January 25, 2009


My grandmother died on Wednesday. Mason's one-year-old son Sage is staying with us this weekend. I have about three days of marking to do, and I'm losing one tomorrow to child care. I'm sort of sick and have spent the day in my pjs.

Um. Yeah. Here's a eulogy.

I'm J's granddaughter. I teach highschool English, and one of the things I made my students practice is how to write a eulogy. Finding the right words to help us through bad moments is hard. But it's important. Eulogy means "praise," and so the words we're looking for are good words, words of praise to help us remember my grandmother. I wanted to share some of the words I'm going to use.

The first word I will use to remember my grandmother is glamour. Glamour is a really old word that was first used to describe the spells witches cast on their victims, and later became used to describe the magic power of beautiful, dressed-up women. Throughout my life, I always had two pictures of my grandmother: the ordinary, aging woman I saw frequently and the pint-sized beauty queen of the wartime era. My mother and I, heirs to her legacy, have not shown much of an interest in it. Neither of us even regularly wear make up, although we both know how to wield the business end of a mascara wand. But there was a direct effect on me at least, and this is the love of effect. In my twenties, when I started to go to goth clubs, I was inevitably asked two friendly questions. The first was where did you get your retro fishnets and the second was where did you get that colour of lipstick? You can probably guess the answer to both of those questions. I got them from my grandmother, the former beauty queen, who even in her later years knew exactly what would catch attention on a girl. And although she may not have enjoyed being there with me on those nights, I know that she would recognize the spirit that got me painted and dressed with all the glamour I could beg, borrow or own.

The second word that I will use to remember my grandmother is love. If you read obituaries, it seems like every person who dies was an incredibly loving family member, a good spouse, etc. I've been to shopping malls, so I doubt that we're all that good. But my grandmother knew love. She really did. She was the least sentimental person I've ever met – and I tend to make friends with unsentimental types – and she knew the difference between sentiment and love. Sentiment is fake greeting card poems and phony praise and pretend interest. Love is cans of food every visit. Love is warm sweaters every Christmas, in my favourite colour (black). Love is making sure that my son Blake had enough to drink at a restaurant, even if it meant emptying out the monkey dish and feeding him tiny creamers, one after another. Her love wasn't unconditional or even uncritical, but it was powerful. For someone who seemed to have her sense of sentiment surgically removed at birth, she was always full of the real stuff. I was reminded of this in the last few weeks, when I brought Blake to visit her in the hospital. Weakened by a massive stroke, she still found the will to follow his voice, to squeeze his hand, to watch him as he tried to steal her applesauce. I'm sure that all of us who were her children, her grandchildren, her nieces and her nephews were once the target of that strong love, even if we've forgotten what it was like.

The third word I will use to remember my grandmother is action. My grandmother, from her earliest days, was a woman of action. We were lucky to spend this past Christmas together at my house, and although we could tell that she wasn't feeling her best, she still came into the kitchen to peel Brussels sprouts with a butter knife until I insisted on getting a stool and reaching down the paring knife. Despite her advancing age, my grandmother has been right into my garden from the time we bought the house almost two years ago. I had little to no interest in gardening, but she and my mother knew that to waste this plot would be a crime, so they rolled up their sleeves and hoped for the best. This summer I finally figured out why anyone would want to spend so much time scrabbling in the dirt, and I have them to thank for it. There are bracelets that try to remind some of us WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?). I don't really need one to remind me What J Would Do because it would be practical, energetic and to the point. I've even had moments when I had that conscious thought, such as when I was at a co-worker's house for a staff party. After driving back and forth for the better part of 15 minutes and using language unbecoming to myself and to Blake in the back seat, I finally found her driveway. But as soon as I parked, I started to worry about other people arriving after me. So I thought, What Would my Grandmother Do? Five minutes later I was blowing up balloons and tying them to a streetpost in front of the drive. I barely had to think about it because I knew what I should do right away. In the past few days, my mother and my uncles have said the same thing about her death: that as soon as they started to talk about nursing homes, she decided to get out while she could. It would be exactly like her if she did take action.

It's been a hard month for me. I know that's an understatement for many of us, but it has. One of the worst parts of this month has been the feeling that I wasted so many opportunities to be patient, to be sweet, to be funny when I was in the room with my grandmother. She had her stroke a week after everyone was at my house for Christmas dinner, so soon that I hadn't even cleaned up all of the gifts scattered around my livingroom. (No, I'm not the housekeeper she was, either.) Because I've known my grandmother all of my life, it was easy to believe she would always be there while I was alive. Because this was so sudden, it's easy to regret the good words not spoken. So that's why we're here. To share the good words.

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Don't make me send out the Blake. He doesn't listen to *anyone.*