A grandmother's fierce support and kindness are lessons that won't be forgotten.

It was the ’80s, and Mamaw had spent months working with a designer getting her newly renovated kitchen just right—perfect wallpaper, perfect window treatments. The pretty peach seat cushions were even custom sewn, she explained. She was thrilled with how they turned out.

I vividly remember helping set the table as Mamaw prepared to serve the inaugural family dinner in her upgraded space. We all held hands and prayed. Then, as Mamaw placed the food on the table and we sat down to feast, I knocked over my glass of milk—right onto one of those perfect peach cushions.

My tears were immediate. Instead of scurrying to clean up the mess, though, Mamaw looked right into my eyes and wrapped me in her arms long and tight. “Oh honey, it’s OK,” she said, then smiled. “You know what they say—there really is no need to cry over spilled milk!”

When I got a call from my mother this fall that Mamaw had stopped eating, I drove to Akron. When I walked into her room, she looked so suddenly and shockingly frail that my breath caught in my throat. My cousins had just visited her two days ago, introducing her to her newest great-grandbaby. Mamaw was 90, yes, but wearing her stylish clothes, with her earrings on and her smile wide. Now, here she was some 48 hours later, her skin pale, her eyes closed, her breath slowing.

I was as close with my grandparents as many are with their parents—closer, maybe. I had the privilege of knowing all four of them intimately as a child and as an adult. We went to church together, to Indians games together, to lunches together, on vacations together. And when we slept over at Mamaw and Papaw’s house, we turned their kitchen into a breakfast restaurant, and they tipped us generously for serving them Cheerios and milk.

Mamaw believed in the power of meticulously styled hair, dazzling jewelry and Jesus. She lived a long and happy life, one she told us often was better than she ever could have imagined. By the time I walked into her room this fall, she had been desperately missing Papaw for the last 10 years. And her dementia was worsening. She was ready. Still, goodbyes are hard.

As my mom, sister and I sat beside Mamaw that night, I recalled a road trip I took with Mamaw and Papaw when I was 11 or 12—the age when I dreamed of becoming a backup dancer for MC Hammer. We drove to Mamaw’s hometown in the hills of West Virginia. She told me we were going to a dance, and so I dressed in a silky silver bomber jacket and Hammer pants, ready to rock. “Wait until you see my granddaughter dance,” Mamaw told friend after friend as we walked into the event. “She’s amazing.”

As the three of us sat on folding chairs, I realized nobody there was bedazzled, and that “U Can’t Touch This” probably wasn’t in their cassette players. But Mamaw—a very fancy lady who never left the house without lipstick and diamonds—couldn’t have cared less. And if she didn’t care, then why should I? “Well get up there,” she said, nudging me off my chair. “Show ’em what you’ve got!”

I offered that little town the best (and probably only) Roger Rabbit and running man it had ever seen. Oh, what my sparkling jacket and moves stolen straight from Paula Abdul’s MTV videos must have looked like at a hoedown. Still, Mamaw just clapped and clapped, positively beaming, genuinely proud.

I laughed so hard sharing the story with my mom and sister that by the end, I was crying. Hilarious, yes. But what a gift to be supported so fiercely.

Before the sun rose again, Mamaw moved from this life to the next. Quietly. Peacefully. I wrote her obituary and gave her eulogy, but I didn’t fully process her death until I sat down to write this. It started as a column about the beauty of life being in the muck, in those moments like that night in her room. But I soon realized that the focus shouldn’t be about that at all. It needed to highlight her legacy as a wife and as a mother and as a woman—the type of legacy we all hope to leave.

Yes, it’s a legacy of love. But more than that, it’s a legacy of giving that love abundantly and unconditionally, even when it’s hard—especially when it’s hard. It’s a legacy of showing up both physically and emotionally inside every moment, of never being too busy or preoccupied to be fully present. It’s a legacy of kindness so selfless that it fills up others over and over yet asks for nothing in return.

This is a woman I long to be.

Mamaw and Papaw and I enjoyed many grand adventures over the years. But the moment that first pops into my mind when I think of my Mamaw is the spilled-milk hug—the one so immediate and so warm that it said more than I love you. It said I love you, no matter what. And I’ve got you. No matter what.

So when I think of carrying Mamaw’s torch, I know I can—and should—schedule vacations and dinners and game nights and shopping sprees. I should make sloppy joes from scratch and scream at ballgames. I should hand-write cards and lend my jewelry.

But I also know to really do it right, I cannot plan my path at all. I must wait for the moment the milk spills, and hug the people I love fast and warm and long. Because when I do, she will be alive again.

Kristy Eckert is a Powell mom and founder of Kristy Eckert Communications.

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