My grandmother, Gertrude Shertenlieb, passed away this morning at 6:15. I’ve always been a writer, so it was no surprise that I immediately wanted to sit down and get to typing up a memorial for her. However, as I started going over my plan in my head, I realized that I’m not the best candidate for immortalizing this amazing woman. I am vastly underqualified. However, I can write about what I know and, in Grandma’s honor, be truthful to her memory.
My grandmother and I didn’t know each other very well. There were numerous reasons for this that seemed perfectly legitimate during her lifetime, none of which mean a damn thing anymore. Therefore, I won’t waste my time talking about what doesn’t matter.
Justifications aside, I’m telling the whole truth here. Grandma and I didn’t have much of a relationship for most of my life. I mean, I was around her a lot (and she always sent me birthday cards featuring her beautiful penmanship), but we didn’t spend much time alone together and certainly didn’t swap warm fuzzies very often. I also never got to hear much of her story. I’ve got little flashes here and there, a compilation of things my father and other family members have told me, but I missed out on hearing the star’s first-hand narration.
All of these things I sorely regret. All of the missed opportunities, lost time…. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over all of that. However, in the last few months of her life, my grandmother taught me the greatest lesson I have ever learned; Don’t let things lie.
As I was leaving Atlanta to go back to law school this semester, God granted me the inspiration to fix this long-standing dysfunction between my grandmother and me. Instead of doing what I always did, letting things go, maintaining the status quo, not rocking the boat, pretending everything was fine, I called her and addressed the situation.
Let me just say, this is WAY out of character for me. Usually, if I do stand up for myself, it is done out of pure heat of passion. I very seldom contemplate and instigate conflict with clear-headed purpose.
So, I called Grandma and we hashed it out. It was a long, emotional, and very honest talk. I think I may have shocked her a little bit because she’d never heard me speak like an adult before. I wasn’t placating or patronizing her. I took responsibility for my hand in the problem, explaining that I’m not used to bucking authority and making demands. (You see, I’ve always been kind of a “yes man,” with her and this was the first time I was breaking out of that mold.) Where I thought I would meet with resistance, I felt Grandma begin to respect me as a woman. It was the first time she saw me as something other than a spoiled child. It’s no wonder that her perception was wrong. I kept playing the role, waiting for her permission to act like a grown-up. Turns out, she was waiting for me to change her mind with my behavior toward her.
At the end of this very difficult conversation, we made a pact with each other; to start acting like grandmother and granddaughter. To be friends. To be family…and darned if we didn’t keep up our ends of the bargain.
From that point on, I spoke to my grandmother at least once a week. We called each other to shoot the breeze or for no reason at all. I knew what was going on in her life, down to what she had for dinner and the new pants she just bought. Likewise, she heard all about my tedious research and papers and presentations. Even if she wasn’t interested, she acted like she was, and I’ve gotta admit that it felt really good.
Because God gave me the guts to stand up and change things, I got my grandmother back for the last three months of her life. Thank you, Jesus.
Through all of this, Grandma taught me that life-changing lesson. Don’t let it lie. Even if you might make it worse, stand up change things. Be a fool for it. Be ridiculed for it. Be labeled an instigator or a drama queen. Take all of these chances in stride and change things, because nothing compares to the hurt of knowing it could have been different if you had only spoken the truth. I should know. I waited almost 29 years to take control of my relationship with Grandma and I would give anything to get that time back.
I admit, part of me is really angry that this unification didn’t happen sooner. However, the vast majority of me is unbelievably thankful it happened at all.
I can’t go back and change the time I lost with Grandma, but I can share our story in hopes of inspiring a few phone calls. Forget grudges. Forget pride. Forget the reasons not to fix it. None of that’s worth beans when you’re gone.
One of my friends recently said something to me that was very comforting. She said, “We are all flowers in God’s garden.” I love that idea. We start as little seeds that have to push through our own shells. Then, we struggle through the dirt and grow to give glory to God with the help of His healing sunshine. We withstand the trying and perfecting forces of rain and bees and wind. We persevere until we are cut down and brought into the Father’s house where a special place at His table awaits us. There, He delights in us, arranges us with those that went before us, and we become a sweet addition to His home. Oh man, what a nice thought. I bet Grandma looked like the most beautiful bloom.
So, here’s to my last surviving grandparent, finally reunited with her family. Now, she can take her place beside her beloved, Fred, who has been saving her a seat under the apple tree. Her struggle is complete and she has been brought into the Father’s house.
Thanks for everything you have taught me, Grandma; to be strong, to be smart, and to never let it lie.
In memory of Gertrude Mildred Shertenlieb, my grandmother for 29 years, my friend for three months, and my inspiration forever.