My maternal grandmother, Lenola Laporte Sweeney, was an amazing woman. Though her parents spoke only French, she learned to speak English in first grade, graduated top of her class in high school, and continued her education at a time when it was not the norm. Gram worked hard and supported herself as a young woman until she met the love of her life and moved across the country from small town Arnaudville, LA to Long Island, NY. Gram birthed children and mourned losses. She raised six sons and a daughter, spent years in a third world country with her children as a Catholic missionary, and taught us all patiently how to live a life of love. Grandma Lynn was always a cheerleader for us when we were winning and showed us compassion and forgiveness when we made mistakes.
Throughout the years, I spent countless days and nights with her. Gram took me on my first plane ride to NYC. While my parents built our home, we lived with her. I drove her on long trips when she wasn’t comfortable driving alone. I volunteered to take her to doctor’s appointments. I sat at her bedside with my firstborn in my arms, holding her hand as she took her last breath. To say that Gram was my soul’s compass is no understatement. While I mourned her loss greatly at her death, I mourn it more deeply now.
Now that I, too, have seven children, I mourn not being able to call her and ask for advice. When my children struggle to find their place in our family, I mourn the loss of her knowledge and understanding. When I walked away from a destructive marriage, I mourned not having Gram’s understanding and forgiveness. Every day, when I balance my work and home lives, I wish I could pick up the phone and speak to her about home management. When I serve the homeless, something I began doing with Grandma Lynn in mind, I wish I could ask for her help. I wish I could see the pride on her face. She shared her doubts about her own choices but was unendingly generous with her love of everybody regardless of who they were … Living without her every day feels like living with a hole in my heart and soul. What I wouldn’t give to spend another day with her asking about the ways she survived her struggles, asking for tips on making a budget stretch, and listening intently as she gave insight on her decision-making process. I wish I had kept the dresses she made me, and I wish she was here to make more for my daughters.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course. It’s easy now to see what I have lost, but I’m grateful that I spent as much time with Gram as I did when I was growing up. I’m grateful that I was always curious about what life was like for her and that I asked a million questions. I’m so happy my parents allowed me to spend countless weekends and summers sleeping over there even when she fed me sopapillas every day for breakfast, and let me drive her car down the dead-end gravel road before I had a license. I’m thankful that my parents, in-laws, and paternal grandparents spend as much time with my children as they do. I hope to encourage my children to really listen when they’re learning lessons from family.
For me, a soul compass is anyone you look to for guidance and advice; in my life, these people are my parents and grandparents. If your soul compass is still living, I implore you to speak often; don’t take tomorrow for granted. I beseech you to ask them about the trials and triumphs in their lives. Go even further, record them telling you their life stories and put it on YouTube for your family to look back on. Encourage your children to spend as much time with them as they want. Take them on vacation with you. Find a book like Grandmother Remembers or Dad Remembers and give it as a gift so you can share with your children after they’re gone the story of their life. Her compass still helps to guide me every day, and I feel acutely aware of how lucky I am to have such a gift. These lessons are the ones I take forward with me and when I find myself in a difficult decision I look back and ask “What would Gram do?”