A long time ago, we sat at her table – she with creamy tea, me with her watered-down coffee – looking at photos from her life. There she was with grandpa, young and in love, laughing beside an old car while Gramps held her tight. There were pictures of her as a new wife, a nurse, a mom, and as a kid too, laughing beside her brother at 12-years-old.

She told me while we were looking through those old black and white photos that her mother turned to her often to say, “Joyce, you laugh at the strangest times!”

And that, is the legacy of my grandma. This is the legacy of Joyce.

I think about my Grams a lot, because I think there are flecks of the woman inside me. It’s as if she’s sprinkled her life into everyone who knows her without ever intending to do so. And if you’ve been so lucky to have been infected by her, you know that’s a good thing.

She’s been lying in a hospital bed for too long now. Complications of being older and having cancer spread aggressively, she’s taken up residence in that small town hospital where you still have to take off your shoes before coming in. But she’s still here, fighting like always, reminding Gramps to take out a loaf of bread from the freezer and bring up a new jar of raspberry jam for us kids in the morning – like always.

Only a month ago I went to sit beside her in that hospital. I read 4-H speeches from the great-grandkids to her, and we talked about how she’d like to see me rest from my busy life for a while. My aunt and uncle were in the room by this point, and they handed her a card, in which she handed to me. Surprised by her continued thoughtfulness, I wrapped my arms around her. “Thank you Grams, thank you!” I whispered.

She took my face into her hands, holding my cheeks and holding back tears. “It’s okay Grams, I love you,” I continued. She moved her fingers along my cheeks, studying my face as if to remember it for eternity.

I didn’t know what to do. I held her again, telling her how much I love her, holding her while she cried only for a moment. She repeated the words and went back to studying my face, giving me instructions for what was inside that card. We kissed each other’s cheeks too many times, and settled back into breathing again.

I bawled in the car once I left. I couldn’t even drive.

How is love so simple, so quiet, so consistent?

I’ve always loved my Grams, but after we sat in a coffee shop years ago somewhere between her home and mine, I knew I wanted to be just like her. She confronted me about my life, and then told me there are times in life we need to hang on tight with the tough stuff, but, sometimes we’ve got to learn to let go of that stuff if it isn’t going anywhere good.

She didn’t say that lightly; the woman’s been through tough times I could never fully know. I trusted her quiet voice, and have looked up to her since.

I’m not the only one; the hospital had to start limiting visiting times to 15 minutes a person after forty (or so) people were coming in a day to say hello to Grams. “I don’t know why all these people are coming, it’s foolish if you ask me,” she said slowly, “I’m not much for good company right now!”

I’ve seen the same kind of joy in my grandpa.With more than six decades of marriage, something rubbed off on the strong and loving man. After the doctor held a family meeting to tell us what was happening with Grams health, I caught my Gramps and Grams in a moment. “Thank you for everything Dennis,” Grams said. Gramps leaned in to her, “No no, Joyce, look in this room. We wouldn’t have this beautiful family if it weren’t for you.” He kissed her head, and the moment was done.

Their kids look a lot like her too. My aunties and uncles laugh at the craziest times, and find joy in the toughest of moments. They know how to hold on to the tough stuff, and when to let it go too.

The oldest is wise like her, the next in line is hardworking like her. The girls are both stubborn enough to fight for everything that’s worthy, and the youngest never forgets to stay young and work hard. They all give freely to each other, and spend as much of their time with each other as they can.

It’s gone on to her grandkids too, and every single one of us resembles her a little; simple, caring, stubborn, smart, wild, patient, hardworking, and, joyful.

Sometimes in the thick of it – even in the thin of it – it’s easy to look too closely at the circumstances and much too difficult to consider the bigger picture. Maybe it’s a tension between heaven and earth, maybe even between the flesh and heaven in us.

But if I’ve learned anything from Grams, it’s that legacy is made by looking at the big picture, even if you can’t see it all. Legacy is made by choosing joy for the long run, even if in the moment it seems to be the strangest time.

My Grams told my cousin she’s not afraid of dying. She said she was afraid of not being with all of us. If I’m honest, I’m afraid of her not being here too. And then I look at Gramps, I watch her kids and look at my sisters and cousins and all their babies. And there she is, all over the place as if she sprinkled her life into everyone who’s been so lucky to know her.

That’s the beauty of legacy; it continues. It grows. Like laughter at the strangest of times, and joy in the toughest of moments.

And that, is the legacy of my grandma. This is the legacy of Joyce.