I just returned from saying goodbye to my Nana.
I have to say, writing the eulogy for her funeral was kind of easy. Not because I wasn’t emotional, but because there were so many things to love about her. But getting up, opening my heart, and pouring it out while standing next to her coffin was extremely difficult.
I am not a fan of public speaking at all and usually will do just about anything to avoid it, but I really wanted to do this because it was an opportunity to say some of the things that I admired about her most. Although I am 100% certain that she knows beyond a shadow of a doubt just how much she means to me, I wanted to say it out loud for everyone to hear.
I really thought it was about me expressing my love for her, but quickly found out afterwards that it was a chance for me to sum up the collective love so many had for her. I was so grateful to hear that my words resonated with so many in attendance that felt exactly the same way. I was honored to have put it into words.
I am guessing it may have been difficult to hear through my shaking voice that was often overcome by sobbing. Snot running down my face could have been a distraction too (:
So I am posting this for those who may not have been able to hear it all or just would like to revisit it. And for those of you who didn’t know her, I am sharing not only because I would gladly tell anyone who would listen just what a wonderful woman and grandmother she has been to me, but to encourage you to tell those you love how you feel about them as often as you can. Grandmothers are the best, so it may even stir up memories you have about your beloved.
Time really goes by more quickly than you think and one day soon you may not have another opportunity to look in their eyes and share your feelings. And if your loved one has already passed, don’t fret, they are still with you, they can still hear, see, and feel your love.
Here it is…
My Ode to You Nana
People who’ve never met you have probably heard about your baking and cooking skills that were second to none. Even after sharing your tips with me on how you made the best cheesecake known to man, I still can’t seem to create one that comes close to yours. You were always beautiful and stylish and even though I’m partial, I still think the cutest grandmother I’ve ever seen. Although I appreciate these things about you, they are not the most important things that you taught me.
I have to say even in your physical death, I’m still learning from you. Although I’m sure you already know this, I will share this with everyone else. I woke up during the night that you passed just before 3 A.M. Typically, I don’t wake up in the middle of the night and you would be hard pressed to wake me if you tried. But for some reason I was wide awake and I had this fluttering in my heart which made me feel strange. I thought I was experiencing anxiety, but I couldn’t figure out why. A few minutes later, my dog Butters barked and growled at the end of the bed. [which also never happens]. Unable to fall back asleep, I just laid there. When my phone rang a few hours later and I saw that it was Cheryl, I knew why I hadn’t been able to sleep and what Butters was barking at. As the tears rolled down my face, I also experienced another new state of being—deep sadness and loss, but simultaneous excitement and happiness that you were finally free.[of the dementia she suffered with for years]
I feel so sad that I wasn’t there to make you smile or just sit and hold your hand but a handful of times over the last two years. But [with a special thank you to Rick for this] I am able to count myself one of the lucky ones that was able to spend so much time with you for most of my adult life. What a joy it was to have lengthy talks with you and hear about how much you loved to sing and dance as a teenage girl–like the time your group sang at an armory in Wilmington to raise money for war bonds– but how you never regretted giving it up for your husband to start a family. Or watching you laugh as you shared stories of how your brothers and sisters interacted and how you were so scared to go to the bathroom at night that you made your sisters come with you. Thank you for sharing what it was like to grow up like you did, having to quit school in your early teens to cook and clean for your family, which you did without complaining.
No matter what you had been through–from the humble beginnings, to living a well-off life with Pop-pop and back to humble endings, [but graciously supported by Cheryl & Joe]–you were always grateful. Over the years of sharing breakfast and lunches with you, I watched how you never tired of saying, “Oh my, what a big beautiful omelet,” every time it came, like it was the first time you’d been able to have one. I’m still not quite sure where you put all that food and how you stayed that tiny considering you out ate me every time. You always noticed the little things. I still see your eyes smiling when you said, “That is delicious!“ the first time I made you try a vanilla latte instead of plain coffee. Even when you didn’t have money to buy things you were just grateful to admire big beautiful furniture, run your fingers over the deep colored threads of winter sweaters, appreciate the vibrancy of spring flowers, or just be completely focused on the pleasure of a smiling baby. Thank you for always being a joy to be around and for teaching me what simple yet complete gratitude looks like.
Some may think that being a homemaker and taking care of others is a simple job, only for those who don’t “really” work. Well, everybody that is except those who actually do it, because they know that it is the most exhausting, underpaid, under appreciated and non-stop work there is. From watching you, I learned the exquisite joy of serving others. I love that even when you were in your seventies, you didn’t consider yourself old, declaring that it was your job to help the “old people” out at Sacred Heart Village. I never tired of watching you take cookies, cakes, cheesecakes and candy to share with your home mates. Whatever you had to give, you gave freely and with the touch that only a loving mother possesses. Thank you for teaching me that no matter how much or how little you have, giving is the real gift.
Finally, one of the biggest lessons you taught me was what unconditional love looks like. It didn’t matter what was going on in my life or how long it had been since I’d seen you, you always welcomed me with hugs, kisses, and the feeling that there was nothing more important to you than being overjoyed to see me. Although I thought it was so sweet that you were so proud of what I’d written last, or what I’d been learning about, the biggest gift you gave me was loving me no matter what. Your example of forgiving and forgetting, because it was more important to just be together again, will be something that I will strive to emulate.
I believe that you were given the perfect name. The Swedish meaning of Johanna is Gracious. Gracious is described as being courteous, kind, and pleasant–“smiling and gracious in defeat.” I think you embodied that perfectly. The Latin meaning of Johanna is “God is gracious.” And he was… for blessing me, and so many others with you for 90 years. I will miss your hugs and pats, your gorgeous green eyes that didn’t fade with age, and your infectious laugh. But most of all, I will carry you in my heart with gratitude that I was blessed to be loved by you.
Merry Christmas Nana… Enjoy your welcome home party!