Monday, October 3, 2011

A life well lived...

Constance Eileen Allen
1923 ~ 2011
My grandmother went home to heaven yesterday afternoon. In many ways, she left this life in much the same way she lived it: gently, without any fuss, and surrounded by people who loved her. It was a beautiful, bittersweet moment.
I've cried enough tears to flood the Brushy Fork in the last two weeks, and yesterday was particularly hard. I know there will be more to come, but for today, at least, I have been more reflective than weepy. And I've thought a lot about what my tears are, and what they aren't.
Some have, of course, been tears of grief. I would not for one moment bring my grandma back from the presence of Christ, or from the reunion she is sharing with Grandpa Bob, the son she never knew in this life, and the many other friends and family she had waiting for her in heaven. But I miss her. Although in some ways she had become more of a spectator than a participant in our gatherings, her mere presence brought joy into our midst. I miss her smile, her laugh, and the sound of her voice when she said "Oh, I love you, honey." I miss her already.
My tears have not, however, been tears of regret. I know my grandma loved me. I know that she knew how much she was loved by myself and my family. I have the memories of countless Sunday afternoons spent doing nothing in particular except being together as a family. For whatever tensions, trials or just plain weirdnesses our family has encountered, there has always been more than enough love to cover it all. Grandma saw her children and grandchildren raised and raised well, and knew her nineteen great grandchildren were in good hands, thanks much in part to the efforts she poured into the lives of their parents and grandparents. For our family, there were no words left unspoken, no amends too late to make, no time or opportunities squandered.
Which made me realize that so many of my tears have, in fact, been tears of gratitude. There aren't words sufficient to express how blessed I have been to be born into this family. For all of my life, whenever people have asked where I'm from, if they had any connection to Newman or Douglas County, I would hold my head high and say, "I'm Bob and Eileen Allen's granddaughter." I have always been so proud of my family, not because they had wealth, power, position or prestige--they certainly did not--but because they had reputation built on character, hard work and integrity.
I was explaining to a friend last week what grandma meant to me, and I put it this way: she wasn't the kind of grandma who spoiled you with trips and toys, but she poured out her life into her family in so many ways through acts of generosity and service. I remember that the days I spent with her when I was young, she would just include me in whatever she was doing: cooking, snapping beans, sorting and delivering Avon orders (my favorite!). She wasn't a "visit-every-once-in-a-while" grandma, she was a "live-life-alongside-you" grandma. Now that I am raising a family of my own, I realize how much of her life has influenced the kind of wife, mother and friend that I want to be. From how much I enjoy vegetable gardening and canning to my near compulsion to feed the people I love large quantities of home-cooked food to the way I love to hang laundry on a clothesline to my always-spotless home (ok-maybe not that one, but I wish I'd inherited that, too), Eileen Allen has been my inspiration. I look at the life she lived and the legacy she left, and say to myself, "That's what I want to be when I grow up."
I also know that along with this amazing legacy that my grandparents have left comes a weighty responsibility to carry on and continue in the example they have set. As I watched my father, uncle and aunts care so tenderly for their mother in her last days, and considered their extraordinary efforts to honor her, comfort her and keep her at home, I realized that the bar for my generation has been set very high. I also know that in my own strength, I am totally unprepared and inadequate for the task. What a blessing to know that the real source of my grandma's strength was her steadfast faith and dependence on Christ. Of all the lessons she passed on to us, the greatest was surely that the Lord is our strength and our Redeemer. The family legacy that Bob and Eileen Allen built was built with Christ as the foundation, and it is that same foundation that we following generations must build on if we are to honor their lives with our own.

Thank you, Grandma, for your life, your love and your example of graciousness, faithfulness, hard work and selflessness. Until we see each other again in heaven, I love you.