“You would not believe your eyes
If ten million fireflies
Lit up the world as I fell asleep
Cause they fill the open air
And leave teardrops everywhere…
I’d like to make myself believe
That planet Earth turns slowly…” –“Fireflies” by Owl City
After losing his beloved son in a mountaineering accident, author Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote, “There’s a hole in the world now… A center, like no other, of memory and hope and knowledge and affection which once inhabited this earth is now gone. Only a gap remains. A perspective in this world unique in this world which once moved about in this world has been rubbed out… There’s nobody who saw just what he saw, knows what he knew, remembers what he remembered, loves what he loved… Questions I have can never now get answers. The world is emptier.” –Lament for a Son
I understand what it means to feel like there’s a hole in the world. On June 10, 2010, my grandmother, Guyneth Walker, went to be with the Lord. But her gentle ways and loving spirit will live on in the hearts of all who knew her. Her birthday is December 2. She would have been 94 this year.
Grandma lived in harmony with people and nature like no one I’ve ever known. She accepted the fact that, on the farm, sometimes Mother Nature cooperated with what people wanted and needed, and sometimes it didn’t. She learned dependence on the land without despairing when hail came or the weather was too hot or too cold, too dry or too wet. As a child, I walked with her through her huge garden as she reached down to touch the delicate faces of blue bachelor buttons. She selected a lovely purple hollyhock bloom and bud and fastened them together to make me a hollyhock doll. Then we walked down a row of tomatoes. Suddenly, Grandma snatched a huge green tomato worm, flung it to the ground and stomped on it. Then she calmly continued down the row to look at the green beans and potatoes as if nothing had ever happened.
Grandma’s home was simple, yet it was my favorite place to be in all the world. The author of one of my favorite books, A Life that Says Welcome, says this: “The husband is the head of the home, but the wife is the heart of the home.” Grandma reflected the truth of this statement as her home reflected her warm nature and her loving, sacrificial spirit. Her husband, Jesse Walker (my grandfather) passed away many years ago, while my mom was in college. Grandma never remarried. So she really had to become both the head and the heart of her home.
Grandma remembered people and events and enjoyed recounting them to us. And she wrote down everything. When we sorted through her possessions, we found boxes full of carefully preserved keepsakes and clothing, including the gorgeous dresses and other items of clothing that she had made.
What a legacy she left for us with her writing, as toward the end of her life she tended to forget the details of recent events. But amazingly, she could clearly recall minute details of events that had happened when she was young. She loved talking with her sister Ruth about events that had occurred during her childhood.
After her death, my uncles and my mother began sorting through her belongings. Every box revealed carefully preserved and documented memories, from pristine 1920s postcards bearing antiquated greetings like “Happy Christmastide” to her mother’s silk wedding dress with its exquisite embroidery. Grandma had pinned hand-written notes to almost every item explaining who had made it, where it had come from, who had given it to her as a gift, special occasions when she had worn it, and more.
Now, our history has become HER STORY. I realize that just as one person’s life can dramatically influence the growth, development and love of a family, that person also changes the landscape of a town and changes the world in the process. Grandma’s testimony is a simple and quiet life, well-lived. She loved well. My aunt Jana noted that one of the things she appreciated most about my grandma is that she had a contented spirit─truly a rare gift in this day and age.
Grief teaches us about life, and about ourselves, and about others, and about God. It reveals to us the astonishing capacity that we have for love. It shows us how we are limited and flawed, cloaked in humanity. Yet it also reveals our remarkable capacity to love beyond ourselves, to love in a way that astonishes and transforms us and everyone around us, to love in a way that reveals that we are made in God’s image because that love is beyond the limits of our human selves. It’s incandescent, like the fields by Grandma’s house glowing with thousands of lightning bugs on a summer evening.
My husband flew in from Dallas on the night before Grandma’s funeral. He described his astonishment at the most beautiful sunset he’d ever seen, with bright colors splashed against the sky juxtaposed with a bank of dark rain clouds against the horizon. He said that as they prepared to land, the sun went down and he saw miles and miles of fields lit up by millions of fireflies, as though the entire sleeping landscape was enveloped in a soft blanket of light.
Grandma’s home was modest, her furnishings simple, and her “estate” was not grandiose by any means. She had some beautiful things, most of which were beautiful to us because of the decades of memories that they brought back. And the day after she had passed away, as we began looking through her belongings with tears and shared memories, I realized that even if she had owned lavish possessions or had millions of dollars to leave each of us as an inheritance, we gladly would have given it all back just to spend one more minute with her.
Thanks, Grandma. May your legacy live on through each of us.