A little over a week ago, I hung up the phone and looked at my husband with the beginnings of panic in my eyes. "They want me to write a eulogy," I told him.
Matt said, "I don't know any good eulogy jokes, but I bet we can find some online."
Telling jokes may be taking it a bit too far, but I don't want this to be maudlin, either, and I have to believe that Grandmom would have felt the same way. She had a wonderful sense of humor, and she knew how to live in the moment and to make the best of any particular situation. Because that's the kind of woman that she was.
Now, this is the part of the eulogy where I'm supposed to talk about her life. But how could I possibly summarize a life as amazing as hers? She was a small-town girl who secretly married a dashing older man, then followed him around the world! (Is my propensity for writing schlock romance showing, there, a bit?)
The slightly embarrassing truth is that I don't actually know very much about her. Here's what I know: She was born Wilma Clarice Evans on March 11, 1920, the youngest of eight siblings. She was 19 years old when she married my grandfather, Ellis, who was in the Air Force. She traveled with him all over the world, living in Germany, England, and Japan as well as multiple U.S. locations. After Grandad's retirement from the Air Force, they continued to travel often to destinations in Mexico, South America, Europe, and Asia. For a woman of her background and generation, she was not only well-traveled, but remarkably well-educated, holding not only a Bachelor's degree but also a Master's of Education from the College of William and Mary. She was a teacher and guidance counselor for many years, and she was very active in the community as well, volunteering time and effort to help those less fortunate than herself, and enjoying many activities within her church. Her favorite hobbies included music, reading and playing bridge, and she especially loved playing the piano. She raised two sons, rejoiced in five grandchildren, and was even able to hold two great-grandchildren.
It seems a pathetic summary for what must have been a remarkable ninety years of life. But Grandmom didn't talk much about herself, at least not to me. When I was with her, what she wanted to talk about was me. She always made me feel like I was precious and unique and overflowing with amazing potential. I'm sure my dad and uncle could talk about the force of her personality when she was younger -- how she could quiet a classroom full of teenage boys without ever raising her voice, and how strict a disciplinarian she was -- but that's not how I knew her. When she met me for the first time, she became A Grandmother, and she took to that role with all the considerable energy she had to spare.
I don't know what her approach to parenting was. But I do know that, as A Grandmother, it was not only her privilege, not just her right, but her God-given duty to spoil her grandchildren rotten. But she did far more than that. She did something for us that I wouldn't fully understand until I had my own children: She believed in us. Whatever dreams I nurtured, she knew would come true. Whatever star I reached for, she did everything in her power to lift me a little higher so I could grasp it. And she did it unstintingly, and unfailingly. Because that's the kind of woman that she was.
When I was five years old, I watched some musical program on TV with her and was captivated by the elegance of the pianist's fingers as they danced over the keys, and I told her I wished I could play the piano like that. I think it was the very next day that she began to harangue my parents to get me piano lessons.
And yet, no matter how much she gave, she never asked for a return of any sort. She pressed for those piano lessons, admittedly, from her own love of music and her hope that love would be echoed in me. She saw me as the next Mozart, or at least the next Duke Ellington. ...I wasn't. I never developed the ear she had for music, and I wasn't very interested in working for it. Eventually, I gave it up. Not only did Grandmom never say a word, but she never let me see even a hint of disappointment.
At various other points in my life, I wanted to be such improbable things as an airplane pilot, a mathematician, and a writer. Grandmom encouraged every one of these, sometimes with enthusiasm that exceeded my own. She celebrated even my most trivial of successes, and took my ever-changing interests in stride. She understood, even when I didn't, that the journey was far more important than the destination. She never demanded that I pick a thing and stick to it. She never seemed to want a return on her investments. She asked nothing more of me than that I be happy, and to save her a seat in my cheering section. Because that's the kind of woman that she was.
I could pile on complimentary adjectives for an hour. The few that leap most readily to mind are: Strong. Graceful. Forthright. Loving. Beautiful. Smart. Cheerful. Generous. Shrewd. Kind. Adventurous. Fun. and Gracious. I could even pull out a few slightly less flattering words that no one who knew her would dare to deny, like "determined" and "stubborn."
Grandmom was all these things, and so much more. She was a teacher and a mother, a wife and a friend, a mentor and a haven. No mere words could do her justice, and it's time I stopped trying.
I didn't take my husband up on his offer to research eulogy jokes for me, but I hope that we'll always remember Grandmom with a smile, or even a chuckle. I'm sure that she would have preferred us to remember her with more affection than dejection, and more whimsy than woe. Grandmom would not want us to feel blue too long over her passing. After all, her favorite color was lavender. Because that's the kind of woman that she was.