It struck me first as I was thinking about what to say here that I am perhaps not the best person to do this. So many of you were there for much more of my grandma’s life. Some of my fellow grandchildren lived with her and grandpa over the years – and all of you lived closer than I – so you each saw more of her than I did. Her kids have a whole generation on us and knew their mom better than we ever could. Grandpa, with whom she shared her life so well, was there for all of the challenges and all of the fun. And her siblings, cousins and dear friends knew her as we could not; they heard her hopes and dreams, moments of disappointment and times of happiness in ways that sometimes kids and grandkids do not get to share.
I thought of all of you and wondered how I could fill the gaps beyond my own experience of my grandma, whether I should try to learn more about her from you or just tell you what I know. When she asked me to do this – first, a few weeks ago when it seemed far too soon to be having that conversation – then last week, when it no longer seemed too soon and I stood outside their house sobbing, knowing that we were actually saying goodbye – she must have known I didn’t know everything that could be said. God knows she planned every other detail of today well in advance and down to the last bit of design of the program.
But what I really wonder is if she knew that she picked to remember her for you today the grandchild with the worst memory. I’m serious – if I tried to tell you stories about my grandma, you would see people around you whispering to each other about what really happened. My memories are usually reduced to mental pictures, remembered sounds and smells. Grandma’s memory in her last days was better than mine, and she reminded me of all sorts of things past. People, places, events – everything is reduced in my head to whether it was positive or negative, good or bad.
So I will tell you what I remember, and it’s very short: my grandma, your mother, your sister, your cousin, your aunt, your friend and your wife, was good. She was consistently, patiently good, and she was good to all of us. I know this best through her love and care for her family, of course. Having raised a large family of their own, no one would have blinked or second-guessed Dean and Deb for taking what money and time they had and spending it on themselves once the kids were gone. They could have been wonderful parents and grandparents that loved their family but saw them mostly on holidays and birthdays, enjoying some much needed peace and quiet in between. Of course, this expansive family averages a major birthday party every couple of weeks, so they may have to skip a few.
No, I don’t think there’s ever been peace and quiet at their house for longer than a few days. When their youngest child left for college, their first grandchild was already eight years old with many more on the way. The gap between grandchildren and great grandchildren was even smaller. There was no retirement from family, and they kept giving themselves to us. Of course they enjoyed their time away: trips to Florida for spring training, visits to grandkids spread around the country, and most memorably flying for four years to Lezlie’s spring softball tournaments on a single pair of airline tickets because they managed to get bumped every single year – all of this somehow enjoyed despite grandma’s deep hatred of flying. And it was great as I got older to stick around after the crowds of noisy family left their house, seeing them sit down, pour each other drinks, relax and enjoy their job well done. They really did enjoy their life together.
But, with most of their time and energy, Grandma and Grandpa raised all of us to a greater or lesser degree, because each of us – kids, grandkids (maybe it’s too early for the great-grandkids) – each had our ups and downs and needed help along the way. That help was never far away, even if it was just knowing that grandma and grandpa cared. It was easy to take for granted that they would be there every time we dropped by unannounced – or that they would always be at every play or concert or recital or softball, hockey, volleyball, soccer or basketball game (and I probably missed a few sports there). They sat through several generations of those events that most parents dread the first time around! Family was an unquestionable duty for my grandma, and she took it so very seriously, but it was family that gave her so much joy.
And through all of these decades of so little selfishness, so little taking and so much giving, grandma took care of grandpa, and he took care of her. Their love and patience for each other to the very end was wonderful to watch – it’s unbelievable to me how they didn’t give up on each other for 55 years.
Is this where we raise our bloodies in a toast? Because I’m not sure how to end it.
We will miss you, grandma, every day thinking of something to show or tell you the next time we see you. But know that you live on in grandpa and in your kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, all of whom you showed how to be truly, selflessly good.