Our sunshine

My grandmother loved to love. It was her favorite gift to give others. It was her finest skill. I come from a family that doesn’t end every phone call or visit with, “I love you.” But grandma was never afraid of expressing herself. She said those three words often, with the same fervor as the first time. Her love was like the sun—warm, bright, and total.

In fact, the earliest memory I have of my grandmother shows this: I was at her house, racing up and down the hallway. In a room near the end of the hall, I found her sitting in front of her sewing machine, like so many times before. She turned around and, seeing me in the doorway, invited me in. I ran to her. She scooped me into her lap. And together we sang her token song.

You are my sunshine,
My only sunshine.
You make me happy
When skies are gray.
You never know, dear,
How much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.

Last Saturday, my mom texted us and said that grandma wasn’t doing well. She said we may want to drop our original plans of visiting her later in the week. So we did—the three of us girls, and our father, packed quickly and made our way to Indiana. I remember trying to picture how things would go. How I would contribute, and how I could be a support for the family. I hadn’t spent much time with ailing people, and I’m not a natural nurturer. I figured, which I said aloud to my sisters, that I’d probably just stand off to the side, being out of the way, and offer kind words to the family.

But as soon as we arrived, those predeterminations crumbled. I couldn’t help but be near her. The visitors in the room were holding her hands, stroking her cheeks, playing with her hair—all things I couldn’t fathom doing. My first thought was, “Look how pretty she is in that blue top.” But I held back for fear that it would come out sounding strange or awkward.

Then I recalled all the love she showed me. Whether it was through the clothes she made, the handmade cards she’d send, or the endless “I love you’s” she’d say. I remembered how she’d wrapped me in that warm embrace in the sewing room—a hug as comforting as a sunbath. She knew how to comfort, she knew how to listen, and she knew how to love. And suddenly I wanted to give that love back to her.

So I touched her arm. And soon, I was holding her hand. And then stroking her cheek. And telling her how pretty she looked. And it wasn’t the least bit awkward.

What a gift that was to be there with her in her last days. My two beautiful sisters and myself had the opportunity to reciprocate a fraction of the adoration she gave to us. It is something I will treasure forever.

Her laughter and youth and light was felt everywhere she went. She was our sunshine. She made us happy when skies were gray. We’ll never know how much she loved us. And although she is no longer with us, her sunshine wasn’t taken away. It exists in anyone she loved—because she gave each person a piece of her. And now we get to carry that sunshine and remember her always. I know anytime the sun warms me, I will feel that same sewing room hug. I will think of her, think of her love, and sing.