My grandmother, Lucille Wilhoit, passed away on Saturday afternoon, quietly and peacefully in her sleep. She was at her daughter's house, in familiar surroundings and the comfort of family and love, at the amazing age of 93.
The last time I saw her was a week prior to her passing. I'd spent several days at my aunt's house, helping where I could, but mostly just doing my best to be present for her. She'd come a little back to consciousness while I was there, and we were able to have a few beautiful and treasured conversations. I went in that morning to say goodbye, to let her know I needed to go home to my husband and children. The morning sunlight filled the room and threw patterns across her blankets. She smiled at me sadly, and she played with my curls like she used to do when I was a little girl.
"I wish I could come with you," she said.
I told her that I wished she could, too. I promised I'd come back as soon as I could, but I think we both understood we were saying goodbye for the last time.
I, my brother, and our children have always called my grandmother "Mugger." It was a name I assigned her when I was a toddler. The family lore was that my mom called her "mother," and when I tried to imitate the word, it came out as "Mugger." I could not have given her a more appropriate name. She was the practicality to my mom's whimsy, the domesticity to my mom's free spirit. She cooked me meals, sewed my clothes, did my hair up in braids, packed me lunches, took me to the library, did my laundry, made sure I was ready to get on the bus, drove me back and forth to my first job. And I took all this for granted with the blind, unappreciative love of a child until I was in high school, and my art teacher pointed out what an amazing woman my grandmother was, and how much she must love me as evidenced by just how much she did for me every single day.
She bought me a guitar and tried to teach me to play it. She gave me a sewing machine and tried to teach me to make clothes. We wandered the hillsides together picking blackberries. I'd help her snap beans in the kitchen, and watch her cook and can them for the winter. We'd go hiking in the mountains together. We'd drink blackberry wine and giggle like schoolgirls. When I came home a young single mother, she helped me take care of Aisling so I could finish college. When I got married, she walked me down the aisle.
And all of this was such a small sliver of her life. I only remember my grandmother after she retired with my grandfather to Tennessee. The rest of it - the myriad of adventures across the United States and England, accented by her fiery, passionate, stubborn spirit - were stories shared in the kitchen, at the table, on the couch, or over an open photo album. Stories which, in recent years, were often repeated, sometimes with little regard to version control. I always treasured them, and I'll continue to do so - because now the stories are all I have left.
And I can only hope that in 56 years from now, I'll have even a fraction of those amazing, incredible stories to tell my own grandkids. I can only hope that I will live my own life with even a quarter of the passion with which she lived hers.
Goodbye, Mugger. I love you so much. Thank you for everything.