As I stood there in the dimly light room next to the hospital bed, watching my beloved aunt take her last breaths with the help of an oxygen mask, thoughts were swirling through my head faster than I could keep track of them. But I noticed something: they all focused on her generosity, and on happy memories.
These are the things that matter. These are things people will remember us for.
Nanny gave so much of herself to everyone. She was always bringing cookies to someone's place of work. She was always giving gifts full of thought and meaning. She was known for making the best pies, and for having the prettiest house and garden of anyone in our family. She was known for always having time for anyone who wanted to visit and for truly caring for everyone around her, opening that beautiful home to anyone that showed up at her door, whether expected or not.
My home is filled with things that will always remind me of her. In every room, something beautiful hangs on the wall or sits on shelf that she gave me. Blankets she made are the ones we wrap around us on cold winter nights. The antique cookie jar on the counter. The earrings in my jewelry box she gave when when I was eleven years old. The plate that hangs on my kitchen wall, that previously had hung in her kitchen and made me smile every time I saw it. The framed picture of the girl having breakfast in bed with her dog and cat that is in my living room. The butter churn we use to make butter. The flower arrangement in the antique boots on my mantle. The antique Singer sewing machine that we still use from time to time. The cedar chest that houses our scrapbooks and photo albums. The wooden rocking motorcycle that both of my girls adored so much as toddlers. Truly, so much of my decor is actually her decor, passed on over the last several years. She loved beautiful things, and old things, and she passed that love onto me.
But it wasn't just things. It was her time, her thoughtfulness. When I was little and lived nearby, she always had time for me. She had time to do things and go places and to just let me be with her... and each little moment added up gave me a heap of memories to hold onto, memories that I will never lose.
Her generosity shaped who I am, and I will always be grateful for it. But more than that, I'm grateful that, in the end, she showed me what really matters in life. It's giving. Not of things, necessarily (though she always did that) but of yourself. She gave so much of herself to me. She loved bringing joy to other people and she lived her entire life doing it. We spend our time doing so much... but how much of our time is spent leaving others with happy memories of us? Of everything we do in our lives, it's what we leave other people with that really matters in the end.