Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Grandma Ruth

It was strange not having her at the family dinner. I'd become so accustomed to seeing her walk about, with her unrushed but steady stride. The way her hands swung just so. The way she held her elbow. How she would always be slicing up this or that and putting out a little extra dish of something she'd saved to share with everyone.

Picture by Ben's cousin Jessica

Yes, for me Grandma Ruth's memory was already walking about at her own funeral, making me realize what a constant she was, however quiet. 

Back in 2000 when I was only Ben's  "girl-friend", I remember her heart surgery, how amazing it was she pulled through. 

How grateful I am now for those extra years. Years I got to know her, to see her fortitude and strength. She said in a treasure of an interview Jen did with her that she didn't think she was stubborn, and she wasn't unless you counted her sheer will to be independent--from pulling herself painstakingly upstairs or hosting her frail frame into vehicles, she'd find a way, even if it was just sheer grit. And I think years ago through that surgery she was determined, determined to stick around a few more years so she could drive her little red car around to see her family and they could see her. 

These last few years I feel like I've seen so much. And learnt even more.

She was independent emotionally too. Something I admire. She cared, worried more about her kids and grandkids, then she really let on, but she didn't let others set her thermostat. 

Well we saw it a few times. 

But where she really shone to me was as a great grandma. 

When us grandkids had babies, she'd come, with her soup- making calmness. 
When she came when we had Levi, Ben was ready to have her move in permanently!
Levi was such a lug too and she was so slight....oh, but she was determined. I wouldn't be surprised if her legs had gone numbed once or twice holding him on her lap.
She always called him "Lovely"

"Such a lovely baby. So happy," she'd say, never taking her eyes of his tubby face.

She hinted once after I'd said something about my abundant milk supply that "I couldn't keep putting it all in him or he might explode!"

I was re-reading a journal entry I made about Grandma when she came and stayed with us after Levi was born. I remember her sitting on the couch with the kid's chalkboard, doodling on it, writing over and over again the names of her great grandkids: Lucee, Levi, Xander, McKye, Alysha, Brittney, Aaron, Michael--just like a school girl practicing her signature. It was so sweet, and from that one simple absentminded act I knew how much Ruth Sunderland loved her family, how much joy her posterity had brought her. 

Even though my kids are too little to have many memories of her, I will be able to tell them how much she loved them.
Her with Lucee -- one of my personal favorites, taken by Amy, Lucee's mamma.
Brittney and Alysha with their "Grandma the Great"
I think that's my greatest saddness. We'd known Grandma might not have too much longer, and I kept thinking I'd had some really great moments with her--that I felt she'd bonded with my kids and with me.  And I felt rather prepared really to say goodbye. 

But when Ben told me Sunday morning, I was  getting ready for church, just about to put on mascara, when that unreal moment hit of realization that she was actually gone. 
I felt my heart collapse and any makeup would have been wasted, as I cried. 

I cried for Mandy who had so tirelessly been there for her mom all through her illness, in and out of the hospital, loving and loyal and now facing one of the greatest losses of all.  I cried for all the kids who in their various ways had leaned on their mom, like we all do. 
I cried again for my mom too, who lost and mounred her own mother in my youth, remembering how the grief remains and just how much she'll always miss her. 

I even cried for myself. Because she'd become one of my women. One of the legends that now branches from my children's family tree. Because I liked her, not just as my husband's grandma but as a friend. Because I could still feel my arm giving her small frame a hug and a "Hi grandma." And because she made me laugh. Like the time she called from the room she'd retired to, after hearing her daughters discussing their growing concern for their mom's deteriorating health, cutting into their whispering:  "I'm not dying!!!!" 
She was forthright and clever and always made me laugh.

I cried, but I didn't cry for Ruth, for her, I was ecstatic. 

Mostly, I cried for my kids, who didn't even know what death meant. 
Who didn't even know to be sad, even when they saw her laying in her casket. 
Cried that they would only get to hear me tell them their memories. 
That they would only have pictures and narratives to describe their little individual connections to their great grandma Ruth. Good thing, I have quite a few of both. 
Memories like...
How she helped McKye with some of his first experiences "loosing" when she wouldn't let him win their game of soccor in the the rec room.  

They golfed too.

How once she'd come upon Aaron eating my leftover birthday cake by the handfuls, so she got a knife and started feeding him and McKye slices, with that look of Sunderland Satisfaction-0the one they get when they know they've help tickle someone's tastebuds.

And I'll never forget her singing little ryhmes to Levi or calling  him "lovely", a word really only the British can infuse with as much warmth and compliment.  

Now when ever I think of Levi as a baby, even though he slept as poorly as the rest,  that's still the word that comes to mind.

Now when it does, 
I will think of her.

She loved little things. 

As they cleaned out her apartment there were SOOOOO many little treats and just as many little trinkets. Her daughter Ruthie snapped a quick picture of just a few of the treats they found: When they compiled a memory from each grandkid, Ben's was "Going to her house and being handed a bag of chips within minutes, every time." 

Her life experience may have made other's stingy, not her, it made her very generous.

She was a just a child dring the war. Living in Scotland. Her Grandma mostly raised her. 
"She always made sure we had enough to eat "
she told me once with pride and gratitude.
Yet, that wartime scarcity always stuck with her and she had great appreciation for the little things beccause of it. 

This last Christmas, she asked me if she could take one of our eggs home, because she'd hardly seen "such big, beautiful eggs!" 

Just this passed week at Sam's farewell, she was lamenting that she didn't have fine motor strength to push the top of an aresol can and so she couldn't use her hairspray, which was such a waste to her because it was such a "beautiful can of hairspray too!"  

Eggs! Harispray! Such little things, that she refused to take for granted.  I'm so grateful for grandma's  lessons in perspective.  
When Alli called to ask me if there was  anything  I wanted form the house. 

I asked for the hairspray. 

She wasn't a preacher, but she had such a subtle personal way of influencing. 
In such personal ways.

At the funeral they complied a "Tribute from the grandkids, with one line memories from each.  So many one on one. She took ME to the dollar store...not us.  Took me to the movies, to the plays. With so many grandkids, it is a tribute to her that she managed such one on one experiences. My favorite was from one of the Utah cousins: "her and I would sneak out and get a coke just her and me."

She loved us as her "posterity" but she loved us individually too. When her kids spoke at the funeral it was amazing to see how she had known them each so individually and responded to their individual needs, raising them according to their own unique spirits. She was to each of them what they needed her to be: Adventurous and Sentimental for one. Nurturing and Comforting for another. Accepting and forgiving of one yet ready to Challenge and Inspire another. She didn't have phrases she said all the time to her kids, she had phrases for EACH of the kids. Phrases that have clung to them and made them who they are and who their children and grandchildren will be. (Mandy's was "If you're going to be stubborn , be righteously stubborn"--and man has it come true! She's passed that advice onto me in my parenting a few times already.) As I sat in the nursery, listening to the funeral over the speakers I realized Grandma Ruth was STILL teaching me. Showing me the wisdom in seeing each of my children for who they are and who they can be. 

One day when she was over, in between cake feeding and rec room soccer matches, I asked her about her regrets. She said "Nothing big. I traveled enough. I've been to Hawaii and Jeruselum, maybe woudl have liked to seen Alaska. I wished I'd learn to ride a horse and to ski."

Nothing big.

I remember when Albert passed away. It was sudden. He'd come up to Edmonton after I had Aaron. He sang him the Alphabet backwards and used his little new born arms to conduct a march or two.  And onyl days later, when we were flygin back to Memphis where we were livign that summer, we had to say, what would be our final goodbyes, in the hospital. 

I'd had grandparents pass away. But none in the church.  And so I watched and saw the difference. 

He was so ready. Not just ready to leave the pain and trial of mortal life, but ready to move on, excited even, to continue progressing and serving, growing and loving. Ready to continue and certain he would. 

In the interview with Jen, Ruth talked about Albert serving a mission just after they were married (which was uncommon even then) she said, 
"the Lord was giving me time to grow up". 

He went on ahead into the next life too and I think she'd say again
"the Lord was giving me time to grow up."

Or just to grow. To grow in love and share it with us all. 

But just like Albert, when the time came she was ready. Told Mandy as they drove into the hospital that last time, "I think this is it" and asked her to pray that she'd go fast. 

I've thought a lot about their readiness. They weren't perfect. If you know anyone well enough, you know no one is. But they had faith. Faith in Christ's Atonement and it power to save, to redeem, to perfect our imperfect lives-- to perfect us. They have faith not in the perfection of their lives or themselves, but in the Savior and His promises. His promise to refine us, little by little. One kindness at a time. 

When she talked about her kids and some of their trials and wondered if there was something she could have done, she quickly turned and said, "But you can't dwell on that. We all just do our best."

How grateful I'm for grandma's example, of how to live and how to die-- both in faith. 

Chris found a poem Grandma wrote and included a line from it on the front of the funeral program. I love it. 

"...not death
death holds no fear for me. 
It's presence now
a welcome victory"

I only hope I can too look back and feel at peace with my life and know that "it is well."

Only a week before she passed, we'd gone to the temple with Sam before he left on his mission. We were rushing, and Grandma asked me to help her put on her stockings.

As I knelt before her, performign such a tiny service, I was so humbled. I was in the presence of a  Queen, bowing before a great matriarch who's Scottish blood would mingle in the veins of my own children and grandchildren. Her stooped and tired frame felt like a fairytale disguise and I was sure at any moment she would rise up in brillance and stature before me.

Adn know she has. She has left the fraility and frustratiosn of mortailty, and I can just see her, that same steady stride, her elbow held just so, walking on to her next adventure.

Cuz grandma always liked a little adventure.

And I love her for it.