This holiday season is the first time in my life I find myself celebrating Christmas without a grandparent. My grandma died just a few days short of her 91st birthday this past October, and she was the last of my living grandparents.
I have thought of her often since her passing, and I think of her especially now in this holiday season. I miss her very much.
These are the words I shared at her funeral on October 14, 2012:
Today is my grandma’s birthday. She would have turned 91 years old today. I wish she could be here with us so we could celebrate together, but at the same time I’m thrilled and thankful that she gets to spend her birthday in the presence of her Lord and Savior. She can celebrate with her husband, her parents and so many family and friends who have gone on before her.
I’ve always struggled with what to get my grandma for her birthday. But I knew what she wanted most of all—the gift of presence. She didn’t want stuff, she just wanted us her family and friends with her.
I can recall her talking often of how much she enjoyed being with her friends, traveling to see old friends, making new friends at church, playing cards and spending time together.
And I know firsthand how much my grandma loved her family and loved having us around. Holidays were special and she worked hard to make sure we all had a great time together as a family.
She always appreciated pictures of family as gifts and she surrounded herself with them—her walls were literally covered with pictures so she could feel like we were there with her all the time.
I remember how pleased she was when we would come by to visit and how sad she was when we had to leave. There was never enough time to visit. But even if my family and I could only stop by for a few minutes as we were passing through town, she was always so happy to see us. And she was anxious for us to come back soon.
I know she lit up every time my mom came over to help her keep her space at Arbor Trace tidy and well-stocked. Or when mom would take her out to eat or to run errands. She loved her family and she always loved having us around.
When I was young I used to go over to my grandparents a lot. Sometimes I’d go over on a Friday night and go to the Y where she worked as a lifeguard before spending the night at her house. My memories of grandma are of her in constant motion. Cooking, cleaning, moving the furniture, hanging out the wash on the clothesline in the backyard. Moving, moving, moving until the work was done. Then she’d settle down to watch some Dukes of Hazzard or BJ & the Bear on TV.
My impression was she always worked hard—to serve the family and especially my grandfather.
I remember him coming home from work for lunch when I was small. Grandma would have the kitchen table full of food—potroast, rhubarb from the backyard, white grape jelly she’d made herself. We’d sit around the table and eat, then he’d head back to work and she’d go back to her cleaning and keeping the house.
In the later years as her body didn’t allow her to do as much, I think it was hard on her. I can’t tell you how many times I called her and said “what have you been up to Grandma” and she’d say with disgust “Oh, a whole lot of nothing.” Then when I’d dig a little more I’d hear about all the cross-stitching and bingo-playing and gallivanting around town she’d done. For her if you weren’t always in constant motion, something was wrong.
When her parents’ generation got older, grandma cared for them selflessly. She was such a role model in how to care for others. And she never wanted to be a burden to her own children, but she graciously let them help care for her when she could no longer do it on her own.
As my generation began having kids, we’d bring our babies home to Grandma and she always had to hold them. And she would sit and hold these babies and talk her head off to them as if they could respond. She’d clean up their spit-up and occasionally blurt out “God love it”, whether “it” was a girl or a boy. She’d let the babies fall asleep in her arms and then she’d protest earnestly, but quietly, when you tried to relieve her. She loved us all—especially the little ones.
My grandma enjoyed life and had fun whenever she could. It seems like she was always smiling or laughing. She was fun to be around.
I remember her shrieking “woo-woo” when my grandfather tickled her or dropped some ice down her shirt. And I recall her often yelling “Bob!” good-naturedly after he’d snuck up and scared her while she was working.
And what other 89-year-old do you know who’d go hang out till 2 or 3 in the morning on a Friday night wherever her son was playing his guitar and singing his music?
She’d often say exactly what was on her mind and a lot of the time it came across like a wisecrack—I loved that. My wife remembers the time a few years ago when grandma was sitting in the kitchen as the women were preparing food for a family gathering. Grandma didn’t have the strength or energy to help, but she wanted to be there. As she laughed and talked, she ate the whole plate of vegetable dip that was meant for the rest of the family. When they noticed, they said “Grandma! You ate all the dip.” And she replied, “well, it was just sitting there and I guess I was hungry!”
Grandma loved life and she enjoyed it to the fullest. And she loved her family and was never happier than when we were all together.
I, for one, want to honor her by enjoying every day God gives me on this planet and taking every opportunity to be together as a family while there’s still time.
I think that’s probably the best birthday gift I can give my grandma today.