter where Death is settling in and making himself comfortable, content to wait a few more days. I have the time and maturity to comprehend what this means–she won’t watch me walk down the aisle. She won’t ever hold my firstborn. I won’t have any more grandparents left. All such selfish thoughts, because when I think about this means, I can’t wish her more time.

She’ll see my Papaw again, hold his hands. She’ll kiss her mother and brother again. She won’t be in constant pain from chemo or transfusions or infections or the breaking down of her body. She will be whole and contented, and who are we to take that from her? Who could possibly wish her to stay, when such wonderful things, such an adventure, awaits her? I cannot imagine that we who love her would really ask her to give it up for a few more painful months if we knew what we were asking.

She doesn’t have much longer to live–in fact, I’m scared that as Jon and I travel this week on a motorcycle trip through New Mexico, I’m going to get a phone call from my parents telling me it’s over. I am trying very hard to stay positive, but she is very sick. They moved her to the Cancer ICU yesterday, and I don’t imagine she’ll be leaving it. I hate to think that she’s scared or feeling helpless. I hate that she’s not at home, but I am comforted by the thought that at least someone is always there to monitor her and help keep her comfortable.

I don’t really know how to end this post. There’s no lesson learned here, no neat bow to tie it all up with. I know it’s a long post, but I keep thinking of things you need to know about her. But at the end of the day–she is very sick, and I didn’t want her to leave before I wrote about her. I will miss her very much.

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2 comments

  1. Erica · September 4, 2013

    Beautiful Ashley! She is the strongest woman I know and daily I strive to be like her.

  2. Kenny Good · September 5, 2013

    Ashley, You have the most beautiful way with words. Reading your post put me in a seat next to you and enjoying all the wonderful moments and memories you have had with your mamma. Everything you said is so true even to those of us with much less time spent with her. She ALWAYS put a smile on my face just to see her. I will always remember her with warmth in my heart.

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