On Friday October 5th, 2018 a 95-year wise woman with a striking wit and fire for life left this world. My grandma, Mary Elizabeth Walls Eshelman, also known as Polly, was a mother of four and a matriarch with which to be reckoned. She served as a WAVE in WWII, earned a business administration and math degree from Albright College in 1944, hosted foreign exchange students as her own, was a lover of the arts, and co-founded a local Meals on Wheels program to feed the elderly that is 45 years strong - just to name a few of her many accomplishments. Grandma was a long-term resident at Luther Acres in Lititz, PA where she happily volunteered, she was someone who knew her mind, and she was quite a remarkable women.
Grandma was traditional and non-traditional all in the same sense. She valued history and culture, serving her community, and giving generously. She loved unconditionally, welcomed others into her family, and always saw the best in people.
She was blessed with an innate intelligence and therefore she may have been known to correct your grammar a time-or-two or to hold you to the fire until you had your facts straight, but you always knew where she stood. She could recite details and family history like it had happened yesterday, with an uncanny way of avoiding housework. Toward the end of grandma's time when the doctor asked her, "how well do you want to be?", her reply was, "not well enough to do dishes." She had a good sense of humor, what we call “Eshelman humor," and a real spark for life, people, and even politics. She wasn’t known for making apologies or having regrets, and as her dear friend and faithful companion, Marty, shared she "expressed her Faith through deeds and actions” and together their philosophy was to take “one day at a time."
In short, my grandma lived well and left BIG shoes to fill. As she would say, “It’s the end of an era.”
It was grandma Esh whom encouraged my husband and I without hesitation, “to go live our lives and to enjoy ourselves,” when we made the pain-staking health decision to move to the warm climate of Arizona. At that point, six years ago, we were dealing with fewer medical conditions and we had the intentions of returning to visit regularly.
But life happens and after a heap of additional diagnoses and mounting symptoms, we found ourselves returning far less than we liked. We missed grandma’s 90th and 95th birthday parties, holidays, and many milestones. We missed life’s most precious moments, and we knew it. Grandma never held it against us, despite not knowing all of our circumstances. She was always happy to hear from us and never resented my absence. Despite all the many things she’s done for me throughout my life, this is the most meaningful.
So now I ask myself, how do I best honor grandma’s life moving forward? I have more diagnosis and symptoms than I ever knew to be feasible. I am limited in energy and the ability to leave home for long periods of time, unable to travel without worsening my condition, and I will never have children of my own. So how do I begin to try to live up to the example grandma set? How I wish I had gotten to see her one last time to ask this question, but I am grateful that we could chat on the phone and grew closest in her final weeks.
For those of us who are chronically ill and feel our lives serve little purpose, I believe grandma would disagree in a few brief words of wisdom - despite living a full, active life herself. By reviewing her legacy, the formula is revealed. . . be true to yourself, make no apologies, have no regrets. Love others unconditionally, be gracious and generous, serve your community. Speak your truth and live your life - in whatever way you can - one day at a time, to the best of your ability. And for goodness’ sake, get out and vote!