ECI 832 / Reflections

Grandma’s Letters and Legacy

GoodbyeAfter 98 years of life, my Grandma went home.  My days and nights have been filled with thoughts and memories of her. I am sure that I was always her favourite grandchild, but somehow, every other grandchild is certain of the same.  Grandma had a gift for making everyone feel so deeply loved, so special.  She was genuine, hardworking, creative, generous and compassionate.  She was known as simply “Grandma” by far more than those that shared her name.  I have yet to know a person who lived such a self-less life.  She gave me so much: time, presence, encouragement, Froot Loops, a listening ear, a love for writing and music, a spiritual example always, and most of all, so much love.  Because of her life and the relationship we shared, I will always know what it looks like to “love your neighbour as yourself”. For those parts in me that are most like her, I am so grateful.

In recent weeks, I have often found myself attempting to see my life through Grandma’s eyes.  I think she would smile at many things.  I know Grandma would be proud of my decision to spend my days with the beautiful kids at Mother Teresa Middle School; she was always sharing encouragement, cinnamon buns, letters, and love with those on the margins. I think she’d smile at the way I fill spaces and moments with song, just like she always did. Granddaughters I think she would smile at the moments when I choose to pray and read the Bible, a habit she practiced daily with Grandpa, her husband for 72 years.  I think she’d likely wonder about my addiction to Americanos, my frequently frantic morning routine and the number of times in a week I choose Subway or sushi over a home-cooked meal (though she likely wouldn’t mention it).  I’ve been wondering, too, about what Grandma would think about the changes in the way we communicate today.  How would she interact in the world of social media?  I wonder about the conversations we might have shared sitting around her table over a cup of tea, chatting about my most recent graduate class.

While Grandma may have been (beautifully) old-fashioned in many ways, she was also open to new challenges. As a child she grew up riding horseback to school.  At the age of 72, she took her driver’s test and earned her license- something she describes as one of her life’s best decisions!  While she was open to change, I think it was Grandma’s legacy in letter-writing that resonates most with today’s world of social media.

Grandma’s love for others was often expressed in the form of handwritten letters.  I have (treasure) boxes of letters from Grandma.  Her letters are my own narratives of family history.  I’m amazed at how her words were intended for a moment in the past, but their impact is somehow even greater today. I am but one of many, many people who received such personal and thoughtful letters from her over the years.  She knew that relationships are not only nurtured and grown “IRL”, but also through encouragement that travels miles.  She understood the power of simple but heartfelt, genuine words.  Grandma showed me the importance of taking time (I can’t imagine the hours she logged with pen in hand) to honour others, and she did this so beautifully through her letters.Letter

While I’m not convinced Grandma would have taken to tweeting or facebooking, I do know that she really cared about connecting with people.  For all of the ways social media bridges distances between those far apart…. for all of the ways that social media enlarges possibilities for goodness, love and justice to spread… I imagine Grandma would have smiled.

Has your life been marked by a letter-writer like Grandma?  Or, similarly, how have the power of words shaped who you are today?

Do you think today’s most common forms of communicating- texting, emailing, tweeting, messaging- carry the same influence that letters have in the past?  Is the lost art of letter-writing (well-argued by Simon Garfield) a concern to you as an educator?

Grandma from Harmony McMillan on Vimeo.


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