Real life continues around you whether you want it to or not. And over the last few years as we have juggled Cowden’s Syndrome, my dear Grandma has battled Alzheimer’s Disease. This disease is far too common and not for the faint of heart. When it was named “The Long Goodbye” it was appropriately so. That goodbye came to its end for my Grandma last week, and her “Celebration of Life” was today. Her influence on my life can not be understated.
While I am acutely aware how lucky I am to have had my grandparents for so long, there is a special kind of loss when you’ve been fortunate enough to have grandparents into adulthood. Below is a transcript of the eulogy I delivered today. Pictures were just added for good fun.
It has been so hard to gather my thoughts. I love to write, but it is a formidable task to speak to the end of an era, while teasing apart the pair that was “Grandma and Pop,” in order to spend a few moments remembering Grandma.
Grandma was small and strong, faithful, feisty, loyal, fierce, firm, and dedicated.
Besides being “small,” which is a ship that sailed for me decades ago, I aspire to be like my grandmother. Sometimes she said very little, but what she said was always full of meaning. And it was not the fluffy philosophical stuff. It was straight to the point. You always knew where you stood with Grandma.
I grew up on the first floor of the two family house they resided in for over 50 years. I spent some formative years there, from 5 to 15, where I was loved unconditionally and held to a high standard all the time. Those years shaped my character, and I will be forever grateful.
I can remember learning to keep myself busy, sorting buttons from a glass jar, while I sat on the kitchen floor. I remember watching Grandma cook, and iron – two things I DEFINITELY did NOT pick up from her. I remember tasting cookies, and waffles, and the best lemon meringue pie I’ll ever eat.
She was active her whole life. She took walks all around the neighborhood for many years. I watched her climb up and down the two flights of stairs to the basement to do laundry, and up again into the attic to get whatever was stored in their “pantry”. That attic had a pantry that could have helped the block survive a natural disaster. They were always prepared.
I remember fighting with my sister Lisa, back when it was just the two of us. I remember being scolded, firmly (and we’ll leave that there..) and being told we needed to look out for each other. Now we are more grandchildren, and great-grandchildren too. I remember. And we will. We all will.
I remember the times I disappointed. Thankfully, there weren’t too many, but there is one that I remember like it was yesterday. Goodness, it must have been almost 40 years ago when I was touching the nativity scene that I had been told to keep my hands off. I knocked over the donkey and his ear fell off. Grandma was mad. And, even after Pop glued the ear back on I saw that ear for the rest of the years that the nativity went up. Grandma never said another word about it after that day. No doubt she forgave me. But, that feeling of disappointing her was not one I ever desired to relive again.
I remember playing card games with Grandma. I can remember Parcheesi a little, but it must not have been my favorite. What sticks out in my mind are “King’s Corners” and “500 Rummy”. I learned so much more than the rules of the games. I learned that Grandma was not about giving away easy wins. I learned that if you wanted to win, you had to work for it. I also learned that sometimes you lose. And, being a gracious loser is probably more important than winning. Life lessons. Thanks Grandma.
I learned how to be frugal after learning all about the Great Depression and the stories of truly having nothing at all. She didn’t share those stories to garner pity. She shared them as an explanation. She shared them as a motivation as well, although she may not have realized it. You see, I learned that sometimes people have absolutely nothing, and it’s just not their fault. I learned to work hard, establish a reputation, and to give with a giving heart, with no expectation of return. I was given gifts. Through the years I received many material gifts, but the ones forever etched in my heart are the emotional gifts, of love, support, and encouragement.
For years I learned the value of being able to kiss my grandparents goodnight. Our family was not super-affectionate, but still, there was a lot of love. And, so much love came from those goodnight kisses, that I still remember today to ALWAYS kiss my family goodnight. I learned that there is no promise of tomorrow on this earth, and I watched for years as Pop stopped to kiss Grandma goodbye before he left the house for any reason. It was in those moments I promised myself I would settle for nothing less than a man who loved me the way Pop loved Grandma. I did not settle Grandma. And I understand the beauty of loving and being loved.
The days are sometimes long, but the years are short, and our family grew. And as each generation brought more love into her heart, I understood the value of what we had. I understood it, and tried to soak it up every chance I had. Most people are not as fortunate as we have been.
Grandma’s mind started to give her trouble many years ago. No one talked about it much. We just quietly noticed. Although, I suspect none of us noticed as much, or as soon as Pop surely did. Maybe it was the depth of his love that motivated him to care for her alone for so long as she slipped away. I don’t think we’ll ever fully understand, but it was remarkable. A love story like theirs is almost unheard of in this generation. It spanned time and space and well over 70 years.
And when the day came that Pop was no longer to be with us, Grandma gained residence in Clove Lakes Nursing Home.
For almost two years the staff of 6A got to know her. They don’t have an easy job. You have to have a special heart. But, they do it with compassion and integrity. They took the days she lashed out in stride, and sat and talked to her on the other days. They learned of a woman, who even with a “broken filter” loved God, her husband, and her family.
Some time around Thanksgiving, Grandma stopped eating solid foods. And although she would, at the start of it, take some Ensure, slowly she transitioned to an all Ginger Ale diet. And, if you ever bad mouthed Ginger Ale, I’d like to tell you to consider it’s life sustaining properties. Grandma lived well over a month on Ginger Ale!
For only the last two weeks or so, Grandma spent most of the day in her bed. It was more comfortable for her thin, weakening frame. And it was during those visits, Ginger Ale in hand, that we had some of the most remarkable conversations.
Long had passed the day when Grandma knew who I was. I asked her one day if she knew me, and she gave me a crooked smile and shook her head. She said simply, “but I know that I love you”. And, that was quite enough. I asked if it was OK if I called her Grandma, and she said, “yes”. So, that was how we rolled. It didn’t matter if she knew my name. It mattered that her face brightened when I walked into a room. The love was deep in her heart.
I started jotting down some of the things she was saying, so I’d have them to look back on, and I have to tell you, I had some good laughs these last few weeks.
Grandma was in her clearest voice saying the Lord’s Prayer one day very recently. And as she said, “Lead us not into temptation,” she paused, opened her eyes, looked at me, and said, “That’s a bad one…” and proceeded to finish the prayer. Right to the point. I got it Grandma… don’t worry.
She prayed a lot those last few days.
She also asked for a bat one day. Trust me, she had no interest in playing ball. She wanted a bat to get after one of the most gentle aides on the floor. Marlene laughed and never even paused while she carefully and lovingly repositioned Grandma. I was in the room a few days later when Grandma told Marlene she loved her. That was Grandma, right telling exactly what was on her mind – to the end.
She talked about Pop too. One day she said during her prayers, “And my darling Ed, don’t forget him. I bless him and I pray for him. He’s my best friend. He’s been my best friend a lot of years…”
She told me she “had a nice time”. She talked about a trip that she initially didn’t want to take. But, she came around. She said, “I have to go with my husband and my chocolate”. She said, “I have to trust”. And she told me Jesus died so heaven was “guaranteed”.
The day she left us we played music for her. With the help of the internet we pulled out her favorite hymns. She couldn’t talk much, so we played, “My Jesus I Love Thee,” “Amazing Grace,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “I The Lord of Sea and Sky,” “Beautiful Savior,” “How Great Thou Art…” The list went on. And, with each passing song she seemed to settle. She fell into a peaceful sleep. She was finally almost ready.
Grandma and Pop are back together again now. I remember after Pop died, and Grandma could not really process his passing, the decision was made not to tell her. We were told that there really was only a door between them, and the amount of time they’d be on opposite sides of the door was short, especially relative to the time they were together.
Truer words could not have been spoken. And, as much as we will all miss them terribly, there are people who are just better together. Grandma and Pop were two of those people.
Grandma’s passing marks the end of an era. In addition to being our matriarch, she was the last surviving of the 6 children in her own immediate family.
Grandma and Pop may no longer be here with us, but they leave behind children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and friends, each with personal, specific, life altering memories.
I have no doubt all the angel choirs are singing today.
I’ll leave you with the prayer Grandma said at the end of almost every Lord’s Prayer this week- “Lord, bless us and make us a blessing to others. AMEN!”