Yesterday, we celebrated the life of my last biological grandparent, Anne Bryant, who passed away the day after Christmas at the age of 90.
She was a delicate, graceful Southern woman with a beautiful smile and a contagious laugh who touched the lives of more people than I will ever know.
She was the closest thing to a matriarch at her church in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she was fondly known as “Miss Anne.” She loved to sing, was a member of the choir for nearly a decade and served as an integral part of the children’s ministry. Her former pastor, my relatives, and her friends, neighbors, and fellow church members had such wonderful things to say about her life during her service, which she insisted be a joyful celebration of her life.
She raised three children, including my dad, and was a schoolteacher. She loved children.
She loved to garden.
She loved to ride her bike.
She loved to sing.
She was incredibly creative and gifted with her hands. She made dresses for me and my dolls, Christmas ornaments and my Christmas stocking. Both of us collected Willow Tree figurines and loved to sing, read, write, and travel.
She had a strong faith that she carried with her until her last day. She wanted to “go home” and be with my grandfather in heaven and was at peace with that transition.
Of all of the grandparents I had, she’s the one who knew me the best. I remember phone calls with her and my grandfather when I was a kid. I was very studious and committed to doing well in the classroom. After winning spelling bees and other academic competitions at school or sharing a report card, they would send me letters, sometimes with a special memento inside like a Bible verse on a wallet card or a bookmark she made at church.
They always told me how excited they were for me and were so supportive of me throughout my life. I can still hear my grandmother saying these words:
“Oh, Rachel, granddaddy and I are so proud of you.”
In the final years of her life, there was some tension in my family that created a bit of distance in our relationship. Looking back, I regret not spending more time with her in her last years; it saddens me, and I feel a sense of loss. I have many happy memories about her, but I know I could have had more.
If you have a family member that you can’t seem to “get right” with, I encourage you to be open. Be open to grace and seek forgiveness. Love them. Be kind. Set aside your pride and try again. It might not look the way you expect, but at least you’ll know you tried the best you could and offered that person all you had.
Bill and I visited my grandmother and spent time with her on a trip to North Carolina last spring. I had a final phone call with her in the week before her passing to tell her how much I appreciate who she was to me and how much her support and love meant to me.
When I think back to the times we spent together, the conversations we had, and the letters we exchanged, I smile. I know she’s proud of me and who I’ve become as a woman, a wife, a daughter, a Christian, a sister, an aunt, and a friend.
As I was sifting through my bins of mementos (I’m a bit of a sentimental packrat), I stumbled upon a book called Grandmother Remembers that she filled out for me as a gift for my high school graduation.
I had given it to her as a gift when I was little, and she took the time to complete every single page with facts about our family, pictures of relatives, and memories and stories about herself, me, and the rest of our family.
It’s such a treasure and a special piece of history for our family.
What makes it even more symbolic for me right now is the image of the butterfly on the front cover. For those who have been reading this blog for some time, you’ve read about my connection to butterflies and how prevalent and symbolic they’ve been in my life.
One of the final pages of the Grandmother Remembers book is dedicated to her wish to the future for me. She wrote, “Since Gramdaddy’s death, I have experienced ‘being given wings’ and my prayer is that this will continue.”
And it has.
She has been given wings and is looking down on all of us now. She is happy, at peace, and flying free.
Once someone is gone, they don’t have an opportunity to say what is on their heart and mind to comfort those of us who are left behind. What I’m about to share is what I think grandmother would say to all of us here now. I wrote this poem and read it at my grandmother’s memorial service. I hope it gives you peace, comfort, and hope when you think of someone special that you’ve lost.
As I look down on all of you, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.
Each of you holds a special place along my journey.
Thank you for being here to celebrate my life.
I know that you’re missing me.
Maybe you’re feeling sad, mourning, hurting, angry that I’m no longer with you.
It’s hard to let go of people we love.
But I want you to know that I’m okay.
I’m finally free.
I prayed to the Lord and He freed me from all my fears.
Free from sadness.
Free from discomfort.
Free from pain.
Full of love.
Full of joy.
Full of light.
As you sit there remembering me, I want each of you to do something to honor me and my life.
Don’t wait for death to free you.
Choose to be free now.
Free from grudges.
Free from judgment.
Free from resentment.
Free from hostility.
Free from anger.
Be free. Live fully.
We are called to be free.
Free to dance.
Free to sing.
Free to laugh.
Free to play.
Free to love.
I give you my wings, so you can soar and fly freely, releasing anything that holds you down and embracing that which lifts you up.
Savor the sunny days, and spend time in your garden.
Appreciate the beauty all around you.
Notice the birds chirping, the flowers blooming, the smiles of children.
Pause and notice what a beautiful world we live in.
Be kind to and gentle with one another.
Give each other permission to make mistakes, especially those closest to you.
Be quick to offer forgiveness and grace when that happens.
Even when it’s hard.
Even if you’re angry.
Forgiveness frees you as much as it frees them.
Be free. Live fully.
Speak the truth in love.
Not just to prove a point, but with the intention of loving the other person.
Sometimes I wish I’d spoken up more instead of staying silent when I felt unheard.
Unmute your voice, and set yourself free from what you’ve kept locked up in your mind or in your heart.
The Lord calls us to love and serve one another, to be bold and courageous with our lives.
Use your voice for good and your words and actions to love.
Never stop learning, and remember to make time for play.
As a schoolteacher, I embraced a love of learning and dedicated my life to sharing that with my students and my family.
Approach the world with childlike curiosity.
Ask questions, look for the good in people, share, play, laugh, dance, sing, read, travel, be silly.
Spend more time playing and less time working.
I once gave my granddaughter a bookmark for her Bible that she has since passed along to another friend who needed the message on it more than she did.
It had this scripture on it from the book of Jeremiah:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
No matter what you’re dealing with right now, the Lord knows about it and can use it.
To grow you, to strengthen you, or to equip you to serve in some way.
Trust His timing.
Trust His plans.
Heaven is a beautiful place. We are having the best time up here!
Seeing all of my old friends and loved ones again has been such a joy for me.
I feel alive, renewed, whole, and free.
So, don’t be sad.
Celebrate my life and all that it was. Remember all of the happy times we had. Thank God for giving you another day on this beautiful earth, until we are reunited some day.
Until that day comes, be kind and gentle.
Savor the sunny days.
Spend time in your garden.
Find your voice.
Forgive each other.
Never stop learning.
Dance, play, travel and sing.
I’ve given you wings.