I have a beautiful blue glass rosary hanging from my bed. If you know me, you might find this odd, since my Catholic background consists of some dearly loved relatives, several years of Christmas mass, and numerous viewings of Sister Act (1 and 2). I’ve never actually prayed the rosary, although for someone with a chronically scattered mind, the idea of something to give structure and direction to my prayer time is very appealing. The rosary is there not for my daily prayers, but as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. When I see it, it reminds me that every unexpected twist in my life is part of His plan and is leading me closer to Him.
You see, this particular rosary belonged to my grandma. It was a gift I found for her on a visit to the Vatican while backpacking through Europe after college. At the time, it symbolized everything that was beautiful about our relationship. It was a reminder of travel, a love of which she had encouraged in me all my life. It was a symbol of the faith that is universal in all those who love and seek the Lord, that her protestant granddaughter would give her something so meaningful to her own way of worship. It represented the endless discussions we’d had over the years about who God is and how we relate to Him. We didn’t always agree, but we always spoke with love and respect. Now it means even more to me.
This week marks the second anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. A grandmother who taught me so much: how to knit and quilt, how to play cards, how to shop like a pro, how to love unconditionally, how to find humor and joy in everything, and how to be strong when life is crushing you. One of the last things she said to me when I visited her in the final weeks of her life was, “Don’t forget me.” How could I? Not a week goes by that I don’t miss her, that I don’t wish I could call and tell her some exciting news or ask her advice about something. I wish I could hear her tell me her stories again. I think she would be proud of me, raising my sons to love God, people, and learning; working to improve health and community care, especially for moms and children; and keeping up with my writing. There are 1,001 things that make me think of her nearly every day. The Murano glass rosary by my bed is just one of them. She is far from forgotten.
One of the things I remember best about my grandma is her love of storytelling. She loved a good story, whether it was a book, a movie, or her own history. I was privileged to hear her relate the joys and struggles of her life many times, so richly that at times I felt like I had been with her in New York City in the 1950’s as she completed nurses’ training, or smelling spring tulips in Holland on her trip of a lifetime to Europe. As I look back on her story, I see the theme of God’s faithfulness. I see the countless ways He provided for her, prepared her for the storms, and showered her with blessings.
My grandmother was certainly not perfect, but she was blessed with a number of excellent character traits. Among them were courage, compassion, and common sense, all of which served her well in her life: in a career of over 30 years as an ER nurse, as she faced the loss of her beloved husband after just a few years of marriage, in her walk for several years as a single mother to three small children, and in her final battle with cancer. She loved fiercely, and she fought tirelessly for those she loved.
God also blessed her with an outstanding network of friends and family that surrounded and supported her throughout her life. She had parents that encouraged and inspired her, and helped her get back on her feet after becoming a young widow. Her eight younger siblings loved and respected her all her days. She remained close friends with several women who had gone to nursing school with her to the very end of her life. She found love and partnership again with the man I always loved as my grandfather. Her children and grandchildren loved and admired her. Many others were there at key points in her life to care for her, encourage her, and walk with her. At her memorial service, everyone who was able brought or sent in the Christmas stockings she had knitted for generations of family and friends. They were hung on the wall, and stretched the full length of the ballroom. It was a visual testimony to how many lives she touched and was touched by.
Not only was my grandmother blessed with a strong character and support network, she was blessed with many moments of God’s goodness and joy. She experienced success in her own career as an RN, and saw all of her children graduate from college and become successful in their own fields. She saw plays and musicals on Broadway. Her travels took her across the country and across the world. She glowed at the wedding of her eldest grandchild, and several years later she bounced her first great-grandchild on her knee and sang the same songs and rhymes to him that she had sung to his mother 30 years before. For a woman who valued family above all, it was a sweet gift. In the final month of her life, she was able to visit the ocean one last time with many of her siblings, where she laid in the sunshine, reading a book and listening to the waves. It was a little preview of heaven for her. Even in her last conscious day, she was blessed with the knowledge that when her life on earth ceased, her eternal life with her Heavenly Father would begin, and she would be reunited with loved ones who had made the journey before her.
Grandma didn’t have financial wealth to pass down to her children and grandchildren, but we each inherited great treasure from her legacy. And me, I was given back the rosary that had come from Italy 10 years before and been beside her bed ever since. Now it is beside my bed to remind me not only of the exceptional woman who had loved me all my life, but also of the God who had loved her all her life. No matter where her journey took her, no matter how close or distant she felt to the Lord, He was there. I take great comfort in knowing that I have the same God shepherding me as I encounter the trials of my own life.
Whose legacy inspires you?