The first time I saw her I was struck by her elegance. Her hands were particularly lovely with long slender beautifully manicured fingers. She used them for effect in conversation and they were mesmerizing. She was kind and welcoming, but I somehow still felt inadequate in her presence. I found myself fidgeting and trying to think of something intelligent to say, some remark that would prove that I was worthy of her company. Nothing came to me so I just sat quietly listening to her confidently speak of this and that. I liked her, but I was in awe and so I felt uncomfortable and hardly tasted the food that was set before me. It would be a very long time before I understood that her strength and confidence made her kind and loving. She would be a lifelong ally, a kind of angel protecting me and those that I loved. That’s the way she was, a selfless person.
She was a tiny thing, only five feet tall, but she somehow always seemed statuesque. When she drove her car her head barely peeked over the dashboard. Sometimes it appeared that nobody was behind the wheel, and the sight of it made me laugh. She taught me many things about people and their natures. She was a great listener, someone who truly cared. Her advice was right on target, but I didn’t always take it. Perhaps I was hard headed or maybe a bit silly or even a tiny bit jealous from time to time. Still, I loved her so and took our moments together for granted as though she would always be around.
She had often told me of her health problems. She had already lived far longer than she should have. She was born with a heart condition. Not even surgery would guarantee that she would live as long as most of us do. I suppose that knowing that the clock was ticking made her more aware of the need to get as much out of each day as possible. She lived with optimism and a generous spirit, but she was unwilling to put up with hypocrites or fools. She was intensely loyal and protective of those that she loved. Like a mama bear she went after anyone who attempted to hurt the members of her family. She was not someone with whom to trifle.
I hung on to her words and tucked them away in my memory for future use, which was wise because she is gone now, and I miss her so. There are occasions when I need her wisdom and wish that we might have just one more opportunity to discuss the things that worry me. She had a way of setting things right by helping me to find the answers that I sought. She was stern with me whenever I was being foolish. She reminded me of my own strength and pushed me to be the person that I was meant to be.
I know that I am very fortunate for having known such a remarkable woman. Her spirit still lives inside my heart. When I waver I can almost hear her voice urging me to be courageous. It’s almost as though she leaves me little hints that tell me that she is still watching over me like a guardian. A few nights ago when I was stewing over a situation unable to sleep I listened to music from Pandora, and out of the blue came Fur Elise a song that she often played on the piano with those exquisite hands. I smiled as a calm came over me. I recalled the words she had used to soothe me when I became stressed and certain that my world was crashing down. She taught me how to control whatever I might and ignore those things that were beyond my reach.
It is something that she had learned as a child after she was told that she must relax or run the risk of dying. Instead of stewing over the possibility of an early demise she decided to pack as much wonder into each day as she might. She understood that she did not have time to waste on worry if her days were numbered. She did all of the things that she was instructed to do to stay as healthy as possible and then really lived. She ultimately survived far longer than her doctors had predicted. I suspect that was because she did not waste a single moment on cynicism or sadness.
She died peacefully. One moment she was hugging her husband and telling him how much she loved him. In the next second she had a violent headache and then went into a stroke induced coma. As she lay dying she appeared to be a sleeping beauty. It almost seemed as though she would awake and smile at us and give us her laugh of delight that literally brought sunshine into a room. We didn’t want to believe that she was taking her final breaths because she meant so much to all of us. She waited until we had all gone for some dinner to partake of her heavenly reward. It was so like her not to upset us by leaving while we watched. She would not have wanted us to be hurt.
It has been almost sixteen years since she left but somehow I feel her presence again and again. I see her in her granddaughters and great grandchildren. I retell them her stories and know that she would want me to remind them of what is important. Family and friendships were the focus of her life. Nothing was more important even though she was a woman who might have done anything. Those of us who knew her rank her among the greatest heroines of all time. Those who did not will never understand what they missed. She lived her life with integrity and compassion. I was lucky to be her daughter-in-law and her friend.