At 115 years old, one of the greatest humans to live left this earth on Jan. 3, 2021. Iris Westman, my great-great-aunt, a sister to my late great-grandfather, died at age 115 in Northwood, N.D. Iris held a special place in many people’s hearts, including the four generations of my family who are still alive to cherish the memories and carry on her legacy. I’ve shared about Iris many times in my column, and my first AgweekTV story was an interview with Iris to celebrate her 113th birthday.
Iris leaves a legacy of kindness, generosity and simply showing up for the people in her life. She was smart, classy and private. She was also quiet, but her character spoke volumes about her love for her family, her friends and her students.
On a hot August day in 1997, a week shy of Iris’s 92nd birthday, I gave birth to my first child, a son. I was an 18-year-old new mom in a complicated situation. Iris walked to the hospital from her apartment, a distance most people in their 90s would not be able to handle. She simply showed up to show her love and support for my mom, my baby and me. She didn’t share her opinion about what she thought I should do with my life moving forward. She sat in a chair in the corner of the hospital room and held my son, her great-great-great-nephew. Five generations span between Iris and Hunter. In my short-lived scrapbooking days, I created a baby book that preserves those treasured memories.
Looking back to the hot August day, and numerous other complicated moments since, I learned some people show up when you’re in the trenches — while others don’t. Do not be disappointed or hold animosity against those who don’t show up. Accept love and care from those who do. And when the time comes to show up for others, do it. Jump in the trenches with them and bless them with kindness and love.
In my early years as a single mom, Iris and I created a simple routine. Iris loved hamburgers. Hunter loved McDonald’s playland. I didn’t love taking him to McDonald’s by myself. It might sound silly, but I felt lonely and different than the other moms who frequented McDonalds to let their kids play and even chat with other fellow moms.
I would coordinate a hamburger date with Iris and pick her up at her apartment complex. We would eat, visit and watch Hunter play. Iris never married or had children of her own, but to those around us in McDonald’s, she appeared to be a grandma to Hunter or me. I remember a woman commenting once to Iris about her handsome grandson. She smiled without saying a word. Her presence in those simple moments gave me confidence as a single mom.
Who can I show up for this week, this month and this year? Who needs a simple hamburger date at McDonald’s?
At Christmastime in 2019, more than 30 of my extended family gathered at my parent’s farmhouse. My mom suggested we visit Iris to sing Christmas carols. We piled in a few vehicles to make the 30-minute trip to her nursing home. We walked up and down the halls singing Christmas carols, first for Iris in her room, next for my mom’s cousin and then through the halls for all residents. At the time, we didn’t realize how the simple freedom of roaming the halls of a long-term care facility would drastically change months later during a global health pandemic.
I can’t think of a better way to honor Iris’ legacy than simply showing up. Meet your loved ones where they are. In a noisy world, we need more quiet love, kindness and generosity.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at email@example.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.