I mentioned last week that the 23rd marks one year since my grandmother passed away. I’m spending tomorrow with family. Since I usually don’t get on the internet over the weekend, I wanted to put up this post today. I spoke at my grandmother’s memorial service. I was determined to give her the honor and respect that she deserved, and desperate to make her proud. This is what I said.
My grandmother was the best person that I have ever known. It’s not possible to sum up 94 years worth of living in just a few minutes, and I’m not going to try. What I do want to talk about is how special grandma was, and how influential she was in my life. She truly was one of a kind.
Grandma had the purest heart of anyone I have ever met, and she touched everyone who came in contact with her. Everyone who met grandma fell in love with her. Her sweetness and light were infectious and she approached people with an openness that never failed to make others feel included and wanted. When I was a child, I was always at her feet. No matter what she was doing, I was never too far away. She loved children, and always included all of us kids; teaching us how to cook and how to make tortillas, telling us stories of her childhood, and playing with us. She made the same newspaper boats and hats for Aubrey that she did for Deborah and I. Playing in the corner of the kitchen while she was cooking, reading on her bed while she watched TV… it didn’t matter; I just always wanted to be near her and she was always happy to have me. Because of that, I learned a lot about life watching her and talking with her. I want to share with you the person that I knew, and the invaluable lessons that she gave me.
One thing that Grandma taught me is to regularly exercise my mind. She didn’t have the luxury of a proper education, but she didn’t let that stop her from learning what she could and using the mind that she had. Even at 94, she was pretty quick witted, and that was largely due to her love for puzzles. When I was a child she would let me “help” her do the crosswords out of the paper or search her word finds with her. She taught me to love words and puzzles and to keep my mind active and in shape.
She taught me to be resourceful and to think outside the box. She could entertain me for hours with a balloon made from a grocery bag. My mom often said that you could look into the kitchen and see nothing to eat, but grandma could turn around and feed four or five people off of what she could MacGyver out of a potato and some spices. She knew poverty and she survived. She made due with what she had and taught me that a little goes a long way when you approach it with creativity and determination.
I learned about love and marriage from talking to her about grandpa. She loved my grandfather; he was her whole life. He was truly her soul mate and she talked about him all the time. She longed for the day when she would see him again in heaven and be reunited with him once more. I learned from her that when it came time to choose a partner, not to settle for anything less than someone with whom my soul would be entwined for eternity, because epic love is totally possible if you believe in it enough to be patient and wait for it to arrive.
A lesson that took me a very long time to learn is one of perseverance. Grandma suffered from phlebitis for decades, and lived in a constant state of pain that got progressively worse over the years. As she lost mobility, the limitations of her body continued to rob her of the things she loved to do. Grandma taught me that life is hard and doesn’t make sense. The longer you live, the more you will experience pain and loss. Life isn’t fair, but you can’t run away from it. You have to face the pain head on and accept it. You play the hand that you’re dealt and you do the best you can with it, not making excuses, but thriving in spite of how hard the circumstances may be. Grandma’s body was weak and fragile, but she had amazing strength of spirit. She taught me that the strongest people aren’t necessarily the ones who shout the loudest or who control and overpower. In fact, grandma was much more likely to listen and witness than to speak out. The quiet strength of simply surviving, of standing tall and going on while the fire threatens to consume you, that’s what real strength is. She lived a life full of pain and loss, but she never let it rob her of her joy. She cried, she grieved, and she kept right on going. She never let it turn her bitter. She never allowed it to cause her to be closed off or shut down. She stayed optimistic, despite all of her suffering and was quick to laugh or sing. She taught me that it’s okay if you have to cry, and it’s okay if you have to crawl, as long as you keep going.
Grandma showed me what faith looks like. She had a strong sense of right and wrong and was honest and uncompromising. She prayed to God several times a day for herself, and especially for those she loved. Despite how hard grandma’s life was, her faith never wavered. There were a lot of things about her life that she didn’t understand. She didn’t know why she was made to suffer and she wondered about God’s plan, but she never doubted that He had one. Sometimes I wonder if faith like that only comes with age. There are those few people who you come across whose faith is so strong that they stand like giants among us, and many of them are older. Grandma was a Goliath in her faith, and it left an impression. Perhaps it takes a lifetime of testing to believe so solidly, as tangible as rock beneath your feet. I don’t know the answer to that, and this is a lesson that I am still learning. Because of her faith, though, I know that she is in heaven.
Grandma told me several times that when she died she didn’t want me to cry and she didn’t want me to be sad. It’s not that easy, though. I want to be happy for her, and in a way I am. I am so thankful that her pain is over and she is finally at peace. I’m glad that she was able to shed her earthly body that was always at war with her, and can now run and dance and be free. I’m glad that she is reunited with all of the family that she lost, especially her husband. But I miss her.
The last couple weeks my mind has been flooded with a lifetime of memories. I miss her cooking. No one was a better cook than grandma. I miss her humor. She really was a funny lady and I miss the sound of her laugh. Mostly, though, I will miss experiencing how much she loved me. She was always so happy to see me, no matter what was going on. All I had to do was walk in the room and she lit up. Her love was unconditional, the purest love I’ve ever known. She taught me that family isn’t limited to blood lines. Family can include neighbors and friends and many of you can attest to being “adopted” by grandma. Whether we were born in, married in, or adopted in, she loved us with the same fierce devotion. It was a selfless love, doing whatever she could, giving everything away, wanting the best for everyone else before herself. I don’t think I will ever find a pure love here on earth like what I received from grandma. She was one of a kind, and a blessing to everyone who met her. And though I am happy that grandma has gone on to a better place, I am so sad for the hole that she has left behind. To me, grandma was safety and love and acceptance. She was truly special, and we are all so lucky to have known her. I feel honored to be her granddaughter, and so blessed to have had her in my life. I loved my grandmother with all my heart, and she lives on through what she passed on to me. She didn’t have much, and she didn’t leave a wealth of possessions behind. What she did leave was the memory of her love. We are better people for having known her. We are her legacy, and she will live on in the hearts of everyone she touched.