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Loved by the best

October 13, 2020

In a world where people are obsessed with collecting material things, I balk at that sentiment with one exception.  I love to collect the fellowship of new friends and hold them dear in my heart, maybe for a fleeting moment, maybe for a few seasons of life, and some for the rest of their days. Have a rough day in school and need a place to pray, not only will we probably be friends, but so too will our children.  Sit next to me on a plane, and we will most likely be swapping Christmas cards and story ideas for a lifetime.  Reach out to me about wanting to help others as healing for the grief you are experiencing and you will become one of our family’s dearest treasures.   Be my neighbor or my nanny and you become my family.

My niece tells me that I have never met a stranger.  She is probably correct in that assertion.  I simply love people. I love even more when they pick me which is why I feel like my whole world has been knocked off its axis.

Meet “my “Grandma Ruth.

I didn’t so much as pick her as she picked me.  Grandma had been a part of my world for a long time as we attended the same church for many years, but she “officially” became my grandma following the bus crash.  She knew and understood grief, but she also understood loving Jesus, teaching, fellowship, hospitality, writing, loving others, and laughter – all the things that quintessentially define who I am.

Following the bus crash, she began to send me messages of love and encouragement – just not in the traditional way for someone her age, like phone calls and cards.  Oh, she did that too, but I often referred to her as my techo-granny.  The first messages came on Caringbridge, then on this blog, then via email, and ultimately on Facebook.  The depth of her care saw beyond the surface and saw how deeply in the midst of our world spinning out control with endless doctor and therapy visits, multiple surgeries, tired days after fitful nights of lost sleep, and that through the haze of exhaustion I simply needed fellowship.  She saw to making sure that I (just Kandy – not mom, not wife, not educator) wasn’t lost in the shuffle, just the way I imagine a shepherd looking over its weakest sheep.

Those messages turned into an open invitation to join her and her friends for Show & Tell.  See when they never let you graduate out of the 4th grade (the grade she taught for the majority of her career), meeting for coffee and showing off your latest quilting or sewing project becomes Show & Tell.  Sitting around a table or crammed into a booth at Hardees depending on how many of us were there, I felt loved and cherished.  I was the only one who didn’t qualify for an AARP card and I felt that I had been invited to sit at the cool kids’ table. 

By this time, she had become more than the sweet whitehaired tiny phenom at church and she simply became Grandma. She became such a mainstay in our lives that for a very long time our youngest truly believed her that her middle name of Ruth was because she was named after Grandma Ruth.  Because all of my children love her as deeply as I do, we never thought to tell Sal otherwise. 

At some point, she was simply Grandma to all of us.

There are so many precious tender memories that my heart’s song could sing, but I think these are some of my favorites.  

Grandma was talented, though I often felt that she considered herself rather plain.  She was a writer and wrote her life story about which, I am completely biased, but honestly could be made into a movie.  She shared her writings with me, and I had a front row seat to her most precious memories.  Marrying the love of her life on Christmas Day at a military base while he was training for World War II and to celebrate, going to the movies afterward is the one of the most romantic love stories I have ever read. She also began to sketch some of those memories later in life.  Those sketches became cards that she gifted to many of us for Christmas.  She once asked me if I had used them all up and then had a sheepish little grin when I told her I couldn’t bear to part with them because they were her work.  They were simply too precious.

Artwork by Ruth Lee

She watched and prayed for my children through their successes and their hardships.  She loved listening to Sal sing and was so proud of Erin following in her footsteps to become a teacher. I am certain that Sawyer attending the University of South Dakota rather than her beloved South Dakota State University was considered a necessary evil.  Their rivalry was one where they loved to tease each other.  So much so that following her first stroke, she still gave her feisty fist raise. We brought lunch to her family members after church that day and sat with Grandma while they ate.  When more family arrived and the doctors were there to chat, I kissed her on the forehead and told her I loved her.  She was unable to speak and her lucidity was coming and going so soon after her stroke.  I stage whispered because her family are all also State fans that I had called Sawyer to tell him what had happened.  Knowing he was aiming for medical school, I shared that he had one thing he wanted her to know besides how deeply he loved her and everyone expected some morsel of health advice. Then I said it.  Go Yotes!  That familiar spark entered her eyes and she raised the only fist she could and laughed. 

Grandma moved from her mom suite to a nursing center which is where she celebrated her 100th birthday. A decade prior we cut short a family vacation so that we could drive through the wee hours to make it back for her 90th celebration.  But now, with coronavirus restrictions, she was on the other side of a series of glass windows with a phone with ear buds so she could hear us.  At first, she didn’t recognize us, but we just kept talking and telling her we loved her.  Then that spark came back again and she put up to the glass her beautifully aged hands, the ones that once had held mine, that had created beautiful quilts and artwork, and that had wiped my tears.  I put my hand up on the outside window wishing desperately I could hold hers just one more time. In barely an audible whisper, she said, “You are my girl.”  I sobbed the entire way home.  It was her birthday, but I was the one who took home the largest gift.

I know in my heart that the picking of me to be her girl was a direct off-shoot to her greatest sadness, losing her first son while her sweet Bob was still overseas fighting the war.  She was an octogenarian when a dear friend and I hosted the first ever October 15 – Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Ceremony at our church.  Grandma was in attendance and wept for that precious little boy and thanked me over and over for the ceremony because back then we didn’t have such things.  Her grief still real six decades later reinforced that we never get over the loss of a child.  We live, but we carry that brokenness with us.  She frequently told me that she knew exactly the first thing she would do in heaven – I’m going to rock my baby.

The moment I heard of her passing, I knew she had found a rocking chair somewhere in a corner of heaven and she fulfilled her lifelong yearning amidst what I imagine to be one of the biggest homecoming celebrations ever in heaven.  I also imagine a red-headed boy giving her one of the biggest sneak from behind squeezes ever and thanking her for loving his family so fiercely (even if she cheered for the wrong team).

My world feels a whole lot emptier as she was my very last grandmother. Biological and adopted, I have been loved by the best.  To her actual family, thank you for sharing her with all of us, because I know we are not the only ones. 

Grandma – I will always carry all the lessons you taught me about writing, about creating, about loving and serving others, about teaching, and loving Jesus and I will love you forever. 

Save a rocking chair for me to hold my babies one day. 

Love your girl – K

  1. Tammy permalink

    Not a dry eye here my friend. She sounds like such a beautiful soul. You were all so lucky to have each other in your lives? Thanks for sharing this beautiful love story. Hugs! Tammy

    • Thank you, Tammy! She was amazing and I love her so. I had an absolutely wonderful great grandmother, two amazing grandmothers, and three incredible adopted grandmothers. I have been loved by the best. She taught me so much about life and love while dealing with grief. The crazy thing is she was this person to many more than just me. God truly broke the mold when he made her.

  2. nancyholte permalink

    I’m so sorry, Kandy. I have always been a wee bit envious of your relationship with “Grandma Ruth”. 🙂 I’ve no doubt you were as much of a blessing to her as she was to you. Love you, my friend!

    • Oh Nancy! I would have never known. She was amazing and truly the matriarch of our church in more than just by age. She loved generously and lavishly and loved all of us so well. She was a true storyteller and her stories brought me such comfort and joy. She will be truly missed. Love you!

  3. Cindy Miller permalink

    So very Beautiful Kandy, with tears streaming down my cheeks… You really have a gift of many blessings. Your words were like as if I was there.. thank you so much for sharing. I am blessed to have had part of grandma Ruth and You as my true inspiration ❤ to continue on! Thank You! THANK YOU THANK ❤ YOU!
    SISTA IN Christ,

  4. Linda permalink

    What a beautiful testament to an obviously beautiful soul. May precious memories that hold such a special place in your heart sustain you til you meet again – ricking your babies together. Thanks for sharing your gift of words to those you touch.

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