My grandmother passed away suddenly last Saturday. I have no words now except for these that I composed for her eulogy:
Grandma's life was a deeply storied one, lived at the cross point between adventure and narrative. She was a woman who always had the right word and could recall the names of all the plants and animals that populated her daily landscape. As a young child and through my adult life I beheld this as a great and slightly magical power. She could walk out on her back deck into the midst of her wildly blooming garden and call out to the birds by name. She would point out the Mourning Doves, the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds, the Red Headed Woodpeckers, and the Robins that heralded the return of spring. I would stand watching, amazed at her ability to know intimately the migratory visitors in her back yard sanctuary.
But her world didn't stop at the edge of her garden. She was endlessly curious and travelled widely. She brought back stories from what I saw as highly exotic places—the castles of England that she explored with her sister Lois, the mountains of Switzerland, and the whole of the British countryside. She was knowledgeable about history and kings. She sent chills up my spine relating tales of the brutal European monarchy and their dreams of conquest. When she described standing inside the inner circle of Stonehenge staring up at the majesty of the rocks making up that ancient ring her eyes would shine with excitement and the joy that comes from telling a great story. Through recounting her travels and reading to me when I was young she nurtured my own sense of adventure and passed on a passionate love for books. When I stayed at her house we would both climb into bed at night with a plate of buttered Digestive biscuits, a glass of milk, and a book to prop up on our knees. She would read mysteries, I would read the Bobsey Twins and we shared our certainty that good stories are integral to a good life.
Grandma never stopped pursuing adventure and collecting good yarns. During her last days she was busy planning a trip to New York and helping my father trace our family history—giving him the gift of names and anecdotes to carry from here and share with generations to come. She wasn't afraid to face death. She said to my mother that if she died she would finally get to see what lies beyond this life. It was another chapter in her life's story, something to meet with curiosity and incredible bravery. And while she's gone to discover what heaven really is she's left the stories in our keeping. And there are lots of them.
Like the time she put an overzealous cosmetician in her place at the Bay. Grandma, at 80 years of age, was passing through the cosmetics section on her way somewhere else when she was stopped by a chipper, heavily perfumed saleswoman who was trying to hawk anti-wrinkle cream.
“It will make you look 10 years younger!” the girl exclaimed.
Grandma, not one to be scammed, said to the girl in a complete deadpan, “Great, so I'll look 70 instead of 80” and left the girl speechless.
And there was a story she told about her teenaged years during the war. Her father didn't let her and Lois date much, but they were allowed to go out with the Officers because their father believed in the old adage of “an officer and a gentleman.”
“Well,” Grandma said to me. “We didn't disillusion him.”
Our job now is to remember the stories that we have been entrusted with, to share them, and to weave them into the narratives of our own lives. I think the greatest tribute we can give her is to go out into the world with an open mind and a sense of awe. Grandma embraced life wholeheartedly—telling her story with grace and wit. It is up to us to do the same, to keep writing our family's history and never shy away from the next adventure.