I've been a bit MIA for the past few days, as my grandmother died last week. I'm giving the eulogy at the funeral today, and I thought I'd share it:
It’s hard to convey the essence of a person who means so many things to so many. Wife, sister, mother of six, grandmother of fifteen, great-grandmother and great-great grandmother—of many more, and each of us has a different set of stories.
I’m not going to pretend to speak for everyone, or to show Ruby Light through anyone’s perspective but my own. She was my grandmother, but in some tangible ways she was also a mother to me. She took care of me and my mother until I was three years old, letting us both stay with her and my grandpa in their already-cramped trailer. She took me to K-Mart to get our photo taken together every year we stayed with them. When my uncle Mike told me to move from in front of the TV and I refused, instead of swatting my behind—like she maybe should have—she told Mike to just let me be, knowing it was the only space I could find for myself. She and Grandpa were the first to take me fishing, though my uncle Mike later informed me—mostly truthfully—that for some reason they only kept the little fish. When my mom married and I had trouble in my new home, she let me stay for weeks, even months with them. When I selfishly and wrongfully demanding that Grandpa give me a larger cut for helping him cut and stack firewood, she insisted that he give me all the money he made working with me that week. I still wish I hadn’t taken that money.
Grandma relished the role of matriarch—she was dramatic, yes, she smoked prodigiously, and like all of us she sometimes held grudges. She always made saying goodbye a long process, asking when you were coming next, insisting you take a quilt, and letting you know she was going to miss you when you went out that door. My wife now complains about my extended goodbyes—this is where I got it. One of us said it best last month on Facebook, on the day of her last birthday: This woman is the foundation of our family.
When someone important to a family’s sense of itself dies, especially after 84 years, many of which she spent as the family’s guiding force, that death may seem to signify a crack in the foundation of that family. To an extent, this is natural—children become parents, parents become grandparents, and generations proceed from those that came before them. Especially in a family as full of, er, personalities as ours, it’s easy to use this as an excuse to split the possessions, to hunker down with our immediate families, to bicker over perceived slights. But we can also use this time to reaffirm our connection to each other—to remember our matriarch, to reminisce about the time we’ve had together, to plan our respective futures together while we grieve the loss of our central binding figure.
I say we choose the latter. As Grandma always said, “Isn’t it nice, this time we have together?” Even without her, we’re still together, in this room, if only for today. Look around, and recognize your own faces in each other. Say hello, tell stories of Grandma, plan something you’d like to do together in the future, and mean it.Take care of each other, internets.