Friday, October 24, 2014

a minute for grandma

for those of you that do not know, my grandma (my mom's mom) died two weeks ago today. last saturday, i had the privilege of planning her service and giving her eulogy. 

it was definitely the hardest public speaking moment of my life....

and i didn't make it through without quite a few tears... in fact., the very first thing i said "Jeanne Lee" brought me to tears because the next word i had to say was "was"... never has a single word been harder to utter. 

i won't post the whole service here (even though it was brief...and beautiful). i would like to share the eulogy with you though. 

“Hey. It’s me.”
It hit me the other day that I will never hear those words from my grandmother’s mouth again.
I remember back in the day of “land line telephone,” when we would come home from dinner or the store, dad would play the messages on the answering machine, and inevitably there would be one from grandma on there: “Hey. It’s me. Give me a call.” Click.
Then, dad would tease: “How are we supposed to know who ‘me’ is?”

Writing this eulogy, I have wondered: “who is me?” Who was Jeanne Rutkowski Lee?

She was my grandmother: the maker of Scrabble that you could eat and eat and eat, the most delicious pickles I have ever tasted, and ginger snaps (my favorite holiday cookie). She was a lover of Day Time Television (be it soap operas or The Price is Right) and QVC (we always said she would buy Today’s Special Value before knowing what it was). She was a lifelong teacher and educator, the giver of each year’s “Twelve Days of Christmas,” and a mother to three wonderful women. My grandmother was so many things to list them would be silly—and tedious—and I’ve already done a lot of that on Facebook. 

My cousin, Courtney, used song lyrics from one of my favorite musicals (Wicked) in her rememberance post: “So much of me is made from what I learned from you.”

I have thought a lot about this, and I’ve realized that many parts of me were shaped from my grandmother’s influence:

Spending days at grandma’s house making scrabble or baking cookies laid a foundation for a love of baking—which I still turn to when I am stressed or need to sort something out.

As a child, I remember grandma would constantly correct my grammar—which drove me crazy in the moment—but, as fate would have it, is now something I do to many others, in person or on the internet, who misuse “your” or “their” or “its.”

My love of silly poetry comes from reading volumes of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky at her house…

Even my “teacher genes” probably have a foundation in her—when I started working with autistic students, it felt like I was continuing a bit in her footsteps—as we shared the deep belief that these students are just as valuable as all the rest—and every time I can remind myself to be a little bit more patient with those particular students in the more challenging times, I feel like perhaps I am making her proud.

I will carry these things from my grandmother like a handprint on my heart.

Now I want you all to take a moment and think of what Jeanne Lee has passed on to you. What part of her shines through you?

It occurs to me that this version of my grandmother that I am remembering is not the grandmother I have know for the past ten years. Her body had broken a couple of times and maybe her mind had started to wander of a bit. The last time I saw her we had interrupted her meal for a quick hello. After exchanging hellos and “I love you”s and such, she looked at my husband and said: “Mat!” “Yes, Jeanne?” he answered. She paused and really looked at him, then exclaimed, “You’re bald! When did that happen?” “When I entered the military,” he replied. We all had a good laugh—because, sometimes, if you don’t laugh, you cry—but as we said our goodbyes, exchanged more “I love you”s and started to walk away, we heard her bragging to all of her tablemates, “That’s my other grandbaby, Mallory, and her husband...” Although details had grow a bit fuzzy, she knew who we were and loved us as much as ever— and that will never change, whether she is in this world or the next.     

The other thing that had not wavered with age was her unshakeable faith in God. Perhaps it is this faithfulness that is the greatest gift she has passed along to her children and her grandchildren… and her great-grandchild too.  

My first Bible—this Bible I hold in my hands now and carried with me to Sunday school, Bible study, and church retreats throughout middle school, high school, and into college—was given to me by grandma. I will never forget the special trip we took to the Christian Book Store to go pick it out. I had just decided that I wanted to go back to church, and mom was driving me all around to different Methodist churches in the area so I could pick the one I liked best. Grandma told me if I was going to go to Sunday School, then I needed my own Bible. I hadn’t really thought that having your own Bible mattered much, but I agreed to go with her to pick one out. She was patient as I looked through several Bibles, and finally settled on the “Teen Study Bible.” It was the New International Version with a purple cover, cool side notes to focus your readings, and a cartoon man called Jericho Joe that made Bible puns—it was the Bible for me…and for the first time I was excited to sit down and read it.

On June 17, 2000, my grandmother gave me an invaluable gift: an excitement for my growing faith and a tool to help me deepen it. I could never thank her enough for that.

My dad relayed a story to me when he was telling me all the details of her passing—that grandma had told her roommate that she “wouldn’t be here this weekend.” I like to think she knew where she was going, and she was looking forward to going there.  Not because she wanted to leave us, but because she was looking forward to seeing her husband Johnny again and meeting the Lord that she loved so much.

I can’t help but think that one day, when we enter Heaven, maybe we will hear that familiar voice again saying, “Hey. It’s me. I’ve been waiting for you.” I hope so.