I received a text from one of my sisters the other day that my grandmother was in the hospital and the prognosis didn’t look good. We were all laying on a bed in the highlands of Peru, exhausted from a long day of hiking when it came. I read the text to Amy and the kids and watched as my own feelings were reflected back to me: worry in Amy’s eyes, sadness in Quinn’s and confusion in Mackenzie’s. Amy and I shared how the myeloma she had been diagnosed with had taken a turn for the worse and she was refusing life support. Mackenzie immediately asked, “why would Yaya refuse a ventilator?”
We explained that sometimes people reach a point where they are at peace with their life and the challenge and pain of treatment may not be the option they feel best for themselves. We reminded Mackenzie that Mutti and Padaddy (great grandparents from Amy’s side) had made similar decisions at a comparable point of their lives. It was a reassurance to them both that Yaya’s choice to let come what may is a powerful one that brings her peace. Ultimately, we all found solace in the thought that when she passes, she will always be with us, in our hearts and in our memories, helping us when we need her special brand of wisdom or guidance.
Later, after the children went to bed, Amy and I had a long discussion about what this meant for us and what we might do. This is one of the hardest parts of our decision to travel, knowing that moments like this might happen. Ultimately we decided that should this be the end, we wouldn’t return for a service. To me, a service is an opportunity to fortify those spaces in our hearts and minds that hold a piece of her. I lament that I won’t be able to share that with my family and friends directly. Instead, Amy and I chose to have a remembrance ceremony at Machu Picchu with the girls. It was a difficult decision, but one we felt Shirley would support. Throughout the lead up to and after our departure she has been one of our biggest cheerleaders, applauding us for having courage to face this journey with all its joys and even its sorrows.
My grandmother was a wonderful woman in many ways, but she was never a typical grandmother. Perhaps that is what made her so special to me and many others. Certainly she was loving and caring, those are great hallmarks of her life. However, I can’t say that growing up I was ever especially close to her. She wasn’t the type of grandma that I went to for solace or attention in the way that grandchildren might do. But I imagine for even my sister, who was much closer to her, the relationship wasn’t typical. How could it be when you call your grandmother by her first name?
She was always Shirley to me. Never Grandma, Gammy, Yaya or any other name with which you might identify a grandmother. In part this symbolized much of our interaction when I was young. She didn’t treat me as a child, rather a person who just happened to be her grandchild. At first glance you might think that would be a terrible thing, but it wasn’t. We had discussions about life, spirituality, society, the future and more that never would have fit in the typical grandmother/grandchild box. She was never afraid to broach any topic with me and always valued my opinion even if I lacked the equal experience or perspective she had. This is how she treated everyone, no matter the person or their history.
“Ralph Waldo Emerson said: ‘What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.’ May I try each day to always look within to the love, the non judgement, the compassion to finding peace. The world has many differing opinions on all things…..help me to see everyone as my brothers.” – Shirley B. Martin
The thing I will remember most about her is her humor. Many would say her humor was not always appropriate, but it never failed to hit the mark. A shining example of her humor was when one Thanksgiving, while I was in college, I had brought some friends to my house for dinner. After politely asking one of my friends to pass the potatoes, she asked everyone to share how old they were at “their first sexual encounter!” Needless to say, the subtle nervous tension a stranger feels in an unfamiliar situation was stripped away in that one move. Many around the table laughed, some feigned mock surprise that she would say such a thing and others immediately supplied the requested info. In one stroke she changed the entire dynamic of the night.
“I find that humor is a wonderful tool for reaching people…true, loving humor. Sometimes I smile when alone at some funny, ridiculous thing about myself. And truth be known, I can find many funny, ridiculous things about me!” – Shirley B. Martin
Shirley cared deeply for her family and the people around her. She understood that life is a beautiful fragile thing that must be tended. While exploring Machu Picchu I was reminded that nothing lasts forever. A small geranium was growing through a 600 year old wall. One day a flower just like that may cause the wall to crumble. At that moment I chose to make that day a celebration of her life rather than a day of sorrow. A day to marvel at the at the sacred place with a mind and heart she helped to shape.
Thank you Shirley for all you ever were and all you ever weren’t.
7 thoughts on “So long, and thanks for all the laughs”
Shirley is one of those rare people who always makes your life brighter and better.
I will miss you very much Shirley. God bless you and be with you in your new journey.
True words! Thank you.
So sorry to hear about “your” Shirley. She sounds like an amazing woman that grazed others with her spirit. I’m sure she will be with you and your family in your hearts as you continue on this journey.
Thanks Mindie 🙂
Jacob, it’s hard to convey via e-communication how sorry I am for your loss. I’m sad you are so far away dealing with the loss of your Grandmother. As you put in your eloquent farewell post, she is with you everywhere you go.
My thoughts are with you.
Thank you Leah. It has been a crazy week and we appreciate the support.
I hardly have the words to tell you how beautiful this post is and how it touched me so very deeply. To read about your relationship to your grandmother, a relationship that was yours alone, gave me a new window into her, you, and the many ways in which the love of grandparents and grandchildren manifests. And each way is precious and special. Thank you Jacob for sharing your love and knowing of her. She does live on uniquely in each one of us.