We take a brief break in The Twelve Days of Christmas – Dances with Chaos style for today, to remember my Grandma B. Day 9 will resume on Wednesday.
Ten years ago today, I pulled into the parking lot of my employer for a day long sales meeting. As I shifted the car into park, my phone rang.
I don’t remember if it was my mom or my dad. I just recall the words.
“Grandma B passed away a few minutes ago.”
I’d just visited her in the hospital the night before and planned to see her again that afternoon.
I wasn’t ready. None of us were.
We’d gone from suspecting Alzheimer’s disease, to learning of a brain tumor, to her laying in bed unresponsive on morphine in three short weeks of time.
She spent her birthday in the hospital.
She was lucid just prior to passing, and my dad and some of his siblings were there to say good-bye.
I held it together until I got off the phone.
I grabbed my steering wheel, squeezing it until my hands turned white while I sobbed uncontrollably for the next five minutes.
I cried until a coworker noticed me in the car.
I found a tissue, composed myself and went inside, my bloodshot eyes viewable for all to see.
I told a friend what had happened and to pass the word on, because if anyone asked me “What’s wrong?” I was going to lose it again.
I went about my day. I attended the sales meeting – my services not required for making arrangements. I tried not to dwell on her passing.
When I met up with my extended family – most of them already in town – I was asked to write and read her eulogy. No one else felt they could do so without falling apart.
I was up until about 4 AM the night before her funeral writing it. I slept in until the last possible moment and was greeted with concerns over the unheard project – had I failed or succeeded to their expectations? Would it have made Grandma B smile?
I like to think so.
I still think of her often and wonder what advice she’d have for The Testing the Terrible Three and Halves – as a mother of six kids (two of them twins) – she’d be a fountain of information.
I wish she’d gotten to meet my little angelic hellions.
But I have a feeling she and Grandpa F are watching over us.
Now and always.
We miss you guys.
Here is the eulogy I wrote, which only grazes the surface at what a wonderful person she was.
Grandma B’s Eulogy
The snow blows around my ankles as I run into the house. My thoughts are filled with B. An angel had lifted her soul two days ago, on the first day of winter up into the heavens. She turned 79 last Tuesday.
As I remove my winter coat, my mind begins to drift like the snow and reflects on her life; truly a celebration of a wonderful lady.
I build a fire as I begin the look into her past. A child of ten kids is on a farm in a tiny town of Nebraska – the house doesn’t have plumbing or refrigeration. A cave outside is where all the food is stored. The snow is blowing over the road where she is wrapped under the blankets on her way to school in the horse drawn buggy with her sisters. The depression hits ten kids, and her dad stands on the porch with only 20 ¢ in his pocket to support the family. The road ahead is full of potholes and sharp curves like the Dust Bowl. She eventually left home before she finished school to become a housekeeper for a doctor’s family in Omaha.
The wind rattles at the window as my thoughts move forward to see B going to live in Iowa with one of her sisters. She is head cashier and bookkeeper at a grocery store, while her sister attends nursing school. It’s wartime and everything must be rationed.
A cousin of B’s introduces her to Lucy, who was moving to Des Moines. Lucys brother, Fred, is then introduced to B at a dance. He had just arrived from war torn Europe. Fred ultimately won B’s heart and they had a post war wedding the following May. Working in the grocery store offers her a great relationship with the butcher. This creates the setting for many a barbecue that the family still enjoys today.
As the flames fade away, I add another log to the fire. It’s now 1949 and B and Fred are with their first born son, my dad. As the winds continue to gain intensity outside, I see B wearing a sundress in a very peculiar circumstance. Caught in an April blizzard on a country road while headed home with her 6-week-old, she counts farmhouses – something she had learned to use as a child if ever stranded. They walk back to a farmhouse to find safe haven at the “Inn.”
As the flames build in intensity, I see Fred and B continuing to raise more children over the years. They enjoy entertaining at their home. Fred builds a brick barbecue with a custom rotisserie to enjoy many a feast and drink with friends and family. When B and Fred discover they are expecting twins, a larger house becomes inevitable. It’s Christmas Eve as the twins arrive. While B recuperates in the hospital, Fred is forced to find the presents that B has hidden – making things a little crazy that year. Of course, Fred’s Christmas party that evening doesn’t help matters any.
I glance out the window and see Jack Frost’s intricate design. This reminds me the design of B’s family has always included parties, friends, and traditions. Halloween parties, Easter egg hunts, traveling via motor home, and Christmas’s surrounded by family and friends are just a few of those traditions.
My gaze shifts to houses outside lit up by twinkling lights of every color. I see Christmas traditions with B’s family are by far the best. B takes command to get all the kids in the station wagon to look at Christmas lights so “Santa” could come and leave presents. The holidays show flocked Christmas trees and skating rinks in the back yard. B makes a dollar stretch to its limits, enabling all the kids to receive something special under the Christmas tree.
Occasionally the daily tedium gets to be overwhelming for the family. The motor home became vital to vacations, providing escape from the five loads of laundry per day and the meal planning for her family of six.
The radio announces a wind chill that makes my chain of thoughts shift to some later years.
I see B with her large extended family, including the so-called “out-laws” who are treated as one of the family. However, while B remains silent on when grandchildren should be created, she has no problem taking sides of arguments, usually siding with an “out-law” before her own children. Full of energy and always in high gear, she manages to provide for everybody. The family finds her a priceless resource containing a wealth of information, from removing stains on clothing to curing ailments that range from burns to a common cold.
B also holds the blue ribbon in cooking for the family, from her white salad to how to prepare the perfect turkey. A published cookbook is put together from recipes from her side of the family. To quote the youngest grandson, “Grandma, why you don’t have your own cooking show?”
During an adult Easter egg hunt, her culinary talents take on a more devious role. A small chunk is removed from one of her cakes, and replaced with an Easter egg. Frosting – purposefully saved for this express purpose – repairs the remaining damage.
Never the one in the limelight, B was and still is our solid rock. Her knack for putting things into perspective was always a phone call away. When her children were at their whits with their own children, B would be consulted. She would respond, “aren’t you glad they can walk, and talk, and don’t have other disabilities?”
Forever the comforter, the one without judgment, she was there.
B was an excellent conversationalist and could converse on any subject. She was a gardener and a sort-of horticulturist who could tell you anything about any tree, bush, flower, or general gardening tip. An image replays showing the farmer in her on a riding lawn mower just a few months ago.
The snow is coming down harder now as I pull the drapes closed. My reflections come to a close also, as we close out another chapter in B’s life. However, the story is far from over as she begins a new book while her family and friends continue to write the book she began. All of the special things B has brought to our lives shall be carried on in us because we are blessed to have been touched by her. Every snowflake I have watched fall as I reflect was unique. Like the snowflake, the love, knowledge, and support B gave touched each person uniquely. We become the wind passing on what we have learned from her to others. While we can’t see the snowflakes of her wisdom and love physically anymore, we know it has affected us forever.
It’s time to go to bed now, as I flip off the lights and glide up the stairs I rejoice that B was a part of my life. I notice myself in the mirror ahead and know that she now stands beside me. Today, tomorrow, and always.
Before I crawl into bed, I borrow some appropriate song lyrics* to say a prayer for B.
Fly, fly little wing
Fly where only angels sing
Fly away, the time is right
Go now, find the light.
We love you Bee.
*Lyrics taken from “Fly” by Celine Dion. I “read” that song (as tone deafness does not allow me to sing without breaking windows) at Grandpa Fred’s funeral four years prior. Including part of it for hers just felt… right.