death of a family member · Spirituality

Tribute to Mary Frances

 I received a text late one night a few weeks ago from my cousin Scott: “Call me if you are up.” I knew what had happened. My aunt Mary Frances, Scott’s mother, and my father’s last living sibling, had died, her heart stopping suddenly while she was getting ready for bed.

I was caught off guard by the news. Even though she was 96, she was such a fixture of my life that it seemed she would always be there.  I had just talked to her a few days before and she was her usual feisty self. She laughed at my story about our ladybug invasion that had turned into a fly invasion when we set off a bug bomb in the attic. Her comment was, “I never really minded ladybugs, I thought they were cute.”  She complained a little about the measures that her senior apartment building had put in place for Covid, but said, as always, “I know they are trying to keep us safe, so it’s not so bad.” After all, she had told me in earlier conversations, she had lived through the Depression and other hard times. Covid was just one more thing to endure.

“When are you coming to visit?” was her perennial question.

“I’ve had a lot going on, but I’m planning to come up in March,” I replied.

“I can’t wait to see you,” she would always say. “Love you.”

Now I wish I had made the time to visit in January.

In October, her granddaughter Shannon got married about an hour and a half from Mary Frances’ home at Arbor Acres in Winston-Salem. She fretted over how she could make the trip and I told her I would come take her. I picked her up and she talked the whole way, so excited to be on an adventure and to see all her family.

She had the time of her life, sitting regally in the beautiful blue evening gown that her daughter-in-law Debra had found for her. Her three sons and four grandchildren treated her like a queen, and she greeted all the guests with enthusiasm. She talked about it for weeks.

Shannon wrote a beautiful tribute to her grandmother and with her permission, I share it here:

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a memory is worth millions. And over the many memories I have of my grandmother, there’s one word that stands out to me: warmth.

Everything about her was warm. Her big smile, the Southern twang in her voice, her hugs hello and goodbye. Even that musty old-house smell burned into my memories of visits to Pfafftown, and the taste of her slightly overcooked green beans, feel warm to me now.

She radiated that warmth wherever she went, even (and especially) at Arbor Acres. She seemed to know everyone, staff and residents alike, by name – their full name, in fact. I used to think it was odd, the way she’d introduce people with first and last names. I thought it was just old lady gossip, the way she kept tabs on everyone, too. But I’ve come to realize that for her, it wasn’t enough to know someone on just a first-name basis, because she saw a light in everyone. And like a moth drawn to that light, she wanted to know everything that makes each person special.

The woman that was my grandmother, Mary Frances Austell Smith, may be gone, but her legacy will not be forgotten. I know she lives on in all of us, as she touched our hearts, and our lights. We must remember her warmth, and nurture that light, the way she would have wanted us to.” Shannon Smith Wilson

If you still have those senior parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, pick up the phone and give them a call. Send a note. Make time to visit. Because one day when you least expect it, they will be gone.