To Pen a Butterfly: Celebrating my grandmother’s legacy

Kenan Draughorne | Daily Trojan

For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

-2 Corinthians 5:4

For 85 years, my grandmother was one of the purest souls to walk the earth, and a blessing to everyone she encountered. While I was growing up in San Diego, flying across the country to visit her in Thomasville, N.C., was rarely more than an annual occasion, but was always a journey marked with wholesome joy and warm, welcoming energy. Even when my youthful mind didn’t want to leave the excitement of California to spend a week in a small, rural town across the country, I was unable to refrain from smiling in her presence; whether she was asking me about life at school, or stuffing my mouth with enough soul food to last me through the next year of my mother’s health-conscious cooking back home.

I broke down in tears at the office when I heard the news of her passing last Monday, and again in the bathroom as I tried to escape detection, and again after work while watching the sunset over the Santa Monica Pier. Over the past several years, she had suffered a great deal as her body and eventually her mind began to fail her, but I was still unprepared to accept that such a constant beacon of light in my life was no more. Very much the matriarch of the Stukes household, losing her created an irreplaceable void, even though her presence could still be felt throughout her home while the family gathered for the funeral.

My grandmother’s life mattered tremendously to those in Thomasville, many of whom packed the pews at Friendship Baptist Church for her homegoing celebration. A devout, God-fearing woman until the end, not even the loss of her leg had stopped her from serving in the church; she faithfully showed up in her wheelchair every Sunday to praise the Lord to the best of her ability. To other church members as well as the pastors, she was an inspiration, lending her voice to the choir and doing all that she could to support it.

Photo courtesy of Kenan Draughorne | Daily Trojan

Especially in times of hardship I tend to detach myself between my headphones, but during Saturday’s service I was reminded instead of the importance of community in such moments. Following the committal ceremony at the nearby burial grounds, I found encouragement toward the end of the family repass while listening to one of my mother’s high school friends comfort her during her sorrows. Several years ago, this woman had simultaneously lost her mother and sister in a car accident, with the 20th anniversary of the tragedy coming up days after my grandmother’s funeral. Although she made no effort to hide the fact that she was still grieving their deaths, she greeted us with a smile on her face and fond words of encouragement, reminding us to come to terms with the loss in our own ways and at our own pace. Even more so than the soothing music I had been playing on repeat the entire week, her resilience and compassion did much to uplift me, changing the course of the day and reminding me to focus on the blessings my grandmother had given me over the years.

So instead of focusing on my final memory of my grandmother laid up in the nursing home, struggling to recognize and connect with the faces of the loved ones hovering around her, I’ll think of her during the good times, with a song on her lips and a smile on her face.

I’ll remember sleeping in the closet-sized bedroom packed to the brim with stuffed animals and pillows, and waking up to the smell of good food burning on the stove just across the living room. I’ll remember the endless amounts of love and affection she showed me while she was still here; not only because it makes the pill of her loss easier to swallow, but also because it encourages me to follow in her footsteps and leave the same positive impact that she had on all who were fortunate enough to call her a sister, a parent or a grandmother.

Kenan Draughorne is a junior majoring in journalism. He is also the lifestyle editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “To Pen a Butterfly,” ran Mondays.