This past Monday, we got the call that my grandmother had passed away.
If you’re a regular reader, you might remember when she had some pretty serious problems last summer. I blogged about it all here and here. Until then, she’d had 82 years of really great health, despite having been a smoker for the majority of her life and despite her love for greasy, gooey Tex Mex. When things changed, though, they changed quickly and drastically. We were all prepared and knew that she didn’t have much time left, but as you would imagine, hearing that she was gone was still difficult.
The Faulk Four left for Alvarado on Tuesday morning where we planned on achieving just one goal as a family — make Gram (my mother) happy. The girls do this naturally, of course, and I did my best to do my part by handling visitors, taking/making calls, and getting everything ready for the post-funeral reception at the house. My grandmother had long ago made arrangements for Wes to sing a song at her funeral and read the obit, leaving the majority of the funeral to her pastor. Unfortunately, her pastor passed away a couple of weeks ago, leaving Wes with the best opportunity to make Gram happy by doing the entire funeral, the graveside, and acting as pastor to those who were grieving. The only thing he didn’t do was conclude the service with an interpretive dance to “Wind Beneath My Wings,” but if Mamo had asked for it and it would have made Gram happy, he so would have done it. (So thankful for him.)
In all the sitting around, reconnecting, and talking (and there was a lot of talking, as there were a lot of Van Winkle and Simmons family members there), we heard so many stories about my grandmother, some of which I had never heard, some of which I remembered well, and some that frankly took my breath away as I thought through who she had been. It was easy to lose sight of all that she’d been through and experienced, especially as we knew her as a relatively happy and content (although opinionated and loud) Mamo. Here are just a few of the best things shared this weekend…
– She was born at home on Christmas Day. I’m told the only doctor in town was drunk (which is an odd way to celebrate the Lord’s birth, but whatever) and was refused entry into the house when he came to help. No matter, though. Since she was the youngest of several children, her parents knew what they were doing and handled the delivery themselves. Where that delivery took place is anyone’s guess, though, since my grandmother always said she was born in Oiltrough, Arkansas, her birth certificate said Elmo, Arkansas, and her obituary said Macks, Arkansas. (And don’t even get me started on the confusion regarding her mother’s real name.)
– She dropped out of school at 12, started smoking at 14, and lied about her age so that she could get married at 17. I’m not sure why she conveniently didn’t mention any of this when we were young teenagers making foolish choices that she felt very free to criticize… but, hello, pot. Meet kettle. I guess she could speak as one with authority on such subjects since she’d been there, done that, huh?
– She wasn’t even thirty when a car accident left her as a widow with three small children, no job, and no guarantee that my aunt and uncle, who were in the hospital with critical injuries, would survive. I remember her telling me once about that time, about how she had been at the funeral, her life in shambles all around her, and how with weak faith and only a shred of belief, she prayed that God would take away the hurt because it was too much to carry with all that was ahead of her. And He was faithful to do so, she’d said, as she was able to get up and face her drastically changed future. She learned to drive, she learned more about insurance and finances than any other 6th grade dropout ever had, and she became the sole provider of her family.
– She remarried years later and became a stepmother. She raised six children and managed a blended family in a time when that wasn’t so commonplace. There weren’t easy answers or help when it came to the “how to”s of how to do that well, but she saw all six reach adulthood and became Mamo to the many, many children they all went on to have.
– She wasn’t there for the birth of EVERY grandchild, though. In November of 1978, she was out at the honkytonk getting her groove on and missed the birth of her greatest granddaughter. Greatest because I don’t hold grudges — not even for this snub!
– She kept us all while our mothers went to work, while our parents went away for the weekend, while we grew from children to teenagers. We drank Coke with breakfast, ate burned frozen pizzas and Jello, and fought for that certain seat in the kitchen where we could see the television reflected off the oven door. And there were peanut butter cookies that I can’t replicate even now because she eyeballed all the measurements and couldn’t give anyone a precise recipe.
– She was unashamed about coming to faith in Christ late in life. She said she’d been baptized for the wrong reasons as a child and wanted to make it right. So, in front of her children and her grandchildren, she professed faith and was baptized at her small country church. I would certainly remember her boldness in doing so years later when I came to Christ myself and would admire her adamant faith in who He was, who He is, and who He will be.
– She was there for my grandfather when he had heart trouble, heart surgeries, and finally, a stroke that left him without the ability to speak. She showed us what real marriage looks like as she cared for him, gave everything she had to make him comfortable… and demonstrated how to have a ripping good fight with a man and take offense to the words he didn’t even say. (He couldn’t speak, remember? But it’s not like she would have listened if he’d been able to anyway…)
– She handwrote letters to me when I lived in Namibia, telling me how proud she was that I was living in Africa, sharing the Gospel… but that I had better get my butt home at the end of my term and never leave again. And when I stepped off the plane two years later, she was there to hug me and say, with tears in her voice, “Thank God that’s over!” (Yeah, I left again six months later. But still.)
– She told me, when I told her that I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved with that guy at seminary who kept asking me out, “Well, it’s just one date! You don’t have to MARRY him or anything.” I didn’t have to… but I did!
– She found love again, even in her seventies. And love is still pretty amazing in your seventies, as Wes and I can affirm since we once walked in on her and her sweetheart smooching it out in the dark on her living room couch. (If she’d caught any of us doing that, we’d be in trouble.)
– She always said, again and again, that it was the grace of God that she had lived so long without significant health trouble and that she had been able to live on her own. And when things changed for those last six months of her life, she was able to say to my aunt, less than a week before she died, that she was ready to be with Jesus. And it was the grace of God even then that He took her home, where she was no longer hurting and where she could see Him face to face.
We’re so thankful for all the prayers, all the kind words, and all the support you’ve all given to our family during my grandmother’s passing. So thankful for the life she lived and the legacy she passed on to her children, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren…