Monday, January 26, 2009

Eulogy for my great grandmother - b. November 5 1910 - d. September 19 2007

Eulogy in Honor of Elizabeth Walsh

Note: I wrote this for Grandma’s funeral

Some of us knew her as Momma; some of us knew her as Gramma Walsh. Still, others of us may have called her Aunt Liz (I’ve even heard her called Queen Elizabeth). These and other names are simple representations of the relationships that we shared with her. Whether we spent the past seventy years with her or knew her only for a short while—sharing a small hello at a party, perhaps; we are gathered here because we have been touched by her presence and spirit in some way. I have only known Gramma for the past twenty-two years, and still I feel that I have been touched deeply by her presence in my life. I have heard stories, from Gramma and other sources, about her child and adulthood, but I am here to speak about her, as I knew her—as a wise woman, moving through her eighties and nineties with uncommon grace, unparalleled dignity, and a wonderful sense of humor. There is something particularly special about Gramma that draws us all in, and she doesn’t even have to speak for you to be drawn in. The special something is her essence—something that cannot be defined and must, instead, be shown through stories and memories. By sharing some of my favorite memories of Gramma with you, I hope to honor her and keep her spirit alive.

One of my earliest memories of Gramma takes place in Disney World. I cannot recall things she said, but I do recall things she did. You can probably imagine that the thought of taking a trip to Disney World with a group of young kids and a lively, extravagant Grandma Mel would be enough to deter anyone from getting in a hot Lincoln headed for Magic Kingdom; but that never stopped Gramma Walsh from putting on a sun hat and grabbing her cane to spend a long, long day in an overcrowded amusement park. Gramma rode along in a wheel chair, and we took advantage of that! We were able to avoid the long lines as long as Gramma was willing to go on the ride. And so, Gramma—up into her late eighties—was going on Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain with those of her grandchildren who were brave enough to join her. I think I learned not to fear roller coasters by being able to see that she wasn’t afraid. For years, I never heard a peep out of Gramma on those stomach-turning rides. That is, until I sat next to her on the stationary Alien Encounter experience. It took eighty-nine years and little alien fingers brushing the back of her neck for her to draw the line and finally scream! She liked to be in on the excitement, in spite of occasionally (or frequently?) being abandoned for hours on a park bench with Grandpa Adam or a stranger.

Obviously, Gramma was brave to take these trips and perhaps a bit fascinating for it, as well. I’m sure we all have entertaining travel stories with Gramma, since she traveled so often (she is, after all, the only ninety-five year old to take a thirteen hour drive to visit her great granddaughter that I know of). Most of the time, Gramma remained quite serious, although I did notice that she loosened up and laughed a bit more over the years. If her seriousness and stubbornness didn’t charm you, surely you were charmed by her surprising yet modest laughter. Once, she made a bet with my wife/partner, Sandy, over some trivial matter. They agreed that the bet was worth a quarter. Well, Sandy and I had forgotten all about the bet, but Gramma didn’t. Months passed, and one afternoon I was sitting in the living room talking with her about something totally unrelated, when she pulled out a quarter. She held the quarter in the air until she could say all of what she had to say. In complete sincerity and with comical disappointment over having to admit defeat, she explained that she had been wrong and Sandy had been right. Then she said, “This quarter is for Sandy.” I laughed and tried to return the quarter, but she would not take it back. We still have the quarter. It represents Gramma in all of her lovely stubbornness and fairness and playfulness. She enjoyed seeing her loved ones laughing together, even when she could not hear what they were laughing about. Seeing us smile was enough to make her smile.

Gramma, admirably, seemed to be content with whatever circumstances she had to face. Part of the reason that she is so well respected is that she did not make demands of those around her. I never heard her complain out of her personal desires and needs; she very much reminds me of a fictional monk. Not in the sense that she was flawless and unreachable, but in the sense that she accepted life as it came. For example, she ate what was given to her at meals and graciously accepted what was offered to her in other aspects of her life. I’ve seen her open some pretty interesting gifts on Christmas Eve over the years—I’ve probably even given her some—and she could find something positive to say about every single gift. It seems that she was content with her life, and the personal peace that she carried within her surely affected us all.

As an honorary monk, Gramma Walsh possessed many admirable virtues. Perhaps the most admirable of all were the virtues of honesty and fairness. I have never known Gramma to lie or be unfair. In fact, she would go out of her way to make sure that, as children, we were treating each other fairly. With her slow, deliberate manner of speech, her words were very significant and arresting in the ears of small children. She commanded respect from others by setting a good example. Gramma Walsh, much to my gratitude and admiration, has shown an uncommon degree of acceptance in her life. She made up her mind about people and situations based on her own sense of self and knowledge of the world rather than by making judgments out of fear. Regardless of her personal opinions and questions, she approached people and situations with an accepting spirit, always offering others the benefit of the doubt by looking for goodness in everyone. In my life, Gramma has accepted me unconditionally.

This acceptance was most apparent to me when I introduced Sandy to Gramma. Gramma allowed me to be upfront and honest about my relationship from the start, and she never questioned any of my decisions. She accepted Sandy into her life immediately, as I believe she would accept most anyone. Gramma was able to look past all of her fears, if she had any, and open her heart up to Sandy. Not only was Gramma able to see Sandy’s loving spirit, she grew close with her. Gramma’s acceptance of Sandy is a testament to her own loving spirit and open mind. I do recall that Gramma had one concern about our relationship: she was just sad that we couldn’t have children. (Needless to say, I guess all of her worries, in that regard, were allayed.)

Being around Gramma Walsh has made me a better person. I believe each of us is better for having had her in our life. I believe that is why she is truly at the center of our family and why she has always been the center of a party. Her presence in the room grounds all of us: metaphorically, she is where the party begins and where it ends. When the family gathering begins, she is the first to whom we say hello and when it ends, she is the last to whom we say goodbye. We are so lucky to have had her for so many years as a grounding force in our lives, as someone who would always appreciate our presence at a party in an exceptional, authentic way. Gramma was truly a force of good in theworld, combating (or at least balancing out) other, negative forces. She valued kindness, equality, and community. Family, I believe, was the most important thing to Gramma. And, boy, did Gramma have a lot of family—biological and non-biological alike. I hope that in honor of her spirit, we will all be able to look for positive forces in this world. We no longer have Gramma as she was, but we can certainly carry her kind spirit with us and look to our memories with her as comforting examples of who she was and who we might want to become.

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