Insofar as it's a surprise when someone who's 98 dies, Eleanor's passing was a surprise. Until the week before she died, she was in good health and still lived by herself at Southminster, an assisted living community where she lived for the past 20 years with her first husband, Jim, to whom she was married for 53 years, and where she met her second husband, John Douglas, whom she married in 2004 at age 92. A keen observer with a sharp mind, Eleanor still took the New Yorker and National Geographic, and was always conversant on current events. She was a proud North Carolinian, born and raised in Charlotte with the accent to prove it, the kind of southern drawl that you don't really hear anymore. She was defined by this place and she defined it too, leaving her mark on a city by way of not only her philanthropy, but by her kindness, charm, and southern grace.
Eleanor was a beautiful, stylish woman with a unique style. At both her visitation and funeral, the women of the family all wore a few pieces of her vast and eclectic collection of jewelry, and I was reminded of the horcruxes of Harry Potter, the objects in which wizards had hidden parts of their soul to attain immortality. Eleanor would have no part of such dark magic, of course, having committed to a life of faith long ago, but I couldn't help but think of how the lives of those we've lost live on not only in our memory, but in what they leave behind, the objects that though only objects, possess a story, a tale, a memory of their own. As I sat in the pew on the front row of Covenant Presbyterian, I looked down the row and behind me at the legacy of family that Eleanor was leaving, the pieces of her that still exist, and I was proud beyond measure to be a part of it.
The other day Cameron came strolling into the kitchen wearing one of my race medals around his neck. With the exception of the medal from the New York marathon, all of my other race paraphernalia has been usurped by the kids, stashed in their costume bin or in baskets in the playroom. I was reminded of Eleanor's jewelry, the beautiful pieces that speak to a life of travel, of color, of love, a well-lived adventure of a life that took her all over the world but ultimately always brought her back to the place of her birth, to her family. I thought, then, that these race medals may very well be one of my horcruxes, a collection of something that my kids will soon abandon as playthings but that they may find one day that will symbolize, at least in part, the kind of person I am and what's important to me.
Eleanor's legacy of grace, faith, and gentility lives on not only in the memories and stories of her possessions, but most importantly in her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. In the words of the Mumford and Sons song "The Cave", she knew "how to live her life as it's meant to be", and she lived it well, with love.