As the youngest of five granddaughters, I am honored to share memories and reflections on my grandmother’s life. Though these specifics are my own, I know that each of her granddaughters would share similarly their memory of this amazing woman, and of being so loved and cherished by her.
Virginia Harris Hendricks, known to us as Grandma Ginny or GG, truly left this world a better place. She was a beautiful lady, both outside and within; she had poise and style, humility and quiet strength. She had a significant impact on us, her family, and also on the many lives she touched. With Grandpa’s death last fall and now GG’s, their house is empty and quiet, but they live on vividly in a great legacy and in our memories.
It is rare to have had my grandmother through so many seasons of my life – most even here in the same town. Many of the specific snapshots of memory I have of my childhood are of my yearly trips to their home in Glorieta, NM. My mind floods with images from those visits: splashing in the pool in the house Grandpa built, horseback rides, disney movies, GG’s doll collection, long talks with cousins on the basement chest freezers, Sunset Peak, the deck for meals and catching hummingbirds on my finger, and of course, the countless ice cream sundaes.
When I was a freshman in highschool, GG and Grandpa moved to Blacksburg, where they became woven into the everyday rhythms of my life. GG saw this season, after nearly dying from a serious heart condition, as ‘borrowed time.’ Her perspective that life is a gift to be cherished, yet held loosely, and her determination to live to the fullest were a powerful combination. She began serious exercise for the first time in her 70s and continued all the way through this spring, going as often as she was able, even with advanced congestive heart failure. She worked hard and was so dedicated, and what an impact it had on her quality and length of life! This exercise affected more than just her health – as always, she and Grandpa also brought their usual loving, charming selves. They developed a special relationship with her trainer, Sharon, who became like family.
As I grew older, I began to recognize more consciously many of the things that seeped into me as a child from GG. Her relationship with God was her foundation, and the rest of her life poured out from that love. Her marriage with Grandpa, built over so many decades, was an incredible example: full of love, delight, serving and being served, each in their own ways. Their home was always warm and welcoming as she exercised exceptional hospitality, nourishing both the body and soul of guests, from family to traveling missionaries. Her creativity was expressed in many outlets: music, photography, collecting, cooking, and writing – including a travel photo journal column when they lived in France called “Globe Trotting with Ginny.” She learned how to use a computer and digital photography, and combined her creative eye and thoughtful heart in special, personalized photo cards for friends and family.
GG delighted in family, near and far. It was clear that she got great joy from frequent visits from me and my daughter Micha. She had a basket of toys and an endless stash of Goldfish – Micha’s special treat every time we came over. I appreciated getting to catch her up on our hectic lives and knowing how much she prayed for us.
I continued to learn new things about her with each new challenge faced. I was amazed at the strength and peace she exhibited after losing her beloved husband and partner of 69 years. I remember her determination to get out of the house in spite of her increasing physical limitations, declaring to me, “I will not be a shut-in!” Seeing her live out her last years, down to her last days, with such grace and sweetness of spirit made a another deep impression on me.
Just days before she became confined to the hospital bed in her living room, I got to share with GG some of my reflections on gifts she and Grandpa passed on to me personally – identifying two of the attributes I value about myself as coming from them. Sifting through old photos after Grandpa died, I realized what many others in the family probably already took for granted but that I’d missed: I have his smile! This discovery was a true treasure to me, as I cherish the thought of carrying on his joy and laughter in my smile. A similar lightbulb moment came when my husband Dan recently reflected that he sees GG in my optimism and resilience. Grandpa’s smile and GG’s optimism are a legacy I am proud to carry, indeed!
The best words I have found to describe how I am feeling are very simple and came through trying to explain my tears to my three-year-old. “Mama, are you sad and happy at the same time?” she continues to repeat back to me. Yes, my darling child, today I am both sad AND happy. I am sad as I ride the waves of grief, as I miss already my trips down Dunton Drive to see her, wish to share more meals around her table, as I close my eyes to see her ready smile and hear her musical voice. Yet, I am happy as I celebrate my beautiful grandmother’s remarkable faith- and love-filled life; as I relish sharing memories together; and as the strength and confidence of GG’s own faith keeps returning me to hope: knowing that her last breath was not the end, but the new beginning for which she longed, beyond our reach and comprehension, her joyful eternal Home.