Lisa Sweet Cambridge is a communications professional writing about all that retirement brings to her life ... some of it is sweet and some requires grit.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tender but tough.

Two years ago today our mother, Mary Lewellwyn Gwaltney Sweet, completed her journey on earth and joined our dad and brother in Heaven. I don't look on this as a sad day, but rather a day of triumph for her. She accomplished much during her lifetime and deserves her rest.

I think of her every single day. Today, in her memory, I am sharing the tribute written by my sister, Eva Sweet.  I had the honor of delivering this at Mother's funeral. For those of you who knew her, I hope this tribute will bring back memories of just who Mama Lew was and maybe remind you of some little piece of her that you may carry within you.

Remember This.
Mother. Mama Lew. Mrs. Sweet. Lew.


Regardless of how you knew her, you had one name for her. And you didn’t waiver in your use of that name. The only person with the privilege of calling her by more than one name was our dad – Kid, Mommy Doll, Lew, Lewellwyn. Name choice was situational and dependent on what he wanted. The name you used, defined your relationship with her and will define your memories.
In her final weeks, she was conflicted by certainty and uncertainty – certainty that the end was near but uncertainty about when and how and then what. She was anxious to get going, but not quite ready to leave.


As her last day neared, her wishes became clearer … to be reunited with our dad and our brother.
But, she had a few requests that exemplified how she approached life and would guide how she approached death. A simple casket – “Don’t let them prey on your emotions and sell you something expensive.” A closed casket – she didn’t want people looking at her. No gaudy funeral-looking flowers. And, in true understated Lew-like fashion, she asked that we say something nice about her.


This was her way: no fanfare … no extravagance … no fuss … no carrying on. Keep it brief and practical. Don’t get too sappy. Simplicity and truth. And something slightly unexpected.
This is how she lived. This is how she died.


A product of the Great Depression, she accepted adversity as a way of life. When asked about living through the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, she brushed it off.  “It was hot. It was dusty. It’s just the way it was. We didn’t know any better.”
Despite her beauty, she lived her life on the edge of the shadows … preferring to be seen but not noticed. She provided support to our dad’s success in the livestock industry. She was his confidante, his muse, his timber of strength, his partner in adventure. By his side, she saw the world, traveling to nearly all 50 states and more than 40 countries.


It was in those shadows that she reared four children and taught by example about responsibility and loyalty and humility and modesty and restraint and resourcefulness and discipline. There was no question in our home about Saturday chores, making your bed every day, attending church two times on Sunday and once on Wednesday, doing the dishes on our assigned night. There was also no question about love, despite our apparent reserved and stoic nature.
By her example, we knew …
… if there is work, just do it.… if there is crisis, just deal with it.… if there is adventure, just go with it.… if there is still life to be lived, just live it.
When she entered a room, she unknowingly turned heads with her quiet confidence.


When life threw her a tragedy, she surprised us with her fortitude … although we shouldn’t have been surprised.
She ruled her home with discipline. She listened with intensity. She entertained with flair. She loved our dad with passion. She never failed to remind us of the things we already knew but had perhaps lost sight of. She met others with insight. (Did you ever notice how when she made a new acquaintance, instead of shaking hands and saying, “it’s nice to meet you,” she said, “It’s nice to know you,” because in that moment she had checked you out and sized you up, and, indeed, she knew you.)


But here is the one thing for her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to know, to teach, to carry forward for generations. Remember this: Be tender but tough. You’ve seen it in her but not noticed it. You understand without explanation what it means. It’s time to notice it. It’s time to hold it in your heart every day.
This is how she lived. This is how she died. This is what she wanted us to be. Tender but tough. It is her legacy. It will be ours, too.

--Eva Sweet, August 31, 2014