Merriam-Webster defines legacy as “something (such as property or money) that is received from someone who has died” or “something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past”. Legacy connotes a continuation of something begun or a beautiful gift. But what the rose colored glasses side of me doesn’t like to recognize or glazes over is that for a legacy to take place something must cease or someone must part. The graduating senior who invested in younger girls, the beloved teacher retiring after charging thousands of students to believe in themselves, the president who evoked change – all leave a beautiful legacy, but all must leave for the legacy to start.
In this very moment, for me, legacy means my Meemaw has passed to eternity. Meemaw has battled dementia for many many years and as heartless as it may seem to put in writing, it is time for Meemaw to leave this broken earth and join Jesus. Recognizing the end has come does not make it easier. This flat out sucks. The pain and ache in my gut when I try to process Meemaw not being here swells up in my throat causing me to gulp down tears as they swell and spill out of my eyes.
Meemaw taught me more than even I know. She grew up in deep south Texas with brothers and sisters. She became the chosen one who got to go to the city and work with her aunt. Meemaw fell in love and worked hard her entire life. Her brain was always quick computing numbers or solving puzzles making the dementia a devastatingly hard process to watch.
She, much like my entire family, would sit for hours and tell stories. As a small child I remember laughing while we made silly Oreo turkeys at thanksgiving as we listened and rewound the cassette blasting “My Achey Breaky Heart”.
She could do anything with a pound of hamburger meat.
Her freezer always had blue bell ice cream inside it and she would heap scoops out for you like no one I’ve ever seen. Meemaw taught me to cook.
Her upper lip would always tuck tightly inside her mouth as she carefully read a recipe or watched me try to stir the flour in the cookies for the first time standing on a stool at her counter.
Meemaw taught me to sew and still to this day I hear her sharp deep yet calmly stern voice remind me to “go slower, feed the fabric slower or you’ll have to do it all again Elizabeth.” And she always somehow left a pin in what she made just for you to find.
Meemaw has many catch phrases to her name that can break a tense moment or induce laughter so hard you forget to breath. Some favorites I hope never to forget include: “Oh corn, I’m perturbed”. “I’m tickled pink.” “I need to go sit for awhile.” “This can of peas changed on the way home!” As she’s pulling out into traffic, “it’s on your side so I’m going because I’ll be fine” and trust me it was always a really close call. “Who left the gate open”. And whenever she gave you “the talk” she always referenced your body to a fruit. I was a peach and it’s still weird to think about to this day.
Over the years as Meemaw grew farther and farther away from the strong yet sweetly stubborn determined talented brave loving woman I knew all my life I’ve struggled to hold on to the Meemaw I knew. The Meemaw that seemed to get lost in her body. My niece, nephew, brother in law and sister in law, and if I ever marry my husband will, not ever know that Meemaw. It pains me deeply.
As this disease continues to ravage the strong woman I know as Meemaw I can tell you that Meemaw leaves a legacy that has unfurled itself as her disease slowly takes her mind away from us. This process has torn little pieces of my heart out each time I remind her who I am or where she is. Each time I saw her fragile body’s mobility lessen or as the fog seemed to engulf her mind an avail dropped in my stomach. Dementia has taken my Meemaw but my Meemaw leaves a beautiful wake that ripples far beyond the years of her life.
She has a husband, my Pawpaw, who has embodied the vow “in sickness and in healthy”. Even when he is dramatically frustrated and understandably overwhelmed he chooses to exhibit the love of Christ in how he cares for her. He quietly sat with her reminding her over and over again who he is. He came up with little songs to get her take her pills and whispered dearly in her ear. He bravely woke up everyday knowing that she probably will not know who he is and cares for her.
She has two daughters and two son in laws who couldn’t be more different, but who both display her kindness (in their own ways), her unrelenting work ethic, her humor and her joy. Both my mother and aunt posses so many qualities of my Meemaw that it is impossible to list them. They have walked this journey of decay with their mother with grace and mercy. They’ve dropped everything and become caregivers for the woman who cared for them up until this point. I know it takes a toll on them in so many ways, but I pray they know they’ve gone above and beyond in loving their mother well.
Meemaw bestows a great legacy to her six grandchildren and their families. She taught us to compete at the highest of levels when playing rummy or dominoes. She taught us to cook, sew, paint things, create, shop, order off of menus, drive offensively, work hard, and more. She always pointed us to Christ and His unfailing unending unconditional unfathomable great love. She always laughed at herself and got others to laugh with her. She empowered us and loved us each. Meemaw made you feel important no matter what you were doing.
To Meemaw’s eleven great grandchildren and the future ones that are sure to come, know that your great grandma loves you and has prayed for you. You may never directly know the Meemaw we knew, but listen to who she was and learn. You are who you are today because of the path she helped pave for you. You will become the person God has called you to be in part because of Meemaw. She was not perfect. She had flaws. But this side of heaven we all do. Now Meemaw is made whole strolling the streets of heaven cheering you on to chase Christ and all He has for you.
You may have known a different Meemaw than I did. I would hope that she was a multi faceted complex human being. But if you knew LaNelle Campbell Williams at all I guarantee you knew how much she loved Christ, her family, and others. In her honor let’s make this her lasting legacy. Make this the wake that ripples across the water with no end of its movement in sight.