The first time I met her I was sick with a fever. We’d been traveling for days and I was dragging. She welcomed me into her home and nursed me back to health. Now, whenever I see her, she feels my forehead with her well-worn hands and says, “There now, no fever today,” as she smiles up at me. At five-foot-nothing, she has to look up to most everyone. Small and wiry, Gran is a bundle of energy, even now in her late eighties. And she gives that energy away, to everyone she meets.
She lives in a stone cottage with a thatched roof that was built by her great-great-grandfather. Until 1965, it didn’t have electricity. Gran still likes to make tea and soda bread on the turf fire, although she has a modern kitchen. All 6 of her children were born in this house, just like Gran was. Her husband died here almost 30 years ago. Gran has some chickens and a milk cow, but the rest of her farm is rented out for cattle and silage. She has flowers on every windowsill and patch of ground and a few tomatoes and cucumbers growing in a tiny greenhouse. There are probably a thousand other cottages like hers in this corner of Ireland, but not one of them is more full of life and love than Gran’s house.
I asked her once what kept her going, especially after her husband’s death, all these years ago. We were shelling peas in the sunshine behind the kitchen. Her hands flew down each pod as the peas dropped into the pan on her lap. She smiled down at her work and, not missing a beat, answered,”Because my life doesn’t belong to me. It’s meant to be given away.”
And for more than 8 decades, that’s what she’s done. As the eldest of 5 children, she helped care for her younger brothers and sisters and worked on their large farm while going to school. When she was 17, she got married, and she and her husband made their home with her parents, caring for them both until their deaths. She helped her neighbors when childbirth came and nursed the sick and the dying. Her hands never stopped. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, milking, and holding babies. Gran’s life is told in her warm, wrinkled hands. As she sits by the fire in the evening, she embroiders altar linens for her parish church. One day several years ago, I was with her when there was a knock at her door. In this heavily-Catholic part of Ireland, two young Mormon men wanted to talk with Gran. She smiled and listened for a few minutes and then she pointed down across the fields to the small village she called home. There soared the spire of her Church. She said, “Look there. I can go there and sit with my Lord. I can receive His Body and Blood at every Holy Communion. Can your church give me more than that?” The young men thanked her and went on their way—with a loaf of her soda bread in their backpack.
Gran has given me so many things over the years I’ve known her but what I treasure the most is her reminder to work hard at being generous and kind. Give your time to help others and listen twice as much as you talk. And a little whiskey at bedtime is a blessing.
As I’m writing this, Gran is watching the evening news on her new flat-screen television. The lead story is about the terror attack in Nice. I notice that her eyes are nearly closed and her hands are busy in her lap, praying her Rosary. Probably for France, but also for her large family, now spread out over 4 continents. Those hands are always busy. Weaving a life lived for others, giving away love every day and never stopping to think of herself. I pray that God will make me more like her and I give thanks to Him for her example of a grateful servant of the Lord. Thank you, Gran. You’re a wonderful gift to everyone who knows you.
“Love does not measure, it just gives.” —Blessed Mother Teresa