Spirit Matters: Gentle spirits inspire long after they leave

A picture of my late grandmother in a frame on the desk I am working on at my mom’s house enchants me as I write today.

In this photo, she sits in her recliner, with natural light shining gently on her deeply wrinkled, fair, Irish skin. She is cradling my cousin’s infant daughter, with deep love and tenderness in her eyes. The photo was taken mere months before Grandma died in 2014, which makes it extra special to many family members. The juxtaposition of Grandma at the end of her fully-lived life, with Fiona at the beginning of hers, is truly remarkable.

These images that remain of our deceased loved ones can mysteriously speak their lives back into being, if only for a fleeting moment.

One of God’s angels must have stepped in and snapped this shot at the perfect moment; so deeply beautiful and silently eloquent it is.

Although she was imperfect like the rest of us, Grandma was the most perfect example to me of what it means to have a gentle spirit.

She spoke gently, carried herself gently, and lived gently.

Grandma quietly and humbly went about her work as a farm wife and mother of seven children, and she truly loved working in her kitchen. She could whip up the most wonderful holiday feasts for our often-rowdy family, and there was always some delicious baked treat on her counter for anyone who stopped to visit on a Sunday afternoon. One of the hardest things she ever had to do in her 90s was to acknowledge she could no longer manage her kitchen as she once had, and allow others to step in and help.

Though her daily life was often filled with chores, she also had a fantastically curious intellect. She was a voracious reader, and volunteered at her local library. And, while she only had access to ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and FOX, she managed to skillfully find those programs that would whet her intellectual appetite. She loved to challenge herself by dutifully watching “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune.”

When the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday edition came around, its weekly crossword puzzle was the first thing she grabbed, and ultimately commanded. It was, and still is, a running joke in our family that my two aunts, both college-educated and intelligent in their own right, would have to consult with Grandma if they wanted to complete the puzzle, as she had. And, in family Trivial Pursuit matches, everyone wanted Grandma on their team.

And yet, she carried herself with such humility and grace. Always.

She wasn’t showy about her faith, but her rosary and prayer cards were always next to her recliner on her end table, waiting to be picked up in any spare solitary moment.

One of my most prized possessions is a likeness of St. Therese of Lisieux that Grandma kept on her dresser for as long as I can remember. That image now sits on my nightstand, along with a small black-and-white picture of my two maternal great grandmothers, when they were young women.

Although she has been gone for nearly nine years, Grandma’s gentle spirit continues to inspire us and guide us as we make our way through life’s changing circumstances.

Look over all those people who have come and gone in your life.

Who has been the gentlest spirit you have known, and why?

How has his or her example inspired you to live a gentle life too?

SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines experiences common to the human spirit. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada Novak at jzblue33@yahoo.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.