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Jacci Reed: Grandmother’s gifts benefited everyone

Sometimes we reach a moment in our lives when we stop and wonder what our purpose is. Circumstances change and what once had been our purpose is no longer. We may even begin to think that there is no longer a purpose in our lives. I remember reading this statement: “Here is a test to see if your mission in life is complete. If you are alive, it isn’t.”

No one was more of a living example of this than my grandmother. In 1963, at age 77, she became a widow. We all know life was a lot different back then. Like so many women of her age, she never had worked outside the home, never had driven a car and was very much subservient to her husband.

After Grandpa died, Grandmother lived alone in a small apartment and depended solely on others to take her shopping and to doctor appointments. But she also was a strong woman and was not going to let this new chapter of her life deny her her purpose.

So for the next 19 years – until she died at age 96 – she created a new existence and purpose. Every January, Mom would drive Grandmother to rummage sales, where she would buy a dozen used, beat-up dolls. She would scrub them clean, give them a new hairdo and name each one. They would sit in a row on her couch and I have no doubt that they became her most valued friends for that year.

Then she would begin sewing. Having been a seamstress all of her life, she was gifted beyond measure in creating and making each doll an entire wardrobe – shorts, pants, tops, sweaters, cocktail dresses, pajamas and a winter coat with a hat to match.

When early December came around, Mom would help Grandmother pack up each doll with its name attached to its wrist and its wardrobe wrapped carefully in its own box. The first stop was Children’s Hospital, where six dolls would be left to be given to little girls who would not be able to be home for Christmas. The other six would go to Roswell Park, for six more little girls who also would not be home for Christmas.

The last few years, the number of dolls declined. Grandma’s eyes interfered with her ability to sew as well as she used to. But she never stopped completely. She was always determined to make sure that as long as she was alive, her dolls would live also.

I never really understood or appreciated what Grandmother was doing. Now, at the age of 67, I finally get it. When I began my new chapter as a widow, I thought my life was over. What could I possibly have to offer the world? I had fulfilled my mission as wife, step-mom, daughter, sister and friend. I felt I had nothing to give and nothing more to live for.

One day I was going through some old pictures and I came across one of Grandmother sitting in the middle of her couch with her “girls” sitting all around her. She was smiling and happy. She was getting the dolls ready for their new homes, where little girls were waiting to welcome them.

I know a lot of those girls were very sick and many never made it home again. But I like to believe that, for a while, their doll brought them a moment or two of joy. And maybe there are a few of those little girls still with us, all grown up now but still hanging on to their “friend” that made a difference in their life that one Christmas.

Grandmother left me with the knowledge that I must never stop living. So I continually look for new ways to live my life. Believing that I can find light when there is darkness, new beginnings after endings and every day seeking out the purpose why I am alive.