When I was 10 years old, my parents went on a cruise. They dropped my brother and I off at my maternal grandparents' house before leaving.
As a young child I had severe anxiety about my parents leaving out of town. There was no rhyme or reason to this, except that it was my personality.
My grandmother, who we all call "Mimi", was not overly affectionate to us growing up. She left that to my grandfather. Instead she seemed all business. She made sure things got done and she did it effortlessly. She had a plan.
She made sure we were fed, bathed and in our pajamas at a decent time.
But my "Popi" played silly games, made us belly laugh and kept us up too late.
Except on this night, after my parents left, I just couldn't calm myself down.
I got so worked up, that I could feel my stomach churning as I got ready for bed.
Laying in bed, I could tell I was going to be sick. I rushed to the bathroom. Scared and sad, I longed for my Mom. And that is when my Mimi showed up.
She ran into the bathroom, and put one hand around my waist and one on my forehead. She held my hair back. And the embrace felt familiar. It felt better.
And I realized she was holding me the same way my mother did when I was ill.
She cleaned me up, and to my surprise, let me sleep in her bed with her.
I saw a different side of my grandmother that night. It felt so special and I felt loved.
As a mother myself, I now know she was an old pro at helping sick children. After all she raised seven of them.
At the tender age of 19 she delivered Richard. Living in Louisville and as a young Mom, she likely learned ways to get by on less, yet live richly in love.
She had seven children. Which meant she mothered for nearly 20 years straight.
Which meant she was strong. Which meant she drew the strength of mountains. She could withstand the weathering of the seasons. She had the grace to let the wind and rain shape her. She could stand, freezing cold, in the face of life's winters. And she could let the warmth of summer let her rest as the sun shown against her children's faces.
My mom, Alice says:
"When Mom says she loves you, it's like seeing both ends of a rainbow."
I've heard many stories of her resilience. I've witnessed her battle cry. She is the woman who taught me to ALWAYS stand up for what you deserve. She taught us all to never back away from what you believe is right.
Mimi is the strongest woman I've ever known.
And now, she is in the evening of her life. She's tired. Her body is growing thin, but her mind prevails. She knows her heart. She always has.
And when I think of Elizabeth Jean Ward and the woman that she was, and is...I am reminded of one of my favorite poems by Maya Angelou.
"It's the fire in my eyes,
and the flash of my teeth,
the swing in my waist and
the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman.
We love you Mimi.