I share with you, here, a photo I took of my grandma along with what I wrote about her and read at her memorial service. This page should give you an idea of my photography and writing styles, but more than that, if you read it through, it should give you an idea of my grandma: exactly the kind of person I hope to be.
One of my favorite things in all the world to do—and my particular, peculiar ministry in my community, as it turns out—is to meet with a bereaved family; learn from them in the course of an hour or two who their dearly departed was; and help write the eulogy. So I’ve had practice. But sifting through forty-one years of my life so as to share, here, about Grandma was very different. Much more challenging. I think—when you really love someone—everything about her feels very important: every detail, every story. It’s hard to decide what central thing so endeared her to you.
But as I forced myself to consider Grandma’s essence (the big picture of Grandma, if you will), what stood out most to me is how merciful she was, and that’s what I want to talk about, this morning.
You know, Grandma saw us for exactly who we were, and she didn’t pretend otherwise. If we tended to run late; if our kids ran amok; if we were a hot, piggy mess; if we smoked; if we couldn’t get along with a man to save our lives; if we neglected to visit…whatever our failings, Grandma saw those clearly and didn’t pretend otherwise.
Grandma’s favorite story to tell about me was that I pitched a fit over having my photo taken on my first day of kindergarten, which was okay for three reasons: 1) she could’ve easily picked a much more scandalous story to tell about me; 2) she DID pick a slightly more scandalous story to tell about some of you, and wasn’t my story cute?; and 3)—in all seriousness and most importantly—she never shared my story (or any of yours) out of any spirit but love.
There’s so much mercy there. I hope you can see it. Firstly, the stories Grandma told when we weren’t around were the same ones she shared when we were. So far as I know, she never betrayed a confidence.
Secondly, she accepted and loved us for the flawed beings we are and made sure we knew it. She loved us in spite of our failures and maybe even because of them. She didn’t need us to be perfect. She didn’t need to pretend with us that we were perfect.
We knew, then: there was no risk in telling Grandma our truths. We knew she would enter fully any conversation into which we invited her. No subject was off limits. I remember being surprised to learn that not every girl’s grandma talks with her—when she reaches a certain age—about the birds and the bees. (“Wait a minute. You mean your grandma NEVER talked with you about??? Really?!”)
Grandma was an excellent listener. She was what you might call a compassionate witness. (I love that term.) We knew we could completely dump the truck, and she would still love us…even if—upon our departure—she had to pace the living room with a rolled-up newspaper for awhile, talking it all out with God while giving herself a rat tat tat on the gula.
Which leads me to another merciful quality of Grandma’s. She didn’t put on any airs. She didn’t even tend to put on any make-up. She let us know she was right here with us. Flawed. Imperfect. Just trying to figure it all out. “Come in, and have a seat,” she’d say: “I’ve got a pile of mail, here…a little dust on my high shelves…some questionable cabbage in my vegetable soup…some hair sticking up in the back, but it’s alright. I’m so glad you’re here. What do you want to talk about?
“Because I have nothing better in all the world to do than sit with you and give you my full attention.”
Mercy. That’s mercy!
And I don’t really know how to speak to your loss. It’s a tremendous loss: a gaping, yawning loss. It’s my loss, too, and hasn’t it been of the slow, bit-by-bit variety? Grandma hadn’t known me for more than six years, and I’ve grieved at least that long. I’ve wondered if part of her were already in heaven. Today, I know she’s all there. I’m sad (soooo sad) for us, but hallelujah for her! Glory!
I’m choosing to believe that, today, we’re fresh in her memory: that she remembers us just perfectly …meaning that she remembers and loves us just as we are, in all our imperfections.
I’m going to keep her fresh in my memory as long as I can, and I’m going to try to be like her in ways that don’t involve my eating cold hotdogs out of the refrigerator for breakfast.
The following sample was printed and distributed by the family at the service:
As I was thinking about the things Mom passed on to us, I realized how fitting this time of year is, for celebrating her. Christmas was, by far, her favorite holiday, and she always decorated for it in a big way. She was the only person I’ve ever known to staple garland to crown molding so it went the whole way around a living room, and she did that every year.
As much as Mom loved decorating for Christmas, she loved giving gifts even more: especially to people who wouldn’t have gotten them, otherwise. She sought out needy families and raised money through benefits and raffles to provide for them. She’d grown up hard and was concerned that everyone have plenty of food to eat and clothes to wear…especially socks and underwear…especially over the holidays.
No matter what time of year, Mom took a particular interest in the downtrodden. The details of a situation—including right or wrong—made no difference to her; she always gave her allegiance to the underdog.
It could be baffling.
I watched Mom give a rooster a warm bath and a “hot toddy” (her name for a warm shot of whiskey), once, after it had been pecked nearly to death in the yard. She wrapped it up in a towel just before it died, and maybe no one else would’ve gone to so much trouble for an old bird, but that was Mom.
She loved an underdog. She also loved birds: especially cardinals and owls. She collected owl figurines and Modge-Podged owls and lots of other things onto little boards.
Crocheting served as another creative outlet for mom: socks and afghans, mostly. The socks never seemed to come out quite right. The afghans would’ve, but she got tired of working on every one and therefore leaves behind a whole stack that are way too short.
When it came to making things, Mom excelled in her garden and kitchen, and she turned both into happy gathering places for her family and friends who became like family. We will miss her chicken and dumplings, spaghetti, lasagna, biscuits, gravy, and cookies. She loved to comfort us with food. I think she comforted herself, in comforting us.
If Mom were here, now, her goodbye to us would be: “For God’s sake, please be careful.” But she’s not here, and she doesn’t fret over us in heaven. I know she’s loving us from there: probably while eating a Hanover tomato sandwich. Until we see her again, I hope we will allow her best qualities to shine on, through us.