My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 4, 2020, issue of The Polk County Pulse.
The smartphone in my pocket buzzed, alerting me that I had received a message. The text from my cousin read, “John just told me that Mama is essentially gone; that she will not wake up again.” As we texted back and forth, she let me know she was heading out on the three-hour trip. Shortly after she arrived, she sent me a text. “I’m in the room with Mama. The one nurse I have seen was in tears, but she said, ‘I’ve seen people come out of it.’” I didn’t receive another text until the next morning. It was a short text that read, “She passed this morning. Thank you for your prayers.”
When I read the text, many memories of my aunt filled my mind. The last time that I had seen her, she didn’t recognize me. Alzheimer’s Disease caused memory loss and confusion for her, but my memories were vivid. She could be quite loud and opinionated, but underneath that occasionally harsh exterior was a heart of gold. She would do anything in her power for those she loved. My memories darted from place to place, remembering games of 42, fresh garden veggies, and a weekend trip to Eureka Springs. I felt empathy for my cousins as I remembered the emotions I felt when my Mama passed away.
As you know, we lost her without warning, so I apologize that these words are formed quickly, and maybe they are simple, but since I cannot be present with you all today, at least my words can be. I can tell you about Grandma through my eyes, the best parts I remember.
I remember crawling into our guest room on mornings when she and Papa were visiting my family—how my brother and sister and I would crowd the bed for a snuggle, and she’d give us gentle, open-handed slap slaps all over. “Do you know what that is? That’s what we call a love pat,” she’d say, and laugh.
I remember afternoons watching Big Brother with her at the old Arkansas house and playing Skip-Bo, Phase 10, Rummikub, Dominoes, or some card game in the defunct thrift store across from Papa’s auto shop. It was a thrill to experience hot pockets, corn dogs, and popsicles from the freezer—treats we didn’t often have at home. I’d watch her in that back office, steady at work, quilt-making. Or otherwise cross-stitching, mending, crafting rag rugs or those pot holders, always industrious. One summer, she paid me to pull weeds, and when we went to wade at the low water crossing and eat watermelon, she sat apart from us for the entire outing, counting the weeds one by one, to determine my pay rate. She was studious, guided by strong principles, and it was so plain on her face, her desire to love and be loved.
I remember riding in the old station wagon with the faux wood paneling and hearing her sing along to her choir practice tapes; she was never self-conscious. I really do believe she was just singing for her Savior, belting out ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ in a falsetto, then fading to a hum. One of the things I most looked forward to when I visited in the summer was the singing nights at Salem Baptist Church—we’d flip through the hymnal pages together, excited to put in our requests. Grandma made me feel bold and unafraid, too. I’m pretty sure I requested that we sing a duet together, and maybe once a solo in front of the congregation.
I remember road trips with the two of them, especially the one they took me and my sister to Niagra Falls, and through Lancaster, Pennsylvania, visiting Amish country. We’d munch on giant Tupperware tubs of Chex Mix and a cooler full of snacks she packed, and gorge ourselves at buffets along the way.
I didn’t see her as often in recent years, so you can see that many of my memories are faded. I wish I could have made it to see her one more time, and that I could be with you to share stories now. She was complicated, a survivor, a true believer, a clever strategizer, and a dedicated penpal to me over the years. I loved her dearly.”
Abby’s heartfelt tribute made me think about the legacy that each one of us will leave. Billy Graham said, “the greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.” And American novelist, Dara Horn, wrote, “every person has a legacy. You may not know what your impact is, and it may not be something that you can write on your tombstone, but every person has an impact on this world."
Gentle Reader, what will your legacy be? In 2 Timothy 4:7,8 (NLT), the apostle Paul stated his legacy. His turbulent life was coming to an end, but he had indeed made a difference. Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.” You and I are running a race. Keep running. Fight the good fight. It will be your legacy.