My grandmother died a week ago Friday. She was the last of my grandparents to go, the last of her siblings, and it feels, in some ways, the last of her generation (except for many of my hospice patients, of course). I mean, They don’t make people like her anymore. Today was her funeral. It was amazing. If Jesus is even half as glorified in my life and subsequent remembrances as he was today in this one woman’s celebration of life, I will be delighted. Speaking of celebrations, here’s my contribution to the service:
I always felt like the undeservedly lucky grandkid. As the oldest one, I got to know all my grandparents longer—and I always thought, better—than the rest of the grandchildren. But I also spent five summers living with Grandma and Grandpa M when I worked at Camp Cedarwood, and so I felt like I got to know Grandma best of all.
It turns out (because as a hospice chaplain, I do this a lot), it’s much easier to write a eulogy for someone you’ve only known six months than someone who has been an active force and a constant part of the background for your entire life. From her reading Elsa Beskow books to me as a child, to her accompanying me and her niece Hali to the Newport Folk Festival to hear Uncle Phil play, there are so many memories of Grandma it’s really difficult to distill it to just a few.
In the end, it comes down to a word association exercise, in which anyone who knew her for any length of time could participate. I say her name and the first word that comes to my mind is “enthusiastic.” Then all the other words would be the things she was famously enthusiastic about, like Sweden, New England, fried clams, hot dogs beans and brown bread, Delekta’s coffee cabinets, Rhode Island, Christmas, hymns… but the word I always think of when I think of Grandma M is “celebration.”
That woman hardly drank a drop of alcohol in her life, but she is the most celebratory person I’ve ever met—still, and it’s been a lot of years since the memorable Christmases at Salisbury Road. It was Grandma’s ability to make a celebration out of the most mundane that helped me clue into the fact that God Himself loves parties. (It’s in the Bible. Look it up.)
I suspect Grandma’s ability to celebrate the insignificant and mundane came out of the fact that she knew that the basis of all celebration—the One really worth celebrating—was God Himself. And she knew God Himself, and wanted to enfold everyone else she knew and loved so enthusiastically into the celebration of Him with her. She wanted everyone she knew, and everyone she met, and most especially her close and extended family, to join in this celebration of the God she loved, and who loved her, so much. She could get pretty single minded about this.
Back in 1995 I wrote a sonnet about her. I’m not a poet, so be bear with me. Grandma had a glass eye. In the poem I play that detail off a saying of Jesus in Matthew 6:22, which in the King James Version, says, “If, therefore, thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.”
If Thine Eye Be Single
“You’ll lose an eye!” But when she talked like that,
We knew we might, because she really had.
Her glass eye, staring solo, soaked in what
Was normally a juice glass. Bathrobe-clad,
She fed us, and my one-eyed grandma might
Have scared me but was Grandma, and I loved
Her, and her whole body was full of light
Because her eye was single, fixed, unmoved.
She shone like Christmas candles in July—
Like blind Lucia’s crown. And when the winds
And winter came at last, and when her eye
That was of flesh, and not of glass, grew dim,
Her Christmas candles sputtered but remained
Alight still, and her vision stayed the same.
Grandma’s alive, and where she is now—in the presence of the One she spent her whole life urging us to celebrate—her celebration (which is really worship) is pure and true, and even more uninhibited than she ever was here with us. I’ll bet, though, she’s still heckling Jesus to get every last one of us into the party.