A couple weeks ago, my grandmother passed away. The funeral was this past Monday.
I've been thinking about this post for a while, but it's hard to know how to begin to describe my grandmother to someone who didn't know her. A lot of people talk about their grandmothers being "sweet little old ladies." My grandma was not sweet. She was good, and kind, but not sweet. She was compassionate, and ever present to lend support, but not sweet. She was strong. Firm. Strict, at times. She said exactly what she thought, about her life and yours. Before I was married, there were questions of when that would happen. Before I had kids, there were questions of when THAT would happen (which was a sore spot, and kind of kept opening a wound, but I'm willing to believe that she didn't realize that. Or forgot.) The past year, you'd ask how she was, and she'd reply, "Terrible." You always knew exactly where everyone stood.
But that makes her sound mean, and she wasn't mean. She was so full of love for her family. She was proud of every single one of her kids and grandkids. She and my grandpa were at every single piano recital, ballet recital, and graduation I ever had. And they were like that for all their grandkids, all 35 of them. They were present. They made sure to be a part of our lives.
Right after I graduated from college, I moved back home and started looking for a job. It took a while before I found one, and Grandma knew I needed to make my car payment every month (which was small, but still, my one expense). She hired me to clean her house every few weeks, which, along with a few other odd jobs, allowed me to make that payment. And at the same time, I got to enjoy her company. Dusting allowed me to look through each of her knick knacks as I removed them from their shelves and put them back in exactly the right spot. Each of those items gave me glimpses into her life, the things she had done, the places she had gone. I look back at that summer with such fondness, learning more about each of my grandparents and the lives they led.
I will always think of Grandma at Christmas time. Her first name was Joy, so there are reminders of her everywhere I look this time of year! When I was young, we all went to Grandma and Grandpa's house for Christmas Eve. Kids ran amok, adults visited, games were played, TV was watched. And then we were all back there in the morning, finding our gifts under the tree, eating stollen (spitting out stollen, because those fruit bits are gross), and telling of the Christmas morning we'd had at home. As I got older, the family became too big for Grandma's house, so we would have a family Christmas party at a church. Kids continued to run amok, adults continued to visit, we ate delicious food, and the Hurst Family Talent Show became an annual tradition. Oh, she loved to hear all the grandkids play various instruments and sing and dance. And I loved doing it.
Grandma made each of her kids learn a musical instrument, and 3 of them went on to gain degrees in music. She was pretty gifted herself, going to college on a music scholarship. This love of music carried on to my generation, and there were many times, after performing in some way, that I was asked if I was a Hurst. I have even been announced as Shannon Hurst before. Every time I've played the piano the past two weeks, I've thought of Grandma Hurst and the gift of music that she passed on to me. And I will ever be grateful for it.
The funeral was wonderful. Funerals sound like they should be full of tears and grief, but this funeral was full of celebration of life. All her children and nearly all her grandchildren were there on Monday. I hadn't seen some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins in years, and it was glorious to see their faces, to see us all gathered together to honor this woman. Yes, we mourn her passing. Yes, we will miss her. Tears were shed as we internalized the goodbyes. But oh, she lived a good life! She was such a good woman, and her influence will be felt for generations. She left behind an incredible legacy, which can be seen in each member of her family. And she has been reunited with her dear husband, who she missed every day since he passed. How could we not rejoice in her happy release from this life of pain and sorrow? How could we not think of her happy reunion with her son, gone too soon? I have felt her presence more than once, and I know I will continue to feel it throughout my life. Most of my tears these past two weeks have been ones of gratitude: gratitude for her amazing life, and gratitude that she was my grandmother.