It was a Saturday evening in late December, not even a week past Christmas. My grandmother had just finished cooking a pot of soup for her sister who was recovering from a double mastectomy. She turned off the stove and made her way into the living room to watch Alabama play Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Suddenly her head began to spin, she lost her balance and fell to the floor.
She called out to her husband, my grandfather.
“Will you get me a pillow?” she asked. “I’m just going to lay here a minute.”
As far as I know, those were her last words. It was only thanks to a coincidental phone call from an uncle that allowed the rest of us to learn that Grandmother had fallen. By the time my father arrived to check on her, she’d already gone.
Her name was Nancy Tyson, and the only thing you can really say about her is that she was, perhaps, the kindest person who ever lived. And of course, that sounds like something you’d say, doesn’t it? We often say hyperbolic or embellished things about those who have passed. Especially when that someone is a loved one, and even more so when they’re a grandmother.
But I need you to understand that there are few people on this earth who possessed the type of selflessness Nancy Tyson did. It’s a rare thing, in these modern times, to find someone like her – someone so purely genuine, who never took a single breath for granted.
She gave thanks, with all her heart, for every shred of joy she could find in the world, no matter how small or brief. She helped whoever she could with absolutely no expectation of return, and she took only what she needed – never in excess. Many times, she went without so someone else wouldn’t have to.
She married at the age of 17 and took her vows as seriously as she took her dedication to Jesus. For 56 years, she stuck by my grandfather through some of the best and hardest times of her life. She never wavered, even when pushed to her limits, and — despite her humble demeanor — she wasn’t afraid to put you in your place if you needed it.
Of course, when I think of her, I’ll always remember how proud she was of me and my sister and how strongly she supported us, even if she didn’t always understand what we were doing or why we were doing it.
She came to every one of our events, every game, every recital, and everything else. When I started blogging, she’d send me $20 in the mail anytime I posted an article just to make sure that I “got a little something” for my efforts. She was even there when I converted to the Church. Despite the fact that she lived and died as a devout Southern Baptist, she sat through a three-hour Easter vigil mass for me.
More than anything, Nancy Tyson did something so many of us Christians will fail to do. She exemplified the total and unconditional love of Jesus Christ, and I think that’s ultimately why I had to write about her.
Yes, I want to preserve her memory, and I’d be lying if I said that writing this didn’t help me process and manage my emotions. But the most important thing that I need you, the reader, to know is that Nancy Tyson lived. I need you to know she was here. I need you to know that amid all of the darkness, the nastiness, and the pain in this world, a pure and genuine goodness was still able to exist.
The Church teaches that there are numerous saints in heaven that we haven’t named yet. But I don’t need the Vatican to confirm for me where my grandmother is right now. She is among the chorus of those who will spend eternity with the Father. And just like she did on earth, I know she prays for me, unceasingly.
Oh, my grandmother, pray for us.