In Memoriam (After the Fact)

I didn’t realize it until I checked Facebook (I’m terrible with remembering dates unless I write them down), but today is the 5th anniversary of my Grandma’s passing.

Her name was Susie Lewis and she was an incredible force in my life. I wish I had planned ahead and could write a longer, more coherent post than this, but instead, I will content myself with sharing some of the many things she did for me and the lessons she taught me.

Grandma was always my biggest fan as a musician. She owned the piano where I first learned notes (it’s still at my Grandpa’s house, sadly neglected as I live so far away). She always supported me in singing and playing piano, even though she could barely carry a tune. I was recently reminded of the lullaby she used to sing, so I know she wasn’t totally tone-deaf.

She always wanted to hear whatever I was working on at the piano, even if it was a little piece by an obscure composer. She actually paid for my piano lessons for several years when it was more difficult for my parents to do so.

Fun fact and quick sidebar: when I met my first real piano teacher, we quickly discovered that she had lived in the same small town where Grandma did. In fact, I think I remember hearing that my aunt baby-sat her kids a few times.

Grandma never missed a performance of mine, if she could help it. Because of her, my parents must have seen me in Les Miserables more than a dozen times over two productions. She was at every piano recital as far back as I can remember, and she spearheaded the receptions for both my high school and college recitals.

When I was very young, she convinced me to perform a simple arrangement of Crown Him With Many Crowns around Easter at her church. That was my first “public” solo performance. Over the next decade I would perform easily a dozen times there, everything from attempts at karaoke tracks of I Can Only Imagine (while my voice was changing and I had to sing most of the last half down the octave), to piano pieces. I think one summer in junior high I stayed with her for over a month and played something nearly every weekend.

I remember especially two performances in her honor, neither of them at a church. When I was in sixth grade (I think; I know my voice hadn’t changed yet), there was a Relay For Life planned in her small town. I got up and sang My Heart Will Go On which I had been working on with a voice teacher. My parents have the video—it’s precious. It’s the kind of performance that in high school I would have rolled my eyes at, but now I remember it fondly.

The second performance was while I was in college. My family planned a special event in her honor at a Louisiana Swashbucklers game (indoor football). Without telling her ahead of time, my cousins arranged for me to sing the National Anthem at the start of the game. I remember the look of pride and the hug she gave me when I came back afterward.

There are so many other performances I’m remembering now when she was in the audience, but I’ll leave it with those stories for now.

Music wasn’t the only thing Grandma supported me in. I went on so many trips with her, especially in the last few years of her life when she was driving to Baton Rouge regularly for chemotherapy treatments. It’s incredible to think about the fact that she did that for nearly a decade, traveling from across Louisiana, and later from Houston for treatments. She loved the doctor over there.

Grandma also went to Baylor with me for the first time after I became a student. For orientation weekend, we made a big loop from Houston to Waco, then to visit my great-grandmother in east Texas (I remember getting my first email from my roommate while we were there), then to Baton Rouge for another treatment.

She bought me my first laptop on that trip, which I used all through college. In fact, I still have it (I used it as recently as the school pop show last spring to run sound cues). She bought herself an identical laptop and learned how to operate the MacOS in her late 50s and early 60s. (She bought my second and current laptop as a gift for my college graduation, though she passed before making it to the ceremony.

The more I write this, the more memories bubble up. Rather than write them all down, I’m going to save some for stories. But I want to send off with some things that I only figured out tonight after seeing other family members’ reflections.

Until tonight, I didn’t recognize the incredible strength I saw from Grandma. I didn’t think about the level of commitment—determination—it took to fight the battle she fought for over a decade. She made it look effortless and we never felt she loved us any less, or that she had less time for the things she enjoyed. In fact, she seized on opportunities to try even more—family vacations, travel to see distant relatives, even summer camps.

So in short, here are the lessons I learned from my Grandma.

  • Keep your loved ones (both family and friends) close.

  • Once you’ve committed to a course of action, go for it.

  • Never give up. But be willing to change strategies in case of new developments.

  • Try new things. Explore the world!

  • Luck will help, but commitment and a good work ethic is what carries the day.

  • Encourage others to take pride in their accomplishments.

  • Life isn’t as complicated as it seems. Love, determination, and a cheerful heart will solve a lot. Then you can worry about the other stuff.