My Grandma Shug, my hero, died on Friday. I can't believe she's gone, and the pain hasn't ebbed. I thought that after you'd cried for hours, a numbness was supposed to hasn't.

It takes talent to be colorful without being obnoxious, but you did. You could whip up the meanest potatoes this side of anywhere, never went anywhere without your favorite lipstick in that distinctive green tube, and managed to look like a million dollars for under ten. (You could’ve made a trash bag look good, and managed to find the matching purse, shoes, and earrings.) It takes effort to be saucy without being vulgar, but you pulled it off. You never were great at telling jokes, because you always laughed before you could spit out the punch line. It was your infectious laughter and lively spirit that endeared the world to you. It takes next to no effort to say that you’re a Christian, but by your love you lived by example, and proved it.

More than anything else that you possessed, you loved. Your love wasn’t the kind of love that was one-dimensional, trite, or conditional. You loved with an otherworldly and complete love, the kind that makes me realize that we’re better people because of you. Some people let their love make them blind. You, however, were not one of them. You knew that we had faults, but you didn’t let that stand in the way; you went on loving us as if we were the most perfect people to walk the planet. I’m not too sure that you weren’t. (The most perfect person that most of us will ever be fortunate enough to meet, that is). I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that if I would’ve gone through one tenth of the pain and troubles that you had, I would’ve jumped ship a long time ago, but you took it as a challenge. I think you took a sort of satisfaction from making people feel better, and knowing that it would hurt people that loved you to watch you suffer, you put on a killer poker face, grinned (sometimes grimacing when [you thought] no one was looking) and left a legacy of dignity and strength.

Sometimes I felt like I was teetering on the brink of my own extinction, but you gave me all the hugs that I needed, told me that you were proud of me, and helped me get all my ducks in a row. I’ve never claimed to be a strong person, but it was really hard having to watch you suffer and die before my eyes. I know Mama and Daddy felt even more helpless than I did, knowing everything about the human body, and feeling like there was nothing that they could do to ease your pain. How can someone prepare themselves to let go of the only Heaven some people will ever see? I swear sometimes I heard God telling me, "She's tired, Erin." I still don't know how to let you go.

You were always in my corner, and you loved me. And you were always such a beautiful lady. If I can be half the woman you were someday, I'll be okay with myself. Even when you said things that would make our ears turn red, you were a lady. Even when the pain that racked your body would’ve incapacitated any man, you were worried that your visitors were uncomfortable, hungry, or bored. Then, in true Southern genteel, Shug style, you’d drawl, “Make yourself at home…I have food in the freezer!”