*Written and shared at my grandmother’s memorial service
September 21, 2008
Cozy “Memaw” Morrow 10/5/17-0/17/08
When I was a little girl we lived in a small house with my grandmother. I can remember times of waking up in the middle of the night. It was dark, quiet and very still. Not unlike most young children, I was afraid.
Memaw’s room was at the other end of the house from the rest of us. It was a long walk in the dark for a 4/5-year-old. It required walking down the hall and through the kitchen where there was a furnace in the floor with a grate over the top of it. Down under the house were all of my childhood fears. I knew with certainty that this hole in the floor was their entrance into our house.
But if I could cross over that abyss, her room was right around the corner. I remember lying there in my bed calculating the cost of making the journey. Was the end result worth the means it would cost me to get there? The answer was yes. Because on the other end, was my Memaw.
It was her in her soft cotton nightgown that smelled of lavender. It was her with a full, squishy grandmotherly embrace. In her room, the morning always came. Where I was going was worth the scary, dark journey to get me there.
I have always had my grandmother. She was a constant presence in my life and more accurately described as a parent to me, but with the knowledge of having her came also an early realization that she could be lost. I knew she could and would one day die and leave me alone. Unable to process such thoughts, I would dismiss them. In that deep fear, I sadly made her larger than life.
This notion was easy to oblige simply based on the sheer determination of her will, the gentleness of her spirit, but mostly due to the well of faith in which she drank. Who was the woman whose life we are celebrating today?
From the perspective of the one she referred to as the ‘little one,’ she was a wife of one, a mother of three, a grandmother of five, a great-grandmother of eight, a friend to many, and a Memaw to hundreds.
She was my roommate from the time I was 11yrs old till I went away to college where she and I would argue constantly over the use of the telephone. Her having more and longer conversations than me as a teenage girl.
She was a basketball buddy. She would tirelessly rebound shots for me out in the driveway, coach me on free throws, and she could stay up believing in the victory of the Boston Celtics or the Carolina Tarheels long after I had lost hope and had gone to bed.
Memaw was my math tutor, easily doing my high school math equations that I was at a loss to begin. She even understood SAT math which to this day is something I cannot comprehend.
She was a shrewd and diligent grocery shopper. She was able to stay under budget as church hostess for years by scouting out prices all over the area, yet she managed to feed everyone to their fill for Wednesday night suppers and for the school and day care five days a week.
Even when she was relegated to riding around in a motorized cart due to aging, my oldest daughter commented that Memaw could still beat her and my mother to the check-out counter on their weekly trips to Harris Teeter.
She was a chauffeur, a cheerleader, a cook, a counselor, a nurse, and an encourager to all of those who were fortunate to have her in their corner. But as my uncle and I were discussing the night she died, there were so many people who loved her and in which she gave of herself.
There were many in this church whether adults or children who received from her, yet there was, miraculously always enough to go around. I remember early on hearing children my age calling her ‘Memaw’ and wanting to fight every one of them to prove the point that she was in fact MY Memaw and not theirs.
Shortly after feeling an immediate surge of jealousy and possessiveness, it would fade and then did fade forever because after about six or seven years old, I never doubted her affection for me and just how much I meant to her. No matter how many lives she taught and touched in Sunday school, no matter how many long drawn out adult conversations she had sitting at those tables in the gymnasium- and they did go on forever-, no matter how many children insisted everyday of running up to her during lunch to give ‘their’ Memaw a big hug, it did not take away from how much she loved and devoted herself to her family. Even two weeks ago, I told her that I loved her. She responded, “I love you too, Carrie. I love you all.”
On a deeper, more personal note, she was an orphan. She was a little girl in an orphanage who often times went to sleep with the pains of hunger. This is something that I want to emphasize about my grandmother. Is it any wonder at the economy of God who would take those moments of loss and use it to fuel a desire for that little girl to turn into a woman who committed her life to feeding us whether in body or in spirit?
She lived a painful reality in those early years and God used that redemptively in her life, allowing her to experience fullness to her emptiness as she fed on Jesus and then served Him to others. Besides her love and fierce commitment to individuals, this is what defined her life. So whether it was a pound of spaghetti and a yeast roll lathered in butter, or a chicken patty sandwich or a word of encouragement, or a quiet prayer on your behalf, you would never leave her presence empty-handed.
She was also tenaciously tough. As a testimony to her spirit that was imprinted deep in my heart and mind a few months before she died, I had a dream of being in her nursing home room. I crawled in the bed with her; it was dark and quiet with a pale soft light. As I layed there she began waving her hands as if she was swatting away a bunch of flies.
I looked up and there were angels coming down to take her up. And I whispered, “Memaw, those are angels.” And she said with all reverence, “I don’t care who it is, I am not ready to go anywhere, yet.” When I woke up after I had called mom and confirmed that she was still here, I just had to laugh.
And this is what made my last few weeks with her so heartbreaking, beautiful, and life changing for me. Like I shared in the beginning, she was larger than life to me, and I honestly had convinced myself that she would live forever. I was still much a child in this notion. But there was no denying or overlooking that fact that she was becoming weaker and was unable to get better.
Two weeks before she died, I went into the nursing home to say good night. She had just come under hospice care. I was astounded at the change in just three days. I broke down and began weeping at her bedside, because I could see that she was leaving us. I felt an overwhelming urge to yell out and beg her to make me ok with it. To get her, as always, to make me feel secure with her strength.
But the Lord impressed upon my heart that night to give her a gift. My last gift to her which was to allow her to be human. To allow her to be weak, unsure, and weary. So, when I sat with her the next day, I told her how much I loved her, how thankful I was to be her granddaughter, and in spite of my own heartbreak that it was all right be weary.
I was able to return her 34 years of selfless acts to me with just letting her know that I would miss her so deeply but that it was ok. And so, my life had truly come full circle from when I was a little girl.
Only she was the one having to make a journey into the darkness, wondering if what awaited her would be worth all the fear of taking the first few steps.
But she was not alone. She had her faithful children. Her son who would hit HWY 40 and head east when she needed him to bring a warmth that only a son can give to his mother and maybe even a broiled fish plate from Captain Steve’s or fried vegetables from Gus’.
She had her daughter, a constant companion over the years who would bring her coffee in the morning loaded down with her favorite International delight French Vanilla creamer and would also bring her home on the weekends so that she could still make banana pudding and wash dishes.
There were the five grandchildren who never lost sight of her impact in their lives.
The wonderful staff at White Oak Manner in whom she had crept in a captivated their hearts in her three years there with her outlandish spunk and humor, particularly her day time aide, Gertrude who would often come in on her days off toward the end to try to help her eat a bit.
The nighttime nurse Ilene, who would come in with medications, run her hands through Memaw’s thick beautiful hair and take all kinds of jeering from her on how nasty those concoctions were that she made Memaw drink for stronger health.
She had her pastor who visited her often, sometimes with a chocolate milkshake from Zack’s that she relished. And finally, but not exhaustively there was her loving extended family and her devoted church family paying visits to bring fellowship and music to her, because she was no longer able to get to them.
And so, I am very proud of her because she did it. She made the long walk through the valley of the shadow of death. She is now with her husband who died when I was a new-born. She is there with friends and siblings who went before her.
But mostly she is in the presence of her savior who undoubtedly said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful server.” She is in a place where the night never comes. And I truly believe she is happy, because she told me so the day before she died after about three hours of silence. I know that she is either swimming, diving, fishing, or playing basketball. Or maybe even serving up some baked chicken, ham biscuits, and chocolate pie.
But what I do know for certain, is that she is no longer here, and I will look forward to the day when I see her again, not simply as her “little one” but also as a sister.