originally published December 13, 2016
Mary Elizabeth Carlton was mine and the other grandkids Granny Carlton. Granny Carlton was many things to many people. She wore many hats and held many positions, but what I know of her was this. She was strong. She was one of the strongest women I knew. She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty and to work hard. I remember that she always made sure that I knew that she was a tomboy at heart. She hated wearing dresses as a young girl and probably climbed every tree in this town. She told stories about the long hours spent playing and getting into mischief. I always thought she was a force to be reckoned with growing up, never afraid of the heavy lifting – physically and figuratively. My mom, Kathryn, told me the other day that Granny could back a horse trailer in one move. That’s impressive. I can imagine that all of her years at the welfare department, and later as a fraud investigator, that she was a strong advocate and in the very same breath not much got past her. She also was a security officer in Ruidoso at the racehorse track. I remember thinking that was intense, yet pretty cool that my grandma was a security officer. Let’s not forget that she also birthed 4 babies…big babies, 12 lb babies, without any medication and that is STRONG. Not only did she birth those babies, she raised them, and any parent here knows the kind of strength that takes. She was also strong in watching her husband endure years of illness and change in his body suddenly and then over time. And while she was strong in that, she was also empathetic. I knew her as a caregiver. From my earliest memories of her, I can remember her taking care of Papa Carlton, preparing his food. She spent much time in the kitchen making sure he got a good meal that he could eat well following mouth cancer and surgery. She did this til his very last day. I can remember her making his meal first and serving him while the rest of us waited to eat. I can remember her taking care of Mama Carlton like she was her own mom, and she and Jo Ann taking care of Eeney so well. Later she was such a good caretaker for Uncle Jack and loved him so well and he loved her — They really had a lot of fun together and were pretty hysterical together too. Nursing homes and assisting others was never foreign to me because wherever my Granny and Mom where, someone was being served and cared for. We all know what an incredible caretaker Jo Ann is also. It clearly runs in the blood of the Rutherford girls and has been passed down so very well as a lasting legacy on how to love well. Granny was also an artist. She could sketch some of the most beautiful drawings in a few minutes. Recently she sketched some beautiful drawings for my girls. She could also outsew the best of them. I have always admired anyone who could sew special things and that was Granny. She made my mom’s wedding dress and several other dresses. I loved wearing a beautiful white halter Granny made for mom in High school…I thought it was so fancy. Later in life she helped my mom sew medical play dolls for Cook Children’s where I work and helped us deliver a few times. She was a lover family on so many levels. She loved genealogy and knowing her roots. She studied and taught it to all of us. She thought it was so important to know where you came from. She also was an amazing storyteller. She told the best stories and you would always felt like you were right there. She not only told her own stories, but she cared about other people and wanted to know their stories and then she would tell their stories. I love that. That is legacy, that is how we honor others, by embracing their stories. Granny was also a woman of faith. It wasn’t until my college years that she and I talked openly about the Lord. But I can remember our conversations and I can remember one of them moving me to tears…I don’t remember why, but I remember that the Spirit was strong, and it was the first time that I understood just how much my Granny loved her Savior. She loved teaching Sunday school at her churches Oak Park United Methodist in Paris and Wesley United Methodist in White Settlement and leading people in the Word., and I imagine she was good at it though I only got to be in one of her classes. Here in the last few months Granny would take her Bible with her around her living area. One day my dad asked her what she liked to read and she told him that she opened it up and read whatever was there. I have some great memories of Granny, but a few that come to mind was when I was probably seven and we were visiting Papa and Granny in Bryan. She tried to tell me that the tuna fish sandwich she made for me was actually chicken salad. I knew she was tricking me, but she made me try it and I hated it and I didn’t eat it. And later in seventh grade, my family was getting ready to relocate to California for a short time. I was begging my parents to please, please let me live with my best friend for the year so that I didn’t have to leave behind all my people. Granny took me into my room, sat on the bed next to me and firmly looked at me and said, “You will go where your family goes. Now you are not going to ask about it being a different way. You will honor your mother and daddy and you will go.” I went. I have fond memories of Granny and Papa living on Lake Fork. I think they are the fondest because the family was often all together. I remember catching fish off the dock with Papa and having holiday celebrations. I loved that house that they designed and built because there was a porch all the way around it. It was also really special to me that Granny was born on her mom’s birthday – her 19th birthday and that she and I shared a birthday month. I also loved that Granny always called me “sweet angel” and she went on to call all my girls sweet angels too. Now she is surrounded by sweet angels.
This is the first time I have had to really articulate what I believe about death and Heaven because I have 3 little girls, and two have lots of questions. And I’m so grateful to know where Granny’s spirit is residing and what beauty she is beholding in the Glorious Light of Jesus. That assurance is amazing. But life is not always easy and these moments, they are hard, sometimes, debilitating. We long for something more… And yet, they are sacred moments. They are what I like to call thin moments, holy moments, the moments where Heaven is breaking into earth and we are seeing a picture of the Kingdom. One of those moments is now. But there have been lots of those moments in the last few months. And there have been many people who have entered into these moments with our family. I want to honor and recognize all the caregivers who chose to hang in these moments and embrace them as hard and difficult as they have been. As a healthcare professional, I know what an honor and privilege it is to share these moments with a family and be invited into their story. As I was leaving from seeing Granny on Thursday, I thanked Vikki the hospice nurse that was with Granny, and she replied, “It is an honor.” And I deeply understood what she meant. It’s an honor to usher life into this world, and it’s an honor to usher lives into the Kingdom. Along with mom, Kathryn, my dad, Mark, my Uncle Robert, and Jo Ann, Granny’s sister, there were a host of ushers that surrounded Granny these last few months. Barbara cared for Granny selflessly for several months and loved her well. My husband, Ross, and coworker Richard loved and cared for Granny for several months as her home health team. And she loved them and felt safe with them, often recognizing them and calling them over for a chat. Later hospice took over and Audrey cared for and loved Granny. Other ushers are Vikki, Shellie, Renee, Sasha, Dee, Sandra, Michelle, Henrietta, Vanessa, Lisa, Rosie, Ann Marie, and Tiffany. Shellie asked me the other night if I remembered what she promised me…I didn’t remember, but she reminded me that she promised to be there for Granny from the day she arrived to the day she went home. That was true of all of these women and men. It is a beautiful and sacred act of worship to hang in the moments of life with people. May you all know the Prince of Peace and the Glory of Kingdom and may you know the beauty of the Kingdom you brought as Granny’s ushers and friends. We love you, thank you and honor you.