MCRAE -- Eric and Laura Smiths days are filled with Grace.
They remember her gentle laughter and fighting spirit, that her favorite color was purple, and roses were her flower of choice.
They do not need to peer into framed photographs to remember how that smile stayed on her face through the good times and helped pull her through the bad.
Part of her will always be with them.
She loved panda bears. They had planned a trip to the San Diego Zoo, but she was too sick to pack a suitcase. At her funeral, the hearse was filled with stuffed panda bears. A giant panda was placed on the front seat for the ride to the cemetery.
Today would have been her 21st birthday.
Tomorrow, the first Day of Grace will be observed.
There is no greater grief than a parent losing a child. The Smiths buried their oldest on May 11, the day before Mothers Day.
In the months that followed, Laura and Eric searched their heavy hearts for ways to keep her memory alive.
We wanted to make sure she was not forgotten, said Laura. A year later, we didnt want people not to know who she was. This all may sound selfish, but something great will come out of it.
Today is the actual Day of Grace but it was moved to Monday as a way to honor Grace by recognizing others. It is a day dedicated to demonstrating the value, power and strength of inspiration.
It works like this: The Smith family is asking everyone to send a purple rose to the person or persons who have inspired you the most and let them know they have made a difference in your life.
Florists in McRae, Vidalia, Eastman, Dublin, Alamo, Lumber City and Vidalia are participating. But it is a day that knows no borders or geographic boundaries. If purple roses suddenly become in short supply everywhere else, a rose of any color will certainly work, too.
Although its a simple gesture of kindness and appreciation we cannot know how far the ripples travel, Laura said.
The Smiths certainly witnessed it firsthand during their 10-month journey with Grace. She was diagnosed with a pediatric sarcoma cancer in June 2012, a year after she graduated from Telfair County High School.
Folks in the community brought meals, held fundraisers and wore out the floor with their knees in prayer.
They cared for the Smiths three other children when Eric and Laura took Grace to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, the week of her 20th birthday.
While they were in Houston, all four tires on their car were stolen in the motels parking lot. Naturally, people back home rallied behind them when the news drifted 844 miles to Telfair County. But the Smiths were hardly expecting such an outpouring of support from people in Houston. After a local TV station reported their story, there were monetary donations to replace the tires and offers to pay for a hotel room and other expenses.
Later, when folks in McRae found out the Smiths had been saddled with so many medical expenses they could not afford to purchase a headstone for her grave, they began raising money by selling deep purple Day of Grace T-shirts.
Now comes an opportunity for the larger community to recognize those Good Samaritans of the world and pay it forward. Laura created a website (www.dayofgrace.org) and a Facebook page to promote what she hopes will become an annual event.
Grace Erin Smith was born in 1992. She was named after Lauras grandmother, Grace Goss. Erin was derived from her dads name. Her family called her Erin until the sixth grade, when she announced she wanted to be known by her first name.
She was not without her struggles. She was an imperfect young woman living in an imperfect world. In high school, when her parents did not approve of her circle of friends, she became defiant.
Whatever she believed, she believed it with all her heart, Laura said. She was not a person who lived halfway in between.
After Eric and Laura sought to establish household rules, Grace moved out. For six months, she lived with friends. She took a job as a waitress. She did not communicate with her family.
Then, one day, someone at the restaurant asked: Grace, when are you going home?
I dont know if they will take me back, Grace said.
Of course, they did.
Are you coming as a tenant or a daughter? Laura wanted to know.
A daughter, Grace said.
There was a marked difference when the prodigal daughter returned. Her attitude was different. Her countenance had changed. She began calling people she had hurt to tell them she was sorry. She planned to enroll at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville in the fall of 2012.
But when the first day of summer arrived, she began experiencing abdominal pain. In August, doctors removed a 10-pound tumor from her stomach. In September, the pathology report came back. The doctors told the family her type of pediatric sarcoma was so rare, most oncologists dont ever see it.
Grace took charge and became a point of light. She was named Woman of the Year for 2013 in Telfair County.
She changed my life, said Laura. I had never witnessed what she went through and had to endure. But she never complained or felt sorry for herself. She was sitting there in the Cracker Barrel one day with her bald head and said: Sometimes I have to remind myself I am sick.
World Outreach Church in McRae will name its playground Grace Park in her memory. The Smiths will hold each other a little closer today as they celebrate her legacy.
If she were here, she would be loving every minute of it, Laura said. This day would make her happy.
Remember the purple roses.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or email@example.com.