07.24.1928 – 03.27.2019
My brother and sister-in-law did the math. 83 people directly on “Team Grandma”. 18 sons and daughters (including spouses), 38 grandsons and granddaughters (not including spouses), great-grandchildren. Anita Smith touched a lot of lives, and the numbers above are only immediate family.
Us grandchildren were asked to reflect on lessons we learned from Grandma Smith. My first reaction was to resent the fact that “learned” has to be in past tense now.
In October 2013, my parents and Grandma Smith came to Family Weekend at Marquette and we went to mass and dinner together.
Shortly after that weekend, my parents approached me about how little I was eating, and my pediatrician talked to me about gaining weight and seeing a therapist. I didn’t understand why everyone was being so pushy.
It wasn’t until months later that I had learned that Grandma had insisted to my parents that I seemed unhappy and seemed like I had lost a significant amount of weight. She read through my excuses of “I just don’t like the food my dining hall offers”, “I’m having a hard time finding people to eat with”, “I’m working out twice a day but they’re not hard workouts”, etc. She just said what needed to be said.
It’s really easy to overlook the people closest to us. It’s really easy to feel uncomfortable saying something when you notice something wrong. It’s really easy to miss changes that happen in bits, over time, especially when, like my parents, you see the person frequently. It’s really easy to trust that when someone says “I’m fine”, they aren’t actually really questioning whether life is worth living.
Grandma never did that. Grandma always chose the difficult, but necessary, route.
At first glance, it’s possible that she said exactly what was on her mind because she was almost 90 years old and she had nothing to lose. At second glance, it’s possible that she said just the right thing because she had lived a lot of life and understood how the world worked.
But when you’re a parent and your daughter is in the midst of an eating disorder, you need an old, wrinkly, sweet, Irish woman to repeat herself loudly, then louder a second time, “Do you see how thin she’s gotten?”
I respect and revere my grandmother because she started a clan as large as the Smiths. I love and admire her because even when she had congestive heart failure, a couple vertebral compression fractures, a deep vein thrombosis, pneumonia, she would say “I have nothing to complain about” (and in my head I’d say, Grandma you have literally 15 plus things you could be complaining about). I look up to her because even with almost 100 immediate family members, she showed every single one just how special they were to her and it was those family members that she lived and continued to live for. I will never forget her because of the many things she’s taught me about love, family, friendship, faith, strength, courage, and so much more.
But the quality that I think about every time I’m faced with a difficult conversation is her ability to wade through discomfort and say what needs to be said.
We can be so dismissive of people’s suffering because we want so badly to believe they’re okay. We can ignore doing what’s right because we somehow question whether or not we’re qualified to help them.
If we have love for another, we are qualified. Grandma cherished each person who crossed her path in this weird, beautiful life and picked up on each need and did anything she could to make sure it was met. She had the incredible ability to make it clear just how immeasurably you were loved just by looking at you and listening. She saw worth, dignity, and potential in each of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and made sure they each did too. She is the reason I’m alive today. She is the reason I’m as fulfilled as I am today.
Grandma, I couldn’t say it over FaceTime when my dad’s screen brightness blinded you on Tuesday night. First of all, I’m sorry for blinding you and for dripping my tears on your head when you were in the hospital. Second, third, fourth, and every number that follows, thank you. Thank you for saying what needed to be said in 2013. Thank you for showing me how to love. Thank you for showing me how to care. Thank you for being there for everything, graduations, first communions, birthdays, weddings, Christmases, Easters. Thank you for showing up for each and every one of us. For demonstrating determination, positivity, and resolve. For giving us the gift of our faith, our family, and every bit of love that came from both of those things. For staying around as long as you could. For living and dying with grace. For watching over us now.
I love you, Grandma. I miss you more than I can say.