We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofCaleigh Patterson

Ellen Cavanaugh was a wife, mother, grandmother, and violinist. She married a man, bringing light and joy to his life, and from the fruits of their love, brought forth their precious children, combining their  love and heritage into one sensitive string. She taught her kin to be true to themselves, guiding them towards success. She had grandchildren, smothering them with her love, and providing them with pancakes and pretzels. She was a violinist, teaching violinists the art of the strings, how to create the lovely music that was so dear to her. She was the kindest woman you’d ever met, trying to stay positive in the midst of it all, intelligent, funny, and fearless.  She was my s’mores grandma. I loved her. I always enjoyed hiding and exploring in her house, seeing all the exquisite figurines of violins and other items from her travels. My brother and I loved to spend the night at her home, sleeping in a room with twin beds and awakening to her amazing breakfasts - delicately prepared omelets and homemade pancakes.  We frequently cooked and baked together. One vivid memory I treasure is of us slicing zucchini in my grandmother’s camper while making zucchini bread. She also made delicious pretzels tossed with a spice mixture. Since music ran in our blood, we went to the orchestra quite often, which has made me appreciate classical music. She was reasonably healthy, but with some mild heart problems and a broken wrist. She had to undergo surgery for her wrist. After persevering through physical therapy, she could play again and continued to help the children at her church. We were happy, but it wasn’t to last.  In fourth grade, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. I recall her wig. Before chemo, she had beautiful mahogany hair. Her wig was dirty- blonde and long. I despised it. It made me uncomfortable and caused me to distance myself from her.  In December 2016, we thought we had beaten cancer. She would live; my tired grandma could be strong again. It was the illusion of victory. In December of 2018, cancer returned. We tried everything, but nothing worked.  Over summer break, before my eighth-grade year, my grandmother succumbed to cancer. In-home hospice helped her get her as comfortable as possible, providing her with oxygen and pain medication. It broke my heart to see her this way. Even though my parents and other adults had their times of strife, I’ve never seen such sorrow, resignation, and fear. On one of our last visits, we played Chinese checkers: her favorite game. We talked, and at that moment in time, I saw her fear. She passed on July 23, 2019.  We estimated a total of 300 people for her funeral, but there were 500. The influence she had on the people, many recounting some of their memories, was uncanny. This woman was even considerate in death. A short, sweet service, honoring her love of music and scripture, not requiring her best friend (a pastor) to officiate. After, her best friend was there for me, helping me find peace in the church.  I was only 12 when my grandmother passed. I had given in to the thought that my family would be there forever. I realized the regret I had. When she needed me the most, I had not wanted to go to her retirement home. The elderly made me feel uneasy. The shame I felt was bright like a hot iron laid upon my heart, for what granddaughter would forsake their grandmother so quickly, especially one that loved so easily. I had let myself undermine the love I had felt for her. And now I know not to leave words unspoken and to live without regret, embrace every moment, and trust in faith. 

© Caleigh Patterson. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.