This I Believe

Michele - CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina
Entered on April 21, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe that success is defined by the lives you touch, not by the money you earn.

I adored my Grandma Edie. She was five foot nothing of spunk, humor and warmth. She showed what unconditional love looks like. I once told her that I thought that if she ever heard that I had killed someone, her first thought would be, “Well, there must have been a good reason.” She agreed that this would be her response. And then we both decided that it was a good thing that I’m not the homicidal sort so we wouldn’t have to actually put this to the test.

When I opened gifts during the surprise party my husband threw for my 30th birthday, I came to a box that contained a lacy black bra and panty set which was adorned with 30 crisp one dollar bills. No one believed me when I said it was from my grandmother. But I could imagine her walking to the bank under the hot Florida sun to request those brand new dollars that she individually pinned to the lingerie. It was the perfect combination of her thoughtfulness and feistiness.

At the age of 80, she was diagnosed with liver cancer. It had metastasized from the colon cancer she thought had been cured five years earlier. Told she had three months left, she lived another 18 just to prove those darn doctors wrong. Over that year and a half, her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters and friends made regular pilgrimages to her sunny condo. Our cards and letters were posted across an entire wall in her bedroom, a visual testament to the breadth of love and care for her.

I remember sitting alongside her in bed one day, stroking her arm as we talked about everything and nothing. She glanced at those cards and said, “I have had a wonderful life.”

But, truth be told, she really didn’t. She lost a son to crib death when he was only 10 weeks old; she cared for an ailing daughter for 15 years before she watched that child of hers die. My grandfather’s heart failed when he was just 42, leaving Grandma Edie on her 40th birthday as a widow with three children to care for. My grandparents struggled financially throughout their marriage and she continued to make do on little money for the rest of her life.

And while she painted a rosy picture to me of the grandfather I never knew as Prince Charming, it turns out that their fairytale romance included his being almost maniacally possessive of her and of hitting her on occasion.

And yet. And yet hers was a life worth living. No one but her family and friends grieved when she passed away. She probably never earned more than $8,000 a year. But she demonstrated how to be successful in this world: love those around you with an equal mixture of tenderness and fierceness and a steadfastness that never wavers.