Our dear departed Lucy

IMG_4352Last week,I lost my grandmother. It doesn’t feel like I “lost” her, though, which implies some panic or confusion about her whereabouts. I guess it’s better described as we let her go. Or she let us go. Or she let go of us. In any case, she’s gone. And I miss her.

She was a few days shy of her 97th birthday. Many have asked, “Was she ill for a long time?” Not really, she was just old for a long time. It’s clear to me now that old will eventually get all of us.

“Were you two close?” others have asked. Yes, I think we were, but she was close to a lot of people. I’m certainly not the only one missing her today. One of my friends texted me, “She was such a big part of your life!” Indeed she was, especially in my adult years. Over the last twenty years we’d hit a rhythm of my visiting her throughout the year as often as I could – a meal here, an overnight there – but for sure, come mid-July, I’d bring my children and we’d stay overnight for a few days in her home. Until her late 80s, she’d visit me in California during the winter as well.

I was with her the day before she passed away. I wish I’d known it would be our last time together, though I don’t know if I’d have done anything differently. I’d visited her many times in the nursing home where she lived out her last eight months – sometimes she was alert and knew exactly who I was and we laughed about old times and caught up about new times. During other visits, she was in her own world and I did my best to enter into it. On that last visit, she appeared to be lost in her own thoughts, though she’d politely respond to me. “Lucy, this is Joy, your granddaughter. I am in town from Singapore and I came here to tell you I love you.”   “Oh, well, thank you very much,” she answered, as if a staff member had given her the time – and then she would drift off to sleep again. Just before I departed, though, she piped up and said, “Well, I have one surprise for you. The weather changed; that’s my surprise for you.” Somehow this makes me think she pieced together who I was, after all. We’d spent hours last summer comparing her weather to the weather in Singapore.

Of course, I knew she was going to die. In fact, during the last year of her life, she’d told me many times she was ready. “Why do I have to go on like this?” she’d say, after a particularly tough day. Getting old isn’t pretty or dignified, I now know. The process is full of frustration, compliance, coping and loss. I’m a little more prepared for it after watching Lucy do it with such grace. I’ll never make the assumption again that losing an “old person” is somehow easier or more expected than losing any other loved one. Though she was ready to go – and I thought I was ready to let go – I didn’t understand that the grieving and mourning wouldn’t begin until she left. It’s painful no matter when or how a loved one goes. I didn’t know that before.

I’m sad today and I miss her so much. The day after she died, I was at a work conference in San Diego and some of my beloved colleagues who’d heard about Lucy’s passing sat me down and gave me a gift. They said, “Tell us about your grandmother.”

Without thinking, I replied, “My grandmothah was a nuhse in the Ahhhhmee.” I wish this blog had an audio format, because I’d imitate my grandmother’s voice like I did for my colleagues. I had to channel her for a moment because I wanted them to know an important part of her – her voice.  It’s impossible for me to think about Lucy and not hear her speaking.  Her accent, her clear articulation and how strong she spoke was so much a part of how I knew and understood her.  No one else in my life spoke quite the same (well, except her sister, Betsy, with whom I often confused her when I was young.) To know Lucy was to love her voice.

Indeed, she was a nurse in the army. She enlisted after she graduated from nursing school at Duke and was immediately sent to the South Pacific. She witnessed horrors and difficulties I’ll never know that made her into the pillar of strength she was for the rest of her life. Today, I am lucky to have one best-friend-grandmother still with me, but I’ve had three WWII veteran grandparents pass on. Three times now, I’ve gone to the same little chapel at the veterans’ burial grounds near Annapolis, MD and listened to the soldiers play taps and watched them fold and present the flag to the family with gratitude for the veteran’s service. I remember when Lucy sat in the front row and received the flag from our country in gratitude for her husband’s service. Last Friday, my father received it for his mother’s service. If you are invited to a funeral, go. If you are invited to a veteran’s funeral, run and get a front-row seat.

Her service was held in the Methodist church she attended. I’m a preacher’s daughter, so I know how to estimate a crowded church. I’d guess there were almost 300 people in attendance. At 97, Lucy had probably already buried that same number of friends. What a testament to her life to see so many people still around who knew and loved her.

I learned so much from Lucy, but mostly she showed me how to laugh and have fun.  When I was twelve she taught me the joy and freedom of skinny-dipping.  Thankfully, she was on hand to rescue me with a towel when my bathing suit sunk to the bottom of the lake and other swimmers arrived!  About twenty-five years later, she took my children down to the little beach on her property and right there for all the world to see, she taught them the same thing. She laughed herself silly when the crabbing boats came in and waved to us.

She loved “a pahhhdee.”  It didn’t matter if she had 2-3 people over for soup or a crab feed for thirty of us, she would call me on the phone and say “Oh, Joy did we ever have a party!”

Her life showed me the value of making and keeping friends.  More people than I will ever know loved my grandmother.  She collected friends daily and never shied away from approaching strangers and turning them into friends.  Her sweet, life-long friendship with Eleanor is one I admire and try to emulate. (In fact, I recently wrote about it here.) How did Lucy find friendship so easy, when in fact we all know that making and keeping friends can be a challenge for many of us?  I think it had to do Lucy’s way of showing a focused, steady and unwavering interest in the life details of whomever she was with.  To be in her presence was to know she was “all there” for you.  Holding space for the other to shine was one of her gifts.  Whenever I arrived for a visit, she’d have two lists ready.  The first one was a list of questions about my family, my business and my life.  Before I’d arrived, she’d thought long and hard about me.  She loved friendships that spanned generations.  After an afternoon out with a woman in her thirties. Lucy called me to say, “Joy, surround yourself with young people. They will keep you young!”

She also taught me to stay current.  Lucy’s love/hate relationship with her computer was something to observe with awe.  She embraced technology in a way I can only hope to do as I age.  Her emails were funny and filled with mistakes and sometimes I’d get multiple emails in a day with no content or that were meant for other people.  She struggled her way up the learning curve when the internet exploded, but she basically kept up.  I remember multiple July visits in a row teaching her how to copy and paste and later finding the instructions in her own handwriting taped to the side of her computer.  One time I called and she said, “Joy, I cannot speak right now.  My friend is here fixing the computer.  I later found out her friend was a 15-year-old boy from down the street she’d call about once a week for help.

As fiercely independent as she was, Lucy modeled something very important for me: asking for help.  She was not afraid to show vulnerability when she needed something.  Many of the people who gathered for her service were answers to her calls for help, and I loved all the big and small ways her community assisted her as she aged. She was able to live a long time on her own and in her home because of them.  Neighbors, church members, and friends across the creek constantly checked in on her and helped her with rides and things around the house.  When I would come visit, Lucy would get out her second list, which was full of things she needed my help with. After we’d talked and visited for a while she’d say, “Ok, Joy, here’s my list, get the step ladder.”

Finally, she taught me the pure joy of eating ice cream.  Lucy watched her figure her whole life. But after a day of eating celery for breakfast, cantaloupe for lunch and a spoon full of cottage cheese for dinner, at nightfall the ice cream would come out of the freezer and the fun would begin.  When she stopped driving in her early 90s, I thought the Highs convenience store up the street from her house might go out of business because that little old lady wouldn’t come in for pints of ice cream any more.

During the last year of her life, she had very little interest in food. She’d force herself to eat though she wasn’t very hungry. I’d cajole her and try to make it easy by focusing on the most delicious thing on her plate. “Oh Joy, I really couldn’t eat another bite!”  Just then, an aide would walk by with a tray of ice cream cups and ask if she wanted any. “Why yes, I’ll have one now and I’ll take another one to my room for later, ” she’d say. There was always room for ice cream.

After Lucy’s funeral service and the moving veteran’s graveside service, many of her friends and family gathered at her house to visit and remember her. My daughter walked down to the crabbing pier to see the skinny-dipping beach and breathe in that Chesapeake Bay atmosphere one last time. Together we looked at pictures on the walls and introduced ourselves to the neighbors who’d heard all our stories over the years. After a few hours, the crowd dwindled and the only ones who remained were her children, grandchildren and the spouses she’d long accepted as family. We’d eaten a hearty lunch provided by our closest family friend, Chris, Eleanor’s daughter, and we’d talked ourselves out, but we didn’t want to separate. Who knew when or if any of us would be in her home again? Who knew when we’d even see each other again?

Just then, my Uncle Randy and his son-in-law Ryan darted up to the Highs and loaded up on ice cream. Together we filled heaping bowls and toasted our dear departed Lucy one more time. We did just what she’d tell us to do: We Enjoyed. Every. Last. Bite.

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Thank you for indulging me and listening to my memory of my grandmother. My friends, Betsy and Rebecca, gave me such a gift when they asked me to tell them about Lucy.  I’d love to hear about your loved one – still with you or departed. If you’d like to share, leave a comment here. I’ll treasure your story.

 

 

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36 Comments on “Our dear departed Lucy”

  1. Kathy says:

    Joy, your loving story about your grandmother is inspiring in so many ways. You really have a way of telling a story so that it touches hearts.

  2. Hi Joy! She sounds like she was an amazing woman. Thank you for sharing some of here wisdom. I love your writing. Thinking of you. xx

  3. Margo Draine says:

    What a wonderful way you have with words Joy and what a heartfelt story. And how awesome as I read your story about your dear departed Lucy, I started thinking wow this could have been a story about my Mother Lucy, who died last April at the age of 95. It seems they were so much alike until I began to wonder if the things you described are “Lucy” traits.

    My prayers of condolences to you and family. They say death leaves a heartache no one can heal-but love leaves a memory that no one can steal and indeed you have such wonderful loving memories that no one can steal.

  4. La Libby says:

    Thanks Joy.
    Lucy was quite a woman.
    Thanks for the wonderful memories to treasure.

  5. Mona Steinberg says:

    Oh Joy,,,,,,thank you for sharing your lovely story. I enjoyed reading every word and found myself reflecting on my own losses and memories. What a gift she was and what a gift you have given all who read this about the lessons we can learn. Thank you.

  6. Lisa Converse says:

    Such a wonderful women, thanks for sharing! Thinking of you and your beautiful family! XO

  7. CoWanda Liles Ritter says:

    Joy,
    This was a beautiful tribute to Lucy!! She was all that and more. I know when she would visit I would always leave a little brighter in spirit because she just made you feel that way. I’m so sorry for your loss, this is actually how I found out about Lucy’s passing. You and your family are in my prayers. I miss your folks so very much!! Love you bunches!! CoWanda

  8. Melissa Hinkson says:

    Joy Libby. Thank you for sharing your Grsndmother Lucy with us. I wish I could have met her. She certainly lived on in you!!! You are indeed a gifted writer, an amazing storyteller and an all around nice person. As I read your “share,” I was hanging onto your every word!! I laughed. I cried. I oohed and aahed. Sometimes I laughed til my belly ached. I conjured up my own visuals and all. Your Grandmother sounds like she was full of fun.

    I hope as the days psss by you will find more reasons to smile as you remember (and share) the memories that you and your Grandmother Lucy made together. May God continue to comfort you and your family in the days and years ahead!! Hugs
    Melissa (your cabi sister)

  9. Angie Wampler says:

    Joy, it’s been many years since I’ve seen either you or dear Aunt Lucy. I especially loved your description of her accent. Exactly on point. What a beautiful story you have written of your memories with her. She was a dear and I will be missed greatly. I will always remember her with love. Angie Wampler

  10. Katy Stamos says:

    Thank you for that, Joy! You TRULY DO have a beautiful way with words. We lost our Uncle Johnny on December 1st. He treated me like a blood member of Michael’s family ever since the first day I met him almost 30 years ago and was more like a Grandfather to my girls than a great uncle. We hold many memories of him at our Greek Easter celebrations. They were held at his property up near Placerville where he and his wife lived in a log cabin that he built himself. We would have traditional lamb on the spit, and tap red colored, hard boiled eggs against those of family members stating ‘Christós Anésti’ (Christ is risen!) and responding ‘Alethos Anésti’ (He is risen indeed!) We often talk about the long conversations filled with laughter around the fire pit!
    May your memories of your Dear Lucy fill you with warmth when you are missing her.
    I do hope to see you soon!!
    xoxo,
    Katy

  11. Jackie Quella says:

    Joy, that was beautiful. I’m too verklempt to write. I’ll hug you tomorrow.

  12. Monique Libby says:

    Thank you for this post which perfectly depicts sweet Lucy. We will miss her so much. XOX

  13. LMS says:

    I too was blessed to know Lucy over the years. My sympathy to you and the family Joy. Thanks for your blog entry about this, as always, your words help not only yourself but others. Even dad read it and enjoyed it. Love ya, LMS

  14. kkeegansf says:

    Hi Joy! This is so lovely. Thank you for sharing. You are always so thoughtful, honest and genuine.

    Wish I could be there tonight. 😦

    See you next time!

    xoxoxo

  15. Lois I. Sowell says:

    Joy that was so beautiful. It made me teary-eyed and I know Lucy heard every word. You write so beautifully. Thank you.

    Ma

  16. Adriana says:

    Joy, I am sorry for your loss and glad for the gift of Lucy. I too had a Lucy; her given name Lucia. Both mean light and it appears you and I received light from our dear Lucys. Mine left me at the age of 92, my oldest aunt and my Godmother, she was also my biggest fan and the life of any party. She loved going to them and hosting them, making delectable crowd-pleasing meals each and every time. My Lucy was a fashionista and a very good seamstress, making all my clothes as I was growing up, including a communion dress that had she submitted it, would have made the cover of Vogue. She noted my shyness as a young child and helped me conquer it by dancing out of all things! She was a coquette and a spinster and she taught me everything she could about being the best dressed “me” (it was her thing). At the age of 58 she married a younger man and they traveled the world together in her most stylish creations. The last year of her life she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and lived in a nursing home. I visited often and she always had to ask who I was. When I reminded her she would smile and say, “yes, you were a beautiful child, did you ever marry?” When I reminded her that she knew my husband she would smile again and tell me how my children were lovely and sweet. Her hair had gone from her signature red to white. Lucy hated that! So, I had it colored for her. She looked in the mirror and said, “I’m beautiful again, you are blessed and you deserve everything”. She seemed completely lucid and as I cried and said goodbye she gave me a kiss. She died that week with her beautiful red hair. Losing her was very painful because she was my link to my father who had passed years before, and she was my partner in childhood crimes. When we first moved to this country we shared a room together and she made all the monsters and ghosts go away… I understand the pain and the joy. ❤️

  17. Kris says:

    Sweet Joy, so sorry for your loss. I lost my grandmother this past August. She was just shy of her 98th bday. She was my beloved Mamaw! Her name–Lola Faye Courtney Moore. Everyone called her “Lucky” not so much because she was lucky, but if you knew her–you were the lucky one. She was that special. I named my first born after her–she was my rock. My parents divorced when I was 2 and she was there to love me, raise me and mold me. I credit any good qualities I have to her, and always strive to be the woman she was. Thank you for sharing your story of your grandmother and letting me share mine. With tears streaming down my face, I send you a hug and know that one day we will see our sweet Lucy and Lola!

  18. Dolores says:

    Dear Joy,
    Thank you 😘🙏
    I loved every word.
    This makes me want to be a Grandmother like Lucy.
    How blessed are you.
    How blessed is she 💕👯‍♀️
    Skinny dipping 😂 I LOVE IT 💕
    Henri Nouwen says holding joy and sorrow is the dance of life…I know you are dancing with Lucy 🙏🙏🙏
    Love you tons sweet friend.

  19. Lena Long says:

    Hi Joy, Thanks for sharing that wonderful story about your grandmother. I’m guessing she was Pastor Libby’s mother, correct? I attended CLC for over 20 years and I remember you from the early nineties. I moved to Texas 4 years ago but I still catch CLC’s services on you tube. Anyways, love the way you write! Please continue to share your stories.

  20. Andi Pincheira says:

    Joy,

    I JUST now read this blog. I am so much better off knowing about your fantastic grandmother. I’m sorry I didn’t know when I saw you at Scoop that she had passed. Thanks for the gift of your writing and your keen insights. And thanks for sharing Lucy with me.

    With love and admiration, Andi

    Andi Pincheira Independent cabi Stylist

    248-240-5794 andi.pincheira@gmail.com

    view the current Collection at andipincheira.cabionline.com for the latest styling tips, trends, and outfit ideas, visit the cabi blog at andipincheira.cabionline.com/blog

    Together we’ll find looks you’ll love, all in the comfort of our alternative store…. the home.

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  21. Mary says:

    Joy, so very sorry to hear about the loss of your Grandmother. But thank you for writing that tribute.
    My mom was 92 when she died, 2 years ago & I still really miss her. Many similarities to your grandma, the love of ice cream, the advice to hang out w/younger people, and the value of making & keeping friends. My mom had many long and devoted friendships like your grandma’s with Eleanor. She often said “Oh, let’s have a chip party!” Meaning tortilla chips, guacamole & margaritas usually.
    Thanks so much for sharing your heartfelt story, it came at a good time for me to read.

    • joylibby says:

      Mary Mary — thanks for taking time to tell me about your mom. I cannot wait to use that term “chip party!” What else do we al need sometimes besides a chip party! Here’s to 90 something year young women who continue to inspire us long after they are gone. xoxoxo


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