My grandmother passed away a few weeks ago. She was 95 years old and had lived a wonderful life.
When I learned that she had passed, I was surprised that I felt equal parts relief and sorrow. The relief was that she wasn’t hurting anymore and that she had returned to the God whom she loved.
The sorrow wasn’t so much that my 95 year old grandmother was gone. (Seeing her confused and hurting in the hospital after her stroke had lead me to pray diligently that she would die peacefully and soon.) My sadness was rooted, instead, in my fear that her 55 year old self and 70 year old self and her 82 year old self had also died with her.
Within just a few days, the aspects of my grandma that had been challenging towards the end of her life started to fall away. The years of dementia, when she sometimes wasn’t her best self, faded very quickly.
What raced to the front of my memories were the times when she was her truest self.
As I’ve been grieving her, I am reminded of an article I once read about autumn leaves. It stated that leaves aren’t purely green in their natural state. During the warmer seasons, leaves produce chlorophyll which increases their green tones. The other colors that are present, like yellow, orange, red and purple emerge once the leaves stop producing chlorophyll. In the fall, leaves return to their truest colors.
I’m obviously not a scientist, so this idea kind of rocked my world. The best I can understand it, the reds and yellows and oranges that we marvel at in the autumn are there all along, hidden by the green.
When we talk about leaves changing, what we mean is that they are returning to their natural colors.
I’ve thought about this idea of true colors whenever a memory of my grandma emerges that captures her truest essence.
When I was in elementary school, each summer I would visit my grandparents in Atlanta for a week of adventures. Sitting in her car in the garage, my grandma would put on bright pink lipstick and then put the lid back on and put it across my lips. Once she had applied my pretend lipstick, she’d shift her big Marquis into reverse and say, “Ready or not world, here we come.” I thought she was brilliant and unstoppable.
When I was in seminary in Atlanta and engaged to Bryan, we spent so much time with my grandparents. I will always remember sitting with my grandma on her piano bench as she helped me pick out hymns for our wedding service. She was smart and kind and deeply devoted to her friends and family.
My grandma was all the bold colors: red and yellow and purple and orange. She was part of God’s wonderful creation. She was beautiful.