I delivered a eulogy today. This is what I said.
I’ve never done this before, so I apologize ahead of time if I’m young and stray too eagerly into the unorthodox or worse, the cliché. Death is still mostly foreign to me.
I only experienced a short window in Nana’s time with us. Seventy-two years of her story do not include me, and a lifetime of practice, mistakes, and learning preceded my interactions with her. Whatever her challenges were, I was not privy to them. As such, Nana will exist eternally in my mind as the pristine vessel of the best kind of grandmotherly love. On any given day, she would fulfill with gusto the roles of guardian, tutor, correctional officer, and friend. She made possible a wealth of excellent childhood memories which I look forward to reminiscing on for the rest of my life; the ride home from school in her glorified go-kart of a car, the bacon sandwich she’d make every day while I sat down to watch afternoon cartoons (starting with Thundercats), the countless hours spent doing puzzles and playing word games. All of that was beautiful and lovely, but I think it would fail the depth of her character to limit my eulogy to youthful nostalgia.
Which presents a problem for me.
I realize, as I trawl through the annals of my biography, that my memory is not good. I have this collection of scenes from my childhood, but the details are so blurred. In these memories, her mannerisms and demeanor are perhaps the clearest of what remains; I can recall the lilting style of her voice when she would admonish me, or how her lips would purse woodenly while she read a story, or the way it seemed like every wrinkle on her face would contribute to her smiles. But ultimately, I can’t remember a lot of what she actually said to me. I forgot, kind of like loose change through a hole in your pocket. I was too young, incapable of understanding the myriad subtleties that no doubt accompanied her old-fashioned sensibilities and warm companionship. I want to say I know who she really was, but by the time I was beginning to develop an identity, she was losing hers to Alzheimer’s. I am stuck knowing her only through the murky lens of early grade school.
Nana’s commitment to personal growth was certainly legendary. Her convictions engendered a kind of super-human dedication to furthering her knowledge of God, and at every turn she was encouraging me to do the same. It was a sort of zest and passion that commanded every part of her life. She took unabated pride in everything she did, making expert use of her hawk-like attention to detail. She worked hard to turn the more mundane routines of her relatively solitary life into a daily celebration, and what resulted was, from my eyes, a freight train of relentless optimism and charity, and that train did not come equipped with brakes.
Her love, as I experienced it, was completely unconditional. It wasn’t a love based on understanding – it was just a kind of fact of life that never required justification. I wasn’t easy on her, either; I would sometimes make it the mission of my week to stay rooted in poor temperament, hoping to shake her iron grip on my willpower. She went for the long haul, though. Her strategy was one of patience and steadfastness, and I would inevitably find myself humbled before her incredible consistency. Everything I learned about being stubborn, I learned from her.
I don’t know how she would feel, to see me now; I have become many of the things that she lamented about our world, and I no longer share in her beliefs about God or the nature of the universe. It’s hard to reconcile because of how inseparable the story of her life and the qualities of her personality are from the Christian faith. But then, I remember, my relationship with Nana wasn’t predicated on her understanding of me or my understanding of her. Even now, I still don’t really get why she was the way that she was. And that’s okay. That’s one of the greatest things about family – you don’t really need an excuse to care about each other.
Her sons, grandsons, and great grandsons permanently bear a piece of her identity into the 21st century and beyond. Her legacy probably isn’t what she expected, but that’s okay too. If there’s one thing our family has experience with, it’s handling the unexpected. I think the fact that we’re still going strong is a testament to how Nana’s spirit of pride and stubbornness continues on within us. Nana is a reminder that to be alive, to be what makes us who we are, is to remember. Without the lore that forms the backdrop of our existence, we fall out of the story of our own lives. Nana becomes now a part of our family story, and the more we remember of her, the more we will know of ourselves.
I, for one, am thrilled to share with future generations what Nana shared with me, and I hope I was able to do a bit of that here, as well.