My grandmother, Lucy Carlton Marston, died October 15, 2016, just over six weeks after I watched my mother-in-law Marian die from breast cancer at age 63.
Lucy was 102 and a half when she died a week after suffering a heart attack that did not initially prove to be fatal as expected. She rallied in the hospital after people were already canceling plans to be ready for her funeral. She went back home under hospice care, where she struggled to stay in bed.
“I just want to move!” she said to a visiting friend, who found her putting on her shoes as she pulled back the covers. The day before she ended up dying peacefully in her sleep, she was salsa dancing with a neighbor in the living room!
No wonder she lived to 102 1/2. She never sat still.
At her 100th birthday, she was trying to help set up chairs at the tables. We tried to get her to sit and rest instead, but she wanted to be doing something, to be helping in some way, to be useful.
Born to a dedicated Southern Baptist family in Oxford, Mississippi on March 21, 1914, her entire life existed of constant service. She was active in her church, teaching a women’s Sunday school, giving speeches and talks to the congregation. She volunteered at the nursing home up until she herself was 95. She took care of five kids, one of whom had Down’s syndrome and she cared for him until the same year she had to give up volunteering and living on her own due to a stroke.
The stroke may have slowed her down, but it sure didn’t stop her! Even with limited use of one side of her body, she managed to walk herself around the house and up and down stairs, only rarely relying on a walker. She still helped with laundry, dishes, and picking up around the house.
After the stroke, she was unable to properly verbalize her thoughts, which frustrated her to no end. She was also unable to write down her thoughts. As a writer, this would be my nightmare. I often find it easier to communicate with the written word.
What she ended up being able to do was copy what was already written down. My Aunt Mem would write out my grandmother’s letter, based on what she could interpret from knowing her mother well enough to decipher what she was trying to say. Lucy would then painstakingly copy each letter with a pencil, the lines shaky and curving down the page with each sentence. Sending personal cards and letters was always important to her. Knowing how much it meant to her that it was written by her own hand, I will always treasure the correspondence from her I’ve saved over the years.
A couple years ago, it was discovered that I look exactly like my grandmother when she was in her twenties. The pic below shows the two of us posing in front of the photograph of her from 1934 and the resemblance is uncanny. I felt a connection with her I didn’t have before. I was also reminded that we shared something else. A love for writing. Memories of her sitting at her typewriter started coming back to me after reading her poems and the speeches she had written.
I didn’t agree with all of my grandmother’s beliefs, just like she didn’t agree with all of mine, but I loved her deeply and I’m grateful to have been able to reignite a bond with her in her last years.
She loved bright red cardinals, being with her family, community, her church, and helping people. She was a genuinely good hearted person and I am grateful to have had her as my grandmother.