Note from Mark: Below is the eulogy I read at my grandmother’s funeral. She died in August 2011, at the age of 94. My wife Sheri told me, some time ago, that I should post this, and I never did, but since my grandmother’s birthday is in January (she would have been 97 on January 18), this seemed a good time.
This blog is dedicated to stories, and my grandmother was one of the greatest storytellers I’ve ever known. In fact, when I was writing this eulogy– and as anyone who has ever written one knows, it’s tough to do, because you want to say something poignant and fitting and not trite, but you don’t have much time to write it, and it can’t be too long, but how do you reduce the pure gift that is your grandmother’s life into five minutes?— anyway, as I was writing it, I realized that I was thanking my grandmother for passing her love of stories onto me.
One last thing: as an English teacher, I’ve read many, many personal narratives about grandmothers– so many, in fact, that when a student gives one to me, it’s hard not to get that jaded, “Not another grandmother essay” feeling. I actually advise students who are writing college essays NOT to write about their grandmothers, only because it’s been done so many times.
But then I remember my own Nana, and then I get it: they write their grandmothers because they feel about them the way I felt and still feel about mine.
Anyway, from August 2011…
It never occurred to my grandmother that she was old.
Oh, she knew that her body was failing her, that her loved ones were dying, that her world was getting smaller. And yet, I can recall how often she’d joke about the curious habits of the people in her building, whom she called “the elderly.” Her meaning was clear: “They’re old. I’m merely 94.”
I never considered her old either. And that’s why it was so hard to see her over the past few years, so dependent on her walker and her pills and her phone with the really big numbers. Because to me, Nana will always be the young woman who was standing by my side when I took my first steps, as I chased after some birds on a dirt road on Cape Cod; who kept walking with me, for our usual trip to get french fries during those endless Brant Rock summers; who could entertain the world with her stories.
That’s one of the things that kept her so young, I think– her gift of storytelling, her ability to find humor in any and all situations. We all loved to hear her stories, and luckily, Nana had millions of them. Stories about her childhood, about why she’s called Edna (too many Roses, apparently, in her class 85 years ago); stories, complete with an Irish brogue, about her own grandmother; stories about her co-workers; the story about the night my brother was born, and I cried because I wanted a sister.
It didn’t matter if you heard the story before, or even if you didn’t know the people involved– you’d still laugh and laugh, right along with her.
She’d like to hear stories, too. She wanted to know every detail of your life– right down to what you had for breakfast in the morning– and she cared about the answers. As I got older, she wanted to hear about my high school and college friends, and as I got older still, about my job, my wife, my twins sons. She kept asking questions– right until the end.
Two weeks ago, I saw my grandmother for the last time, at St. Joseph’s Manor. She was very weak: she was in a wheelchair, her eyes were going, and I think she knew her time was short. But her Irish heart and caring spirit were still very much alive, and when I reached in to hug her, the first thing she said to me was, “How are the boys?”
This week, the summer sun finally set on my grandmother, the only grandmother I ever knew, and saying goodbye is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. So I won’t– because I know her soul, her story, is still inside of me. So much of who I am today is because of her. I teach literature now, and I know her own stories have a lot to do with that. She taught me other things too– to love the beach, to appreciate the healing powers of salt water. To value the past and respect my heritage. To laugh often and much. And most of all, to relax, to spend less time worrying, and instead to find joy and delight in every single precious day.
By remembering these things and passing them on, I can make sure the Nana I love– the Nana of the sleep-overs, of Brant Rock, of the lovingly made peanut-butter-and-cracker lunches– will stay alive. And young.
During our last conversation, Nana asked me, “Do you think God will take me?” Oh, definitely. I can see her there now, in a world without walkers and pills and phones with really big numbers. .Her Irish eyes are still smiling bright as ever as she reunites with her mother, her father, her sister, brother, husband, all her friends. They all look so young. And I can see the angels huddling around her, listening to one of her stories, laughing so hard the clouds will shake.