Notes on Life from my Greatest Influence

With my birthday tomorrow and the holiday season upon us, I am feeling extra sentimental and reflective. This is a more personal post than usual, but I feel called to share it with all of you. This spring, I tragically lost my grandmother Judy. She was the most beautiful, inspirational person I've ever met and I believe her view on life is something we can all learn from. This is our first holiday season without her and my grandfather (he passed away this fall) and their absence is felt deeply, but I am sharing this in honor of the light they brought to my life. I am sharing it because perhaps you may enjoy reading more about her and the amazing influence she had on this world. Maybe you'll decide to add a sticky note to your bathroom mirror. I was honored to give this eulogy on March 11, 2017 at her funeral.

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When I met Judy 12 years ago, I didn’t know people of her caliber existed. Her warmth, positivity, energy, and love radiated from her like the sun.  She was like no one I’d ever met before and I felt like Judy and I had the most special relationship in the world. Like she and I were two of a kind and I could trust her with anything.

However, I suspect that I am not alone. I suspect that everyone in this room feels the same way; that you and Judy had a very special connection.  Judy made whoever was around her feel as though they were the most important person in the world. She listened to us, asked us genuine questions, and was always complimentary.

I am so fortunate for the lessons Judy taught me. They have made a tremendous impact on my life and I felt compelled to speak today to honor all she passed along to me. 

Judy confidently told me many times that her purpose in life was to love people. Love everyone and anyone, unconditionally. Each year, she chose a word or phrase to focus on, wrote it on a sticky note, and stuck it to her bathroom mirror. The past few words included nonjudgmental, love (of course), and most recently “speak grace, not fault.” Judy lived all of these intentions every day.

We all know that life can be sad, complicated, and difficult; in her life, Judy definitely experienced difficulties. However, she lived her life with a zeal that we all should aspire to. Everyday, Judy made it clear that she was going to search for the positives and the beauty in her life. She taught me that if we choose to dwell on life’s hardships, we steal the joy of life in the moments we have right now; that we have a choice in how we see the world. It is a conscious act to be positive. In order to be joyful and spread love, we must actively decide to live that way. To live like Judy, radiating happiness.

In times of doubt, stress, or confusion, Judy always provided meaningful guidance.  She lit a path for me when I felt blind, unsure of where to go next. Judy shared memories and stories from her life to help me find the way myself.

She kept so many relatives and friends alive in her stories, including my grandmother and her dear friend Yolanda, her sister Joanne, and her brother Bernie, by sharing sweet memories of them. I’ll never forget the way her face lit up when talking about her siblings and their happy childhood. It’s like it was just as real for her in that moment as it had been 65 years ago. After hearing Judy’s stories, I feel like I know Bernie and Joanne.

In the past year, Judy started discussing her legacy. She cited her faith and Joanne for encouraging her to think about how she wanted to live and how she wanted to be remembered long ago. I don’t think anyone has ever handled such a heartbreaking diagnosis with such grace and poise. Always selfless, Judy’s priority was to make sure no one around her was worried. She continued to live life like each day was a gift.

I once asked Judy what her favorite age was and she responded, “Well, no one’s every asked me that, but I’d say it’s is whatever age I am when asked! Life just keeps getting better.” She always said the most important thing you can do as you age is to smile—and that she did.

In the past year, I really started to think about how I could possibly live up to the high standard that Judy set; to start. Here are a few pieces of her advice that I plan to follow as closely as possible:

-         Choose to see the world through a positive lens

-         Give compliments whenever opportunity strikes

-         Take care of your body so you can live the life you want for as long as possible

-         But if you go out to play a game of tennis and end up standing on either side of the net for hours chatting, that’s great, too :)

-         Enjoy simple pleasures like a long walk with a dear friend or quiet time spent on a hobby

-         Eat outside whenever the weather permits

-         Learn which colors look good on you and stick to them (and then let your granddaughter borrow your beautiful sweaters)

-         Feed your spirit with faith, good food, fresh air, and fun

-         As often as you can, make time for an evening drink sitting beside your love, preferably on the shore of Lake Anna

-         Love unconditionally

-         and, she and grandpa lived this one wholeheartedly, stop taking yourself so seriously!

One of my favorite memories is when Patrick and I went to visit Grandpa and Judy at the lake for a weekend while we were in college. One afternoon, we went to the Lake Anna Winery for a tour and tasting. It was rare for it to be just the four of us (it usually feels like thousands of people at the lake!) and Pat and I got a front row view of their relationship. Watching Judy and Grandpa interact was like watching two kids who just started dating. They joked and laughed and teased and their love for each other was obvious. They had a big crush on each other and they had been married for almost a decade at that point. 

I heard somewhere that there is a lot more to each of us than our physical bodies. Our spirit and soul are grand, limitless parts that don’t leave when our physical body is gone. I know Judy is blissfully enjoying time in Heaven with her family and friends, but I also think she is still connected to us, within us. She’s a part of each beautiful sunny day, each new flower blossom, each time you hear laughter, and each time we remember all the ways she touched our heart. 

In the past week I’ve already picked up my phone many times to call her and taken pictures of pretty D.C. scenes with the intention of sending them to her, but I find great comfort in knowing she is all around and within each of us. I know that by choosing to live life as Judy did I will see her presence everywhere. I hope to use all the ways she has transformed my heart to make even a fraction of the impact she made on this world.

Judy was like a pebble tossed into the middle of the lake. The one pebble creates hundreds of waves, just as Judy inspires all of us here to live our best possible lives.  I am so grateful for her mentorship, friendship, love, and guidance. Let’s all honor Judy by continuing her ripples of love.