The aroma of warm gingerbread cookies swirled deliciously around my granny. She was an excellent playmate, thrilling storyteller, and creative tailor of special items to outfit the fantasies of children.
When we skinned our knees, her gentle hugs were comforting. Spilled milk seemed to go unnoticed. There was never an angry, blaming word for a broken dish.
Granny was satisfied with life. Her glass overflowed. She accepted people as they were, laughed easily, and greeted each person with a smile. She did her best to enjoy every day to the fullest. Each of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren were convinced we were her favorite. She loved and was deeply loved. Yet her life was not easy.
She wanted to attend school but had to stop at the fifth grade because her family needed her to work. Granny was not wealthy, lost her teeth early, and lived with heart disease. She also faced the unimaginable grief of having to bury her five year-old son.
Despite adversity, she did not dwell on or run from the disappointments of life; she courageously faced hardship by grieving, accepting, forgiving, and moving on. She made mistakes. But instead of living with regret, she made the effort to make a better choice the next time she faced a similar situation.
Granny was not afraid of death. She was focused on doing her best, each day, to live in ways she would honestly be pleased to remember. Eighty-five years of doing her finest added up. When she passed away, crowds of people came to pay their respects.
During her memorial service, her spirit was alive in the shared memories of family, friends, and acquaintances. She was praised for creating a life of joy and serenity. People were deeply moved by her humility, kindness, and friendship. Her compassion, trustworthiness, and faith were inspirational.
Each person with whom Granny spent time was touched by her open heart. Though decades have passed since her death, my memories of her have aged well.
When my other grandmother passed away, she did not leave the same memories. Her attitude was negative, her glass always half empty. Nothing was good enough. Life had been too hard.
She placed value on things. My memory of her surrounding herself with fine objects is especially vivid because I was not allowed to sit on the furniture in my grandmother’s living room. I learned not to take it personally. Thinking back, I do not remember anybody ever sitting in her living room.
My grandmother also supported judgmental television evangelists. She sent them money and was especially generous with those who desired to change gay people into God-fearing heterosexuals. At the time, I took this personally. Later, I wondered if she may have felt differently had she known about me.
My grandmother’s lifetime of self-centeredness caused her heart to close. Instead of facing life’s hardships and challenges head on, she attempted to medicate them away. She was constantly ailing and focused on her suffering. As a result, her off putting demeanor kept other people at a distance. At her funeral, people struggled to find positive things to say. It was awkward and embarrassing.
Today, I realize how fortunate I was to know both of my grandmothers. While they were two different people, each taught me by her own example.
One grandmother modeled how to create a life filled with anger, resentment, and loneliness. She did not connect the dots between investing adversely in life and receiving the undesirable in return. She spent her life looking outward for accountability and change. When it did not come, she resorted to blame and increased efforts to control others.
The other grandmother was a positive role model who showed me how life works best. Granny understood she did get back what she put out in the world. She recognized part of loving herself was doing the work necessary to intentionally change any of her behavior that did not feel good to her or to others. She accepted that the greatest legacy we can ever leave is choosing how well we live.
Each day I ask myself, “How do I want to be remembered?” Not only when I pass away and remain in the memories of those I leave behind. But, at the end of each day, how do I honestly, with my heart, want to remember about how I am choosing to live?