Recently, my wife and I spent time with nearly two dozen relatives from all over the world. The last of the aunts and uncles on my mom’s side (seven in total) got married, so it gave us a rare opportunity to gather everyone under one roof.

Literally—we rented a small mansion and had all of the grandchildren together for the first time. There were thirteen of us, plus a great-grandchild, plus all of my mom’s siblings orbiting the woman at the center of it all: Lita Abrantes, my maternal grandmother.

My grandfather died 15 years ago, and for several years my grandma circulated among her children, spending time with her grandkids and becoming a fixture in all of our lives. All of us, every single one of us, has a foundational memory that includes my grandma.

It was a profound thing to watch this small, powerful woman rest quietly among the “web of her children,” as John Steinbeck put it. Surrounded by the youngest of her grandchildren (10 years old) and the eldest (30s with a child of her own), she was able to see, tangibly, the result of decades of her love, her effort, and her long-suffering character. It was profounder still to watch all of these grandkids, without exception, shower her with affection, ask for her attention, speak to her with respect and deference and tenderness.

Grandma and her boys.

My wife commented to me this morning that she has never seen so many grandchildren share love for their matriarch, unsolicited and unforced.

Unfamiliar Satisfaction

I’m not sold on the idea of having kids. It’s not that I hate kids; it’s that kids don’t factor into our “plan” right now. That’s okay, there’s no shame in it. But part of it is that I’ve never heard a convincing argument for having kids. Most of the people I know who insist that their kids are a source of joy look like exhausted hostages, like their children are behind me dragging a finger across their throat.

It doesn’t help that my experience with parents and grandparents has largely been tense. And the idea of having a lot of kids? No way, man.

But seeing my grandmother surrounded by the children and grandchildren she raised changed me. At the end of a long, difficult life, she could enjoy three generations of people who loved her, who cherished her, who recognized that their existence was rooted in her relentless effort and prayer. There was a deep, abiding satisfaction on her face that I’ve never, ever seen before.

“Then Sings My Soul”

Every morning, my grandma gets up at 7 and cooks while singing her favorite hymns. When I was 12, her standby was “How Great Thou Art.” She would wake us all up with her gentle, warbling voice echoing in the house: “Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee…” During the summer, her voice was our only alarm. My cousins all remember the same thing from their homes.

This morning, I was walking around the apartment, singing her song while doing chores.

In that moment, I realized that for all my obsession about legacy and being “a great man” and creating something that lasts for generations, my grandma had achieved it. She had created, sustained, and fortified a family that would affect hundreds of people over the course of their lives. She touched lives in such a profound, consistent, and life-shaping way that her impact will long outlast her. When I’m old and failing (God willing), I’ll still remember my grandmother and her singing.

And maybe my grandchildren will hear me singing it too.

Resting in the Work of Her Hands