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.


Planting Hope

        On a beautiful warm day before the rain and cold weather came, I got outside and planted bulbs. I had bought some boxes of daffodils and little irises for half off at Home Depot and I had a bag of bulbs given to me last spring that I hoped were still good. I grabbed my shovel and a bag of potting soil and headed out to stick them in the ground.

            Gardening is an act of faith at any time, but especially at the beginning of winter when spring seems a long way off. As I placed the nice fat daffodil bulbs into their comfy dirt bed, I thought about how pretty they will look when they come up this spring. I planted them where I could see them out my kitchen window, by our back-porch.

            Even as I smoothed the dirt over the bulbs, I worriedthat they wouldn’t come up. I tend to be pessimistic about the future, probablybecause I don’t want to be disappointed if things don’t turn out just right.When I was pregnant with Adam, I was so worried I wouldn’t have a healthy babythat I didn’t even set up a nursery. At the time, we didn’t have central heatin our old house and the warmest place was by of the gas stove in the frontfoyer. We put his crib in there and that was where he slept until he was two,when we finally got his room fixed up with a big boy bed and a cars and trucksbedspread. Planning too far ahead just makes me nervous.

            But I’m learning that it’s not about fearing what may happen in the future – actually, I’m learning to accept that bad things will eventually happen. That sounds pessimistic, but it’s the opposite – God has been teaching me that peace comes from knowing that no matter what happens, He will be there with me.

            I had lunch the other day with some old friends. Everywoman there has been through heartbreaking trials. They have all lost peopleclose to them and dealt with illness, both personally and with family members.Yet we came together, laughed, reminisced and had fun. Each one of them is asurvivor and each one inspires me.

FromHebrews 11 in the Living Bible Translation, we read the well-known faith verse:     

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead.

Hebrews 11:1

            Faith is the mother of the special needs child who patientlyholds the spoon day after day as her child struggles to feed himself.

            Faith is the writer who keeps submitting stories afterbeing rejected for the thirtieth time.

            Faith is the preacher who has endured criticism from thecongregation all week but gets up and preaches God’s love to them.

            Faith is the woman who lost all her savings in a failedbusiness and is starting over in her sixties.

            Faith is the teacher who walks into her classroom every morningand greets her students with a smile, even though half of them are failing.

            Faith is the young couple having another baby after their first child died as an infant from a rare disease.

             To have faith means working toward something that we cannot yet see. It is believing in the light at the end of the tunnel and that love will win out, whether in this life or the next.


Thegetting up and going

SometimesI wondered if

Ihad any faith.

Isat down and thought about it.

Andwhen I had had enough

ofthat I got up

andwent on my way.

Andthat—the getting up

andgoing—was faith.

~from YES, WORLD by Mary Jean Irion, as reprinted in AN ALMANAC FOR THE SOUL byMarv and Nancy Hiles