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My grandma died early Wednesday morning.
It’s okay. We had been waiting, even hoping, for it. Just shy of her 93rd birthday, she had begun to endure life rather than live it.
I sat with my mom in her room until the funeral home picked my “nana” up at 3:30 am. We placed her respectfully on the gurney and covered her with sheets. They wheeled her out of the room of the assisted living center where she had spent her last days. As we turned into the hallway, one of the women who cared for my grandma walked ahead of her reciting Psalm 23. The rest of the staff lined the hall and then processed behind our family in a sacred processional. It was surreal. They didn’t have to do that, but it struck me as a profoundly holy moment that I will never forget.
As I walked behind my grandma’s body my mind swirled with memories. She was special to me. I spent quite a bit of time at her house as my parents would often travel for work. In that moment, I didn’t mourn the end of her suffering, but I did reflect on what made her so special.
Later that afternoon I was asked to speak to my son’s varsity soccer team. . .the topic: legacy. Most 17-18 year olds are not focused on legacy. After I was introduced I still had not completely figured out what to say. But in that moment, I relished the experience of the liminal space between what I had lost in my grandma and the hope I had for my son and his friends.
I talked to the boys about my grandma, and the legacy that she had left. She was not perfect, but she was special. Born in 1928, her mother died when she was only 9 years old. Her father was an abusive alcoholic. She was raised by a loving aunt and uncle until she married my grandpa. She had her faults. She was a proud woman. She had some bad habits, and I do remember quite a few times when she might have threatened to rub my nose into the carpet or hit me with the closest thing within her reach.
But there were also good times. We had weekly dates. She took me to Burger King, to Windmill Island, to Baker Furniture Museum, and many other places. She let me swim in her pool and took me camping at least once a year. As I walked behind this sacred processional, my mind was flooded with the small things she had done. . .the cup of orange juice poured every morning, the smell of beef roast on Sunday afternoons, the compliments on my first sermons, the purchase of my first suit for my job as a minister. She had done nothing profound, but her legacy ran deep because of 1000 small things done with love and grace.
I told the boys that afternoon that they too were working on their legacy. It would not come from a fancy goal or wins and losses. Their legacy would be defined by the repetition of small things. Would they take one minute to kick a ball with the seventh grader who idolizes them? How would they respond to the bad call or the devastating loss?
All the time I was engaging my own legacy. Thoughts of my own pastoral stardom have long faded. My book will not top the charts. My sermons are good enough. And my parenting. . .well CPS hasn’t been called yet. But my legacy remains. It will not come through fanfare or changing the masses. But it will come in the time I take to play catch one more time, the phone call I take as I want to leave the office, the smile I offer when I have nothing left to give, and the book that I read out loud just one more time with my kid on the couch.
Lord willing, I will have grandchildren who will one day say, “My grandpa died today.” And when they say it, they will do so with a warm smile filled with 1000 seemingly insignificant decisions that together have created my legacy.