This has been a sorrow-filled week. People that I care about very much have been in pain for good reason. It has been difficult to find JOY through suffering. I’ve been trying to figure out how to be an encouragement as I fight with my own inner feelings, which has left me thinking about people in my life who have risen above very challenging circumstances. What did they do? How can I learn from them?
My mother’s mother is one of the first people in my memory, who persevered through devastating circumstances. As a young child, she would tell me stories of living through multiple house fires, one time running to the neighbor’s house after losing a shoe in the snow. The most traumatic tale was when my mother and her family endured the wrath of the ’47 Fires. My mother tells of the wildfire that they watched from afar, trying to figure out which side of the road it would come. Once they realized that the fire was headed for their home, store, and lumber mill, a decision had to be made as to which building would be saved. They chose the mill since it was their biggest source of income for the family. The girls were sent into their home to pick one thing, and they teased my aunt unmercifully because she chose a book on etiquette. Neighbors and friends pulled up to the house and loaded household items such as bikes and the treasured piano, but some items were never returned. As a result, my grandmother had a nervous breakdown. The horror of watching the fire was just too much, and as a result, she spent some time recovering in the local mental hospital. My grandfather made light of it for the sake of the girls and my mother recalls that they even laughed about it. From the stories, he was a man we will thoroughly enjoy meeting in Heaven. He had a great sense of humor and loved to hear his girls giggle. My grandfather died while Mom, the baby of four girls, was in college. He was an unhealthy baby who grew up to be an adult with a weak heart. Yet, my grandmother persevered. She mourned the loss of her true love, but she lived on. My grandmother’s famous words were, “I’ve got —- years to live, and I’m going to live them!” … and she did. My grandmother passed away with Alzheimer’s while I was pregnant with my first-born and I miss her to this day.
I come from a long line of strong independent women on my mother’s side. Most were teacher’s by trade, with a gift of caregiving. They pushed through hard, long, days, where they felt unappreciated, and lonely. Caregiving is a lonely calling, and those in the daily trenches give up their own needs and desires to care for others who are generally unappreciative. I noticed. I noticed then, and I recall it now. They didn’t know it at the time, but they were grooming me for what was to come.
My father’s mother was equally as strong. She and my grandfather started a little farm and raised 5 children during WWII and the Depression. They weren’t as fortunate as my mother’s family, who owned a convenience store and were able to eat expired meat that had been pulled from the shelf. It was either feast or famine in my father’s world. My grandmother would recount dumpster picking, and peeling the rot off the outside of vegetables to feed the family. The most traumatic time of my father’s life, was the early death of my uncle. As the story goes, he fell off a horse, and was later diagnosed with cancer. My grandparents would load up the family, and take them all to Boston in the back of the pick-up for appointments for my brilliant uncle, who had an unusual spiritual connection to God. He lost the battle and died in the arms of my grandmother at the family homestead, and my grandfather cursed God for the remainder of his days. When my mother was pregnant with me, my father found my grandfather on the floor still holding the mail. My grandmother had taken a trip north to spend some time with my aunt and her young family, and he had a heart attack while she was away. She never forgave herself for not being there in his final moments. My grandmother was a tough old bird though, and she continued to thrive by pouring her heart into her church ministry (sending lightly used clothes to countries in need), and babysitting for local families. She lived to a ripe old age, despite being diagnosed with Dementia and losing much of her eyesight. She was a special lady and I miss her very much.
What can I learn from these brilliant and strong women, of whom similar blood runs through my veins? They were women of great faith. They had a strong family commitment beyond their own needs and desires. They were teachers, and hard workers who never gave up no matter how hard life got. They were kind-hearted, had great character, and did the right thing even when nobody was looking. They were responsible citizens who voted, were dedicated to being life long learners, and enjoyed every great gift the Lord provided. They had beautiful homes and properties that they cared about very much. They took care of their possessions and cultivated their passions. They invested themselves into the lives of the next generation and took the time to teach and to guide.
There were times when these strong women could have given up. They had every reason to walk away, but they didn’t. They made a commitment. They made a promise. They planned, they regrouped, and planned again. They clung to their faith, their family, and their friends. They knew that this life here on earth was just temporary and that there is a much greater life yet to come. They ate ice cream and popcorn because it made them happy. They read for pleasure, and to enhance their knowledge. They worked the land, and didn’t resist the opportunity to snitch a fresh vegetable or piece of fruit from a plant that they had cultivated. They canned, froze, and raised what they could. They were thrifty and wise with their spending. They sat in their bathrobes and watched the birds. They knitted, and sewed homemade items for holiday’s and thought of us the entire time. Together, we visited the Farmer’s Market and the local Fair, and they even filled our pockets with candy when our parents weren’t looking.
They lived. They laughed. They loved.
…and I will too.