The summer of 1996 is the summer my family doesn't like to talk about. It was horrible and tragic, and even at 7 years old I could feel the weight of it. 20 years later, the summer of 2016 has followed the exact same pattern with nearly the exact same chain of events.
Yesterday morning, my precious grandma passed away. 20 years and 8 days after my grandpa.
She went to the doctor for a routine visit last August and walked away with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. It quickly metastasized to her brain, and 10 months later, she's gone. After already fighting and beating breast cancer 6 years ago. I'm eternally grateful my mom took Gracie and me out there last fall to say goodbye. The fact that four generations of us had the privilege of being together is something I will forever cherish. Even after the brain cancer had stolen her memory and motor skills, she always remembered Gracie. She never forgot her, and Gracie pictures were the one thing that would bring her happiness during her last days. So much grace. Our girl is living up to her name.
Grandma was one of the funniest people I've ever met, and most of the time she wasn't even trying to be. She would constantly put her foot in her mouth, realize what she said, and then laugh until she cried, along with everyone around her. When I was 8 years old, she gave me her childhood pearl necklace. We were sitting around the dinner table as she told me about it, and she tried to calculate how old the necklace was. It was given to her when she was 16, and as she did the math she sat there with a puzzled expression and asked "Now, how old was I when I was 16?" She was extremely intelligent and bright, but would have the silliest moments. My parents have always told me I'm exactly the same way. Whenever I've found myself deeply interested in something, my mom will always tell me it's something my grandmother loved, too. The older I've gotten, the more I realized how strong genetics are. I know she's never completely gone, because so much of her lives on through me. I think of her whenever I cook a meal for my family. That's the kind of thing she loved to do and the kind of thing she excelled at. She was as talented as Martha Stewart, but with a Texas drawl and fantastic sense of humor. I pray I learn to take care of my family the way she took care of hers.
She was raised in an orphanage in a tiny Texas town and grew up to marry her high school sweetheart, my grandpa who worked on Nasa missiles during the height of the Space Age. She worked as a Home Ec Teacher, sharing her passion for cooking and sewing and other domestic things. And she raised my mom, which is by far her greatest accomplishment. She lived on the coast of California most of her life, but she was forever a Texan. She always wore lipstick as strong as her thick southern drawl. Aside from my mom, she's the only person I knew who loved coffee as much as I do. She had a pair of glasses to match every outfit, and when I was in high school she gave me some of her own shoes she didn't deem comfortable enough, and I wore them all the time because her sense of style was that good.
Whenever we visited, she would take my mom and me to Santa Barbara for the day. I lived for our Santa Barbara days. We would drive south down highway 101 in the morning while we sipped on our lattes, the fog still resting on the ocean, and spend the morning shopping. We'd have lunch at our favorite Italian place, the one where she once spotted Steve Martin. We'd have a cup of afternoon coffee and a treat in a third floor cafe that looked out over the palm trees and mountains. I never felt more special than when I was old enough to spend the day with mom and grandma. We haven't been able to do that since I was in college, but I think about it every time my mom and I go to lunch with Gracie.
When my mom called me last August and told me the cancer diagnosis, I had been in the kitchen making cookies. I was stunned. We flew out a few weeks later to introduce her to Gracie and for me to see her one last time. As we watched the cancer take its toll, the phrase that kept whirring through my mind is "this world is not our home." As a Christian, I know it with every cell in my body and my whole soul. I'm so grateful she gave me my mother, who in turn spent the majority of the past three months in California caring for her, even though she was in the middle of her own cross-country move. Death has no victory, death has no sting. I'm grateful I had 27 years on earth with her, but it is no match for what is to come.
"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39