From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

Grandmother’s Gift

Mace was an independent, frail wisp of a woman with terminal cancer. But there was nothing fragile about her mental outlook. Her ill health had not hindered her vitality. The last three years had been a battleground, fighting her disease with a determination and strength that would have brought others to their knees. Mace, accompanied by a God-inspired appreciation for life and a spirit that won our praise and admiration, knew she was losing ground.

Hospice offers a team of people to care for those whose life expectancy is less than six months. Mace had less than six weeks. I was one of her new volunteers. This lady, so loved by many, could be sharp-tongued, but she was a priceless friend, and her friends drifted in and out of her home at will. Since she was so uncomfortably close to death, we were all looking for ways to make her last days special.

One day I asked, “Mace, what could I do for you that no one else is doing?”

“Well,” she quipped with an Irish twinkle still visible in her eyes, “tell me what you’re good for.”

I rattled off a few accomplishments that didn’t seem to impress her until I said, “Oh, and I do needlepoint.”

“Thank God!” she almost hollered her response. “I’ve been wondering what I’d ever do. No one I know could do this for me. I thought I might be finished before it was . . . look in that basket.”

Among other things, Mace was an artist. She’d designed and painted the composition for this particular needlepoint picture, working her layout on the incredibly small eighteen-inch mesh canvas. It was breathtaking. The scene of sand, sea and sky was in muted colors ranging from cream to gold, pale blues to turquoise and all shades of beige to white. A small Native American child stood in the midst of it as though awestruck. It was to be a gift for her long-awaited great-grandchild expected in June. Since this was February, Mace had accepted the fact that the child would never know her. Her strongest yearning was to be some part of the child’s life. This exquisite artwork was only part of her plan.

Because time was extremely short, I started immediately, delighted to be an instrumental part of her gift. As I stitched for hours at her bedside, we became fast friends. She was a treasure to know—sharing with me insights into her life, her beliefs about God and her attitude about approaching death. In a terminal illness, trust and love must develop fast—everything becomes now and today.

“Both of my grandmothers died when I was a very young child. I developed a hunger for the loving connection of ‘grannies’ that some of my little friends had. I did so want to be a great-granny,” she sighed. “Don’t you remember how grandparents made such an impact on a child’s life? You’d hear someone say, ‘my grandma says,’ and what followed were usually words to live by. That’s what I wanted to be,” and her weakened voice trailed off.

But Mace had already put into action a marvelous plan of future contact with her great-granddaughter. She would share her life with the girl by way of special writings. She’d set up a series of letters for the girl’s future celebrations, covering all the important events in a woman’s life. There were letters for special birthdays like sweet sixteen, graduations, her wedding day and even the possible arrival of babies. Her clever grandmother would be a part of these events, though not in person.

A few of her letters were to be attached to personal items: an ancient and intricate lace handkerchief belonging to her grandmother for ‘something old,’ and a porcelain cross and white leather Bible for a sweet-sixteen birthday with an inscription that would break her heart but acknowledge her faith. Also included was a silk baby cap made by Mace’s hands years before while she’d waited for another grandbaby who never arrived.

Mace’s vivid, well-written letters with pictures and memorabilia were historic, humorous and revealing, and in each letter, Mace brought God into the child’s world in ways that were acceptable for her age. There were invaluable bits and pieces of information remembering celebrations of another era. She allowed me to read them, and they were jewels—just as she was. Although her life had been filled with love, sadness and sacrifice, she had many personal accomplishments.

“I even took up flying,” she smirked. “My husband and I were into golf and bridge, and I wanted to learn to fly—this was in the 1930s . . . not considered right for women. His response had been an absolute, ‘No!’ So pleading boredom, I quietly gave up golf and bridge and sneaked out to take flying lessons. The plane was a puddle jumper, and I loved it. But I don’t have time to tell you all that. I didn’t tell him until he was on his way overseas in World War II, and when he got back, it no longer seemed important.”

It was important to Mace that the needlepoint picture she hoped would hang in the child’s room would serve as a constant reminder of “great-granny.” Mace felt compelled to leave a lasting gift that spoke of her artistic talents and would perhaps convey without words some of her great-grandmother’s attitudes about the beauty of the world and God’s hand in its creation.

On one of her more difficult and painful days I said, “Mace, pull the needle on this stitch for me.”

“Oh, Ruth, not today, I just can’t,” she moaned.

“Mace,” I insisted. “Please, just pull this one stitch.” She looked at me like a good friend looks at another when her patience is being tested. We were used to that with Mace, so I knew I had to be insistent. “Hey, lady, just help me with this one stitch.”

And with a frustrated yank, she did.

Then grabbing her hand and holding on to it, I said, “Mace, you put the first stitch in here months ago, and just now you put in the last one. It’s finished!” And we both cried.

As Mace gazed at her finished canvas, I knew it was the grandchild she visualized in the scene. She wanted her to see and appreciate the beauty of the world around her and to value it, just as her greatest granny had.

Mace died just days later. The picture was framed and ready in time to welcome a much-loved great-granddaughter who would have a lifetime of reminders of this special woman’s love.

Ruth Hancock

[EDITORS’ NOTE: For information on Hospice Association of America, contact 228 Seventh Street, S.E.,Washington, DC 20003; 202-546-4759; fax: 202-547-9559; Web site:]

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