Elegant, enchanting and well-spoken.. most called her “Bernie”, some “Queenie”. All of her qualities fit the perfect description of a “Lady”. So that’s what I called her.
Prom queen, Bernadine Kelley, of Morehead Nursing Home.
As a child, Lady’s house was the last place I wanted to go. Her place was filled with fancy white chaise lounges and plenty of breakables that she teasingly had out on display. I was a 5 yr old who simply knew not to touch anything! This included the decorated marbled eggs, chiming capiz shelled chandeliers, and the life size asian doll made of fish bone.
At age 8, we packed up and moved to NC, with Lady in tow. At that moment, all I could think of was how I’d be constantly force-fed and assigned endless chores. Little did I know how critical she would be to hold our family together.
Lady knew how to intrigue and made an excellent teacher. How do you get kids to memorize scriptures of the Bible? With a challenge, a deadline, and a dollar. My little cousin and I were in such intense study mode. Still to this day, Psalm 23 is the verse I recite when I’m anxious.
Her sister, son, and grandkids
Lady could strike up a conversation with anyone. As an introvert, I studied her fluidity. If your conversation lasted longer than 15 minutes and it happened to be around the holidays, you can count on her gifting you a lemon bundt-cake for Christmas.
In my pre-teen years, when everything was measured by how cool you are, I thought it was so un-cool when she’d randomly burst in song at church. She’d make her way to the front, hand someone a tambourine, and get the whole church into a Jericho march. Lady knew how to get a crowd going. Secretly, I wanted her courage.
I always thought of my Lady as brave. My bedroom was nestled safely in the center of the house. But I constantly worried of how her corner in-law suite had 3 doors that led to the outside. I asked her one time, if she was scared of someone breaking into one of these doors. “Well baby, if they get me, the Lord got me!” was her response.
Me and my Lady
I’d hear stories of her younger days, when she’d pack up her family and travel the world at the drop of a dime. And how she never returned without a collectable. Slowly, our house turned into a museum; a museum that she painstakingly taught me how to polish every Saturday morning. I grew to hate the smell of lemon “Old English” oil. Its thickness acted as a tattle-tale, letting her knew if a spot was missed. She’d start taking stuff off tables to reveal hidden dust and say her patented phrase, “Don’t be nice/nasty!”.. and then tack on another hour of polishing. I did polish some interesting pieces, though. All of her unique décor and travel stories played a huge part in how I saw the world. Whether it was wanting to be a cruise ship worker or moving 30 minutes from the North Korean border, she supported and bragged on all of my dreams.
Lady stretched out with her sister, in Jamaica
She filled the house with gospel music and threw her own personal service before church on Sundays. This was always the reason why she was the last one ready… that … and her picking out the right feathered hat to match her heels. Lady knew how to piece an outfit together. Even at the nursing home, Lady remained fancy; having her outfits matched up for the week, getting her nails and makeup done. You wouldn’t catch her in a hospital gown in the middle of the day!
Her advice was never really deep. But sometimes a simple “pray about it, baby” is all the advice you need. I always admired her prayers. I silently prayed at night that I could make mine flow as easily, filled with thankfulness, with such care for each individual, and never rushed.
Lady was one of a kind.
She spent her final 4yrs in Morehead Nursing Home. Her constant questioning of when she’d be able to come home was heart breaking. But the care that they provided, the genuine love that she got from nurses and volunteers, and the friendships she made was more than we could hope for her. With every visit, there was a new gift sitting on her desk. Each morning, my grandmother would thumb through her devotional and pick out a scripture to be posted on her door. Random strangers would stop by to read her messages and then she’d make yet another friend. She made her mark on that nursing home as the lady with “The Word of the Day”.
That’s the kind of person my grandmother was. Loving and loved.
Brother showing his grandma some love
She comfortably passed away in the peaceful setting of the hospice, August 29, 2012, with the most diverse cluster of family and guests visiting every 15 minutes.
The family supporting Lady’s “Rock-a-thon” (rocking chair, instead of walking) to raise money for cancer awareness
I am comforted with God’s timing of it all…
These last 2 weeks kind of came as a surprise to us all.
I was technically not supposed to receive a vacation this summer, but I did. I originally wasn’t going to vacation in the U.S., but I did. I wasn’t supposed to be on vacation throughout all of August, but with a few mess-ups from my company, the Visa expeditors, AND the Embassy.. I did. I was supposed to fly out this weekend, and once again, my time was extended. God allowed me to be by her bedside all the way up until her final passing. He’s allowing me to attend her service and reconnect with family members that I haven’t seen in years. Just like her placement in the nursing home, I believe that we all are where we are, when we are, for a reason.. whether we like it or not. And for that, I’m thankful that He dismisses a lot of our plans.