A colleague who teaches English stopped by the other day to talk to me about my recent announcement that I am heading back to my hometown to teach. We got to talking about Illinois and baseball. She told me I just had to read a book by Chris Ballard titled “One Shot at Forever” about a baseball team coached by an English teacher in Macon, Illinois. In true English teacher fashion, she tracked it down immediately to loan me her copy. Befriend English teachers. You will never have a shortage of access to really spectacular books. I have a stack of books as tall as I am in my “to read” pile, but I dove headfirst into this one.
Chapter 3 shares the title of this post. It talks about the unconventional assignments Lynn Sweet gave in his English class, including the one where he has students write their obituary.
“But Mr. Sweet,” he said, “How are we supposed to know how we’re going to die?”
“You’re not,” said Sweet. “How you die is the one thing you don’t have control over. What you do have control over is the rest of your life. Write how you want to live.” He paused, then smiled. “Have fun with it.”
It has been almost ten years since the last time I completed an assignment for an English teacher, but I could not resist the opportunity to complete Mr. Sweet’s assignment myself. Here’s to hoping it is many, many years before mine is published in the local paper, and also hoping that someone can edit it down to a reasonable length.
Laura Ashley Grimes (aka “LG” and “Femes”), lover of life, friend to many, wife, mother, daughter, sister, teacher, dog mom, and so much more than could ever fit in a newspaper column, left her earthly life on (date) after living all of her days. Those she loved knew it fully, and she was surrounded with love from near and far. She lived just as she loved, fiercely and fully. She was preceded in death by her incredible mother Sybil Sue Sparks Grimes, who gave her life, filled her life with love, and taught her to live life with love, her grandmother Joanna Sparks, whose sass, stubbornness, independent spirit, and unwavering faith was a compass for Laura all of her days, her grandfather Jim Sparks, whose zest for life inspired Laura’s love of laughter and people, and her grandfather Gordon Grimes, whose stories of travel inspired her own desire to see how she fit into this world that was so much bigger than herself. After a tough few years of loss, she refused to say goodbye to anyone else.
She made good on what started out as a joke to name her children mathematical names. Her daughter, Parallella (Ella), and son, Pythagoras (Pi), were the light of her life, her pride and joy. Of all of the things she did in her life, the opportunity to love, care for, and nurture her children the way her parents had done for her was the most important (along with a sufficient amount of embarrassing them because are you a really a parent if you don’t do that?). Her greatest wish was that she gave them roots and wings, just as her extraordinary parents had done for her.
In her years as a teacher, she taught her students a little bit about math and a lot about life. Although many did finally realize that they use math in real life and she was right all along, they all realized that the most important lessons that they learned in her classroom extended far outside of anything mathematical: be kind always, be useful often, do good, laugh a lot, work hard, don’t take yourself too seriously, find something you are passionate about and use it to make the world a better place. Although she would like to think it was her own wisdom that she was giving out, she knew she was just dividing out all of the things people had added up in her throughout her days, and it was one of the greatest honors of her life to be able to pass it along to her students. She knew that addition and division was the most important math of all because it would continue to grow exponentially. She always appreciated a good math pun. She also hoped constantly that she taught her students as much as they were always teaching her.
She traveled as near and as far as she could and left a little piece of her heart everywhere she went. Those pieces live on even though she is gone, whether it is on a small island in Nicaragua, in a cafe in Paris, on a mountain in Spain, in a piazza in a small Italian town, or all of the places in between. She did not believe in strangers, but rather people who hadn’t had the opportunity to teach her something about the world yet. She carried the people who crossed her path in her heart always, because each and every one of them enriched her life in some way and always reminded her that we are more alike than we are different.
When she wasn’t with her family and friends, educating our future, and traveling the world, she valued some quality alone time, a good nap, and a good book. She did some yoga, wrote a blog which eventually turned into a book or two, and never did quite master the cooking thing, even though she was excellent at the eating part. She spent lots of time outside, knowing there was nothing as good for the soul as some quality time outdoors. She swore it was impossible to be unhappy in a hammock. She saw a lot of the world, but nothing compared to her back porch, with her cup of coffee, a good book, and her two golden retrievers, which she often referred to as her “dream life.” She knew long before that, though, that she was always living the dream. She had people she loved who loved her, work she was passionate about, and always left some sunshine everywhere she went. That was the dreamiest of dreams.
A celebration of life will be help formally on (date) at (place). There will be donuts, coffee, french fries, ice cream, and an additional assortment of all of her favorite foods. Her 2BC class from the 2016-2017 school year will make good on their promise to perform one last math rap at her funeral. A celebration of life will also be informally held in the hearts of all who knew her every day for the rest of their days, because to know her was to celebrate life. In lieu of flowers, her family requests that you plant your own flowers to enjoy and smile fondly when you see them and think of Laura. Memorial contributions may be made to one of the many links she shared on Facebook asking for money for the causes and organizations she was passionate about. Fortunately, that no longer includes lung cancer research because after lots of stairs climbed and hours of Yoga Challenges completed, lung cancer is a thing of the past.
I have helped write a few obituaries in the past few years for my mom and my grandmother. It was sad and painful, but also a reminder that death is just a small piece in the grand scheme of your life. After all, you don’t have control over the death part. But the life part? That’s all up to you. Have a little fun with it.