Life is a such a beautiful, fragile thing. I think that one day when this life is all over and the test is finished, we will look back at it and realize that although it seems so long right now... it really was just as short as the blink of an eye. I think that sometimes we get so wrapped up in the moment that we forget that this life is so very, very short... and that this life is a test. Our loving Heavenly Father gave us everything--everything that I have is His. He gave it to me... He can take it away. Everything, that is, except my will. Only my heart-- only my desire-- only the things that define me, that make me who I am-- only that is mine and cannot be taken away. So the test then is to see what I do with my life. Will I give it to Him, or will I follow my own path? The choice seems simple... but down here in the trenches of daily living when I am up to my elbows in diapers and laundry, it is so very easy to lose sight of the things of eternal import, and I often forget. But lately I've been thinking a lot about life and death and the things that matter most. And it all has to do with one of my heroes, grandma Willa.
Early Monday morning I talked to my mom on the phone. She told me that my grandma Willa would be having surgery to replace the device that had been placed in her heart six years ago when we almost lost her. The panic I feel when I think about losing my sweet grandmother is so poignant still, after six years, that just reflecting on it brings tears to my eyes and a panicked feeling to my chest. I remember visiting my dear grandmother in LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City and watching my grandpa Ralph fuss over her-- their love for one another so apparent. I was dating Andrew seriously at the time- but for me marriage seemed a long way off-- something that I would think about once I had taken a lot more time to just be me. Something that I didn't want or need at the time. Grandpa took us out for a meal at Little America. He talked about grandma nearly the entire meal-- reflecting on their love and their marriage and the love and respect he had for her. That night changed forever the way I saw my grandmother and the way I viewed my own life priorities.
In my family we often refer to grandma as "Saint Willa"-- rightfully so--she is a saint. My grandfather was one of the best men I'll ever know-- but he was impulsive, and busy, and often left much of the burden of running a home and raising a family to my grandmother. He led a big life and was involved in big things and made a real difference in the world-- one day I will write all about it-- but this often meant that grandma was left in the wake of all these big things-seemingly a victim of circumstance who gracefully and lovingly went along with his crazy plans because she had to. Never once in my life did I ever see the two of them quarrel-- never once did I hear my grandmother utter an unkind word to or about grandpa-- even when I was sure he deserved it-- but always ALWAYS always she spoke to him and of him with respect, love, and even reverence... and always she was by his side, loving him, looking out for him, defending him.
During the dinner at Little America grandpa spoke of the strong, intelligent, vivacious woman my grandmother is. He told us how her soft words and kind advice were the most important thing in the world to him--that she had always been spot on when it came to giving him direction and advice in everything he had ever done. She had always been his anchor-- the wind beneath his wings-- his most powerful and trusted advisor. He told me that the things in his life that he was most proud of had been her ideas. He spoke of the love and devotion he felt for her and he told me that if I could be the type of woman that she had always been that one day I could be worthy of the type of honor and respect she so gracefully garnered.
For the first time I realized that things were not as they seemed with my grandparents. She did not defer to him because she had to. She did it because she wanted to. And often times I had been wrong when I thought that she was being pushed around or emotionally bullied by my grandfather's strong will-- on the contrary-- she was very much an equal partner in their incredibly loving and strong marriage. Her soft words were much more powerful than anything else could have been. Her strength was her gentleness. Her courage was her kindness. Her love was paramount. I have always loved and honored my grandmother-- but that night she became my hero-- exactly the type of woman I wanted to become and I hoped I could be. She is one of the strongest, most intelligent women I have ever known. One of the best of the best when it comes to mothers- to grandmothers- to friends. She is the type of woman who can wear pearls. She is classy. She is a lady. Everything about her is welcoming and loving. People are naturally attracted to her because she is a window to the love of the Savior. You feel good when you are around her and when you leave her, you want to be better.
Grandma came to look after me following the births of both Noah and Emmaline. What precious times these were. She taught me to nurse my babies-- she taught me how to bathe and swaddle and soothe my babies. She taught me to be a good mother and showed me how to be a good wife. The food that she makes just melts in your mouth and her home is always immaculate. She is the domestic goddess to top them all-- but she is also one of the most humble and compassionate people you will ever know. Even in the most trying of times I have never seen her frazzled or ruffled. She is others centered and she is giving. She is the image of perfection.
Following the death of my grandpa Ralph just over a year ago we packed the car and we rushed home as fast as our van could carry us. Extreme stress has always given me ulcers and cold sores-- and when we arrived in Idaho 22 hours after we had received the news of Grandpa's death I was already feeling the pain of both. When we arrived at grandma's house all she could do was to fuss over my family and look after our needs-- she took me back to her bathroom and gave me the expensive lip ointment that she had been using over the past day to fend off the sores that she too got when under stress. I felt an odd connection to her as I noticed our identical sores and my heart just broke for her as I took the pain I was feeling and knew that although our physical ailments were the same, our emotional pain was nothing even remotely similar. Although I felt that I was dying inside, her pain must have been multiplied infinitely-- and yet her priority at that moment was to care for and look after my children and me. She is a carer, a lover, a giver. She is everything I imagine my Heavenly Mother to be. Everything I know our Savior is. Everything I want to become.
Grandma Willa taught me to be a powerful influence for good. Following the death of my father we spent a lot of time in my grandmothers home and I watched her day after day looking after and caring for those around her--especially my grieving mother and her emotionally scarred children. I don't think I can count how many times I watched grandma take a meal to a friend in need, or make a call to someone who could use a friend. People love and trust grandma Willa because she is inherently good. They want her advice, they follow her lead. I don't know that I can recall how many times I heard her lift and bless and testify of Christ to those who needed Him most-- myself included. In her loving, kind, unobtrusive way she was a giver-- a doer. I am amazed at her goodness and her love and I know that my life is as good as it is in a very large part due to the many, many prayers she has offered in my behalf. In my darkest hours I have always felt the strength of her faith and her love. I honor her and I bless her and I love her so very much.
One of the biggest regrets that I have in losing my dad and my grandfather is that I never told either of them how much I loved and admired them-- they never knew what they meant to me; how their lives had shaped and affected me. They didn't know because I never told anybody-- especially them-- how I felt. I have never been good with words when it comes to letting people know how I really feel inside. I always chicken out in the moment and later regret it--- but this time I am not going to make the mistake that I will later regret.
So grandma, I am telling you here and now that I love you. I want the whole wide world to know that you are my hero. I admire you. It is because of you that anything that is good about me is good. You have taught me so much more than you may ever know, and I think of you so very often because the life I am trying to build is a model of the life I have watched you live. You were the mother to my mother, and I will forever be grateful for the woman you raised her to be. I am so thankful to my Heavenly Father for making me your granddaughter grandma and I will love and honor you forever.
Yes, life is a beautiful, fragile thing-- and it is far too short. It is a test. A test which grandma Willa passed years ago-- but thankfully she keeps hanging on because her life makes a great difference to those who surround her. She is loved by everyone who knows her-- admired by people near and far. She is the very essence of Christlike behavior and love-- and I love her so very much.
I am grateful for the moments of clarity that situations like this afford-- and although I am not ready for grandma to move on, I know that when she does everything will be okay. Not only because she will then be reunited in what I imagine to be the happiest of all the reunions that heaven has ever witnessed-- but because she will undoubtedly be able to look her Savior in the eye and know that her life made a significant difference to all those who have been blessed to be a part of it. She has passed the test.
So grandma, good luck on your surgery on Monday. Andrew and I and our children will be praying for you. And don't worry- we've learned from you exactly what to do in a situation like this-- your name is already on the prayer roll in Nauvoo and St. Louis and I've already purchased your get well card! Even though I am lost at the thought of losing you, I will have faith and know that all will be well come what may now or in the future. But let's shoot for the future, okay! And grandma-- I'll see you soon. Maybe for Christmas if we can figure things out to get home. In the meantime, I will be here-- loving and honoring you. Thank you for your life. Thank you for your love. Thank you for my mother. Thank you for my faith. I love you. And I thank God that I've had this opportunity to tell you in so many words before it is too late.
To anyone who may have persevered through this incredibly long post-- may I encourage you to let those who you love and admire know it now. Or you may never get the opportunity to, and trust me, you will regret it.