My Gramma Ruth passed away two days ago at the age of 93.
She was my last living grandparent, my Dad’s Mom, the matriarch of the Spencer family. She was never sick a day in her life, and lived her time to her fullest, until a ripe old age.
In the past few days, my family and I have talked a lot about what we’ll never forget about Gramma, who raised four children without raising a peep over how hard it was. My sister and I also planted pots of Forget Me Nots, and talked about a different memory of her as we dropped each seed. And the one thing that keeps coming up about Gramma was her way of giving. She took so little, expected so little and gave so much.
Every Christmas, she’d spend two days hand-making hundreds of cookies she gave out in Cool Whip containers to every family member, and she’d spend probably two months sewing original felt ornaments of ice skaters and camels and snowmen.
My favorite memories, in fact, are of Gramma sewing and teaching me to sew. One year, inspired by Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, I took on a particularly big and public project: I set out to sew my own junior prom dress. I couldn’t afford the expensive dresses I wanted, so I designed my own dress that I hoped was going to look just as beautiful for a quarter of the price. I spent weeks working on it, and a few days before the prom, Gramma came to visit from Connecticut. She looked at what I’d done with the dress so far, and guided me through one of the last steps, a day of machine sewing the bodice onto the big ruffled skirt. The truth was, it looked pretty terrible. I went to bed frowning at how crooked and messy my stitches were, stomping at my stupidity for taking my own look into my own hands. This was my first prom! And instead of looking like the other girls in the beautiful Laura Ashley dresses I’d wished I could afford, I was going to look a right old mess. The next morning, I saw the dress laid out on the dining room table looking different than I’d remembered. In fact, it was absolute perfection. “Oh, I just fixed a few of the stitches for you,” said Gramma, waving her hand away. In truth, while I was sleeping, she stayed up all night, took the worst parts of the dress apart and sewed it back together for me perfectly. And all I remember from there is how pretty I felt on my prom day, how proud I was of myself and my dress, and how grateful I was to Gramma for giving me that gift.
My Mom said the same of her giving. Gramma, she wrote in an email, “was always understated, modest, humble, a gentle lady working quieting behind the scenes, never wanting or expecting praise or thanks. A true saint.”
It’s a reminder for all of us to look not at what we’re getting today, but at what we’re giving. Even when it comes to relationships, we’re more often focusing on what we want to get from our partners than on what we want to give. But love is a two-way street. Giving is half the work and half the fun. So don’t just think about what you deserve to get. Think about what you want to give in love: Your big heart? Your unconditional acceptance? Your sewing skills or cooking? Your ability to make people laugh and feel cared for when they need it most?
In honor of my Gramma, think about what you can you give someone else today without the need for praise or thanks. What can you give just for the joy of giving? Maybe a gift. A compliment. A phone call. An apology. A plate of cookies. An hour of your time helping them finish a task they can’t seem to get started. A shoulder to lean on. A birthday card. A cocktail. A hug. An “I love you” to the person who may know it, but needs to hear it. Whatever you have inside that someone else needs, give. Even after 93 years, life feels short, so give today, while you can.
Thank you, Gramma. I only hope we can live as generously as you did,