They say you can’t pick your family and that’s 100% true. That saying also means that there are a ton of people out there who don’t have the opportunity to grow up with a true matriarch in their family. I feel as if I’m one of the fortunate ones who can say I did.
Virginia Earle Stutzman, or Mammaw to those who were lucky enough, was the epicenter of my family and that’s a fact that’s as true as the sky is blue. It might have been her quiet demeanor, her always-giving attitude, or her forever-ready-to-serve-whoever-walked-in-the-door-for-dinner ability, but for some reason I didn’t realize the true position my grandmother held in our family until much later in my life.
On Friday, November 28th 2014 at 11:51 p.m., our Mammaw passed away after a long, hard-fought battle with cancer. She was surrounded by her 4 daughters, who took care of her in her final weeks and months, the way only children can care for their parents. For those same weeks and months, she was also surrounded by son-in-laws, siblings, grandchildren, great grandchildren, friends and even more family. All of them drawn to her for the same reason. She was an amazing person.
There wasn’t a soul on earth who could challenge her goodness. There also isn’t a soul on earth who could challenge her cooking.
I never heard her raise her voice, only her level of disappointment, which was far worse a crime than making her mad enough to yell. She was the sweetest, kindest, most caring woman I’ve ever known and I feel lucky that i was able to call her mine.
Of course I had to share her, with my brother, my cousins Jonathan and Ashley, and later with Jessica and Kasey, but she always managed to carve out a piece of her big enough to let you feel like you were the only one that mattered to her. She had the same effect on her great grandkids and they all adored her for it.
I feel amazingly fortunate that she was able to make it out to church one last time to see Hudson, Elle and Lucy all take their first communion. I also share that same sentiment for myself and the girls to be there when she took her last communion. It was somewhat ironic, but mostly poetic that we were able to say goodbye in that way and share that moment with her at her bedside.
Like most members of my family, or anyone else who knew her for that matter, they have countless stories that can be shared. All of them good, fun and could bring a smile to your face, but the one story I want to tell is the one that defines how I will always remember her. Every time you’d hang up the phone, end a conversation or leave her house, it was just the most natural thing to say, “I love you Mammaw.” Her response, was always the same, and always made me smile. She simply said, “You’d better.” As if there were any other choice.
I told my mom the other night when we were standing next to her empty bed, that the only regret I have with her is that I wish I wasn’t as much of a momma’s boy, so that I could have truly enjoyed every moment I was with her when I was younger. Luckily I can rest easy knowing I never wasted a moment to tell her how much I loved her.
And she always replied, “you’d better.”