Where do I begin? We all know death is inevitable. Whether you’re expecting someone to die or it comes out of the blue, it is going to happen to each person regardless. It is also well known that everyone handles death differently. Some people hold all their emotions inside while others cry and babble Til the cows come home. I am a little bit of both, mainly the latter.
To the world, Ella Kate Willingham is a 102 year old woman. She was born in 1913 and raised four of her own children, followed by numerous grand children and great grand children. Can you imagine? Living one hundred and two years. All the things she has seen and experienced? It completely blows my mind.
To me, Ella Kate Willingham is my Neene, my great grandma. She helped raise me, took me to church, drove me to school and cooked for me. She is the strongest, most beautiful woman in the world, to me.
I remember staying at her house on Lake Weir Avenue eating tuna sandwiches and watching Madeline. I remember one time when she drove Jordan and I to Osceola Middle School and totally ignored our yells that a speed bump was coming up so she proceeded to catch some air in her champagne colored Corolla.
When my friend Morgan and I would hag out at her house, she would let us use whatever sewing supplies we wanted so we could make our own “fashion” pieces. She always had Reese’s cups in the fridge for snacks and oatmeal on the stove for breakfast.
Because of her, I have a high standard of food. Her recipes are out of this world. Whether it be her gooey butter cake, pound cake with fudge frosting or her crescent cookies, I could literally lick the plate clean. Her fried chicken, candied carrots and peas were phenomenal too. Oh, and we always mixed bacon into our oatmeal at her house, too.
What I admire most about Neene, is her selflessness. She lived to make others happy. She would always ask me what I wanted to eat, if I needed any money, what I wanted to do. She always put me first. There was a point in my life when I lived with her for a while and that woman never missed cooking a meal for me and making sure I was up and ready for school. She has always only wanted the best for me.
Neene is my favorite person in this world. If you didn’t know that, then you don’t know me that well. I plan to name our first daughter after her: Kennedy Ella. When I look down at my wedding band, I am always brought back to a flood of memories of Neene because it was her wedding band originally.
I’m crying as I type this because of how hard today has been. My mom texted me this morning and let me know that Neene wasn’t doing well. She was unresponsive and mom said it’d be best if I came home. I wasted no time packing my bags (not sure what clothes I brought with me… It was all a blur), loading the car and grabbing a dog to bring with me. I rushed through goodbye with my husband and hit the road. Through the 8 hour drive I was just a mix of emotions. One minute I’d be singing along with the radio and the next I would be bawling my eyes out.
Every mile a memory.
Seeing my Neene laying in that bed was absolutely heartbreaking. The strongest woman I have ever known, someone who’s lived 102 years, is lying in a bed with her eyes closed on the brink of going home to be with the Lord. My heart aches, my eyes are sore and my head is throbbing. I want what’s best for her, but I can’t help but be selfish. She’s my Neene, My great grandma and my hero. Why can’t she be that for my kids, too? Why does she have to leave me? Every time I come home she is the first person I visit. Even though the past few times she hasn’t been all there, she has always known who I am and asked me how I liked the Carolinas.
Death is inevitable but it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Being here in the same city as my Neene is definitely better than being in Charlotte, 8 hours away. I just hope my memories of her will help me through this difficult time.