For My Grandmother, Gladys

I’ve known for a little over 15 years that I would deliver the eulogy at my grandmother’s funeral. It was in May of 2003 that I spoke after the passing of my grandfather and her husband, Jim. My grandmother talked with me many times about how meaningful it was for me to speak at my grandfather's service. I knew this was her subtle way of asking if I might do the same. Below, you'll find the words I shared at her service, including a prayer inspired by the writings in Marianne Williamson's book, Illuminata. 

This message was, of course, written for her friends and family; with the intention to capture the nuances and quirky personality of a woman of few words and many opinions who could sometimes be tremendously difficult. I was fortunate to always have a very good relationship with my grandmother, spending a lot of time with her in childhood and adolescence. As I was preparing for this speech on the moment of her service, a bin full of toiletries suddenly crashed to the floor. My grandmother had often told me stories of relatives "visiting" after they passed. Without skipping a beat I said, "Gladys, if you don't like what I'm about to say, you better throw something else, because I don't have much time." Nothing else flew across the room, so I will assume she approved of what follows: 

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Those of you who spent much time with Gladys know that she was rarely a subtle woman. She often said exactly what was on her mind...and I do mean exactly...an endearing quality I know many of us in this room experienced one time or the other.

I remember sitting in a waiting room with she and my grandfather as a teenager. At one point, she leaned over closely, swatting my arm to get my attention. “You see, Amanda,” she said motioning towards a woman across the room, “that’s exactly what I was talking about...you can see right through her britches.”

Gladys was nothing if not a VERY keen and curious observer. Based on the cards she sent me when I was in college, I deduce that she would spend hours staring out her window, closely documenting the behaviors or her neighbors. She was eager to share any special information she came across in her cards. While I used to think this was rather odd, I realize now that living vicariously through the lives of others was one of her only forms of entertainment. She’d never taken a job or had an active social life; yet sought deeply for connection with those around her.

I saved most of the cards she sent me because they were rather entertaining. She’d share about her health, family events, and sometimes about what she was watching on television that day.

Looking back, I truly think Gladys became an expert at observing the behaviors of others out of not only curiosity, but also necessity. For as long as I can remember, my Grandmother struggled with her hearing. I’d often find her observing conversations which she couldn't fully hear or sitting off to herself. I know this was hard for her and know she often felt left out.

It’s because of this that I’m also sure of one thing: Gladys Dry is currently sitting in heaven with the most perfect hearing you can imagine. And she’s collecting all of the juiciest gossip from her heavenly vantage point - so I’d watch what you say if I were you.

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A homebody, grandma Gladys didn’t leave her house much and rarely entertained visitors. Her home was immaculately kept; I never remember seeing an item out of place. So much so that I was surprised when several of my cousins recounted memories of cooking with Gladys as children. While I didn’t ever get the pleasure of cooking with her, she’d often cook for me. When I’d return home from college she’d often prepare my favorite: an angel food cake with her special seafoam icing. I remember returning home from college one Christmas for our extended family celebration. Gladys pulled me to the side to inform me she had made a cake just for me. Gladys didn't often give compliments or gifts, so I knew this was an important offering. 

The house she shared with my grandfather was always a place of wonder during my childhood. It is the house where my mother, aunts and uncle grew up. I’m sure we all have memories in that house; whether it be cooking with her in the kitchen or playing beauty shop or doctor.

Personally, I remember spending afternoons in her sun room listening to records like Pete’s Dragon and Pandora’s Box. I’d ask her to sit in her rocking chair while I performed a medical exam on her using a Little Tykes doctor’s kit which was always stored under the bed in the master bedroom. I’d begged one summer for her to show me into the attic so I could investigate the place where my mother and aunts slept as little girls. The attic had long been sealed off, but she finally obliged, prying open the wooden covering and letting me up to explore. To be honest; it was completely unimpressive and hot as hell up there; I realize now that she either really loved me or desperately wanted me to shut up about going into the attic.

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Gladys was a simple and frugal woman. By my accounts only, she saved every butter container she ever emptied and rarely expressed want for much. She always wore matching outfits of sneakers, colorful pants and a crew-neck shirt. She kept her gray hair in a perm, telling me often that she wished it might someday turn perfectly snow white rather than gray. My friends are always shocked to hear she was one of 14 children; she never used a computer or owned a cell phone, and - most shockingly, NEVER drove a car.

Though she often took second billing to my grandfather when he was alive, Gladys was full of knowledge. She knew EVERY old wives tale there was and could tell you the secret meaning behind many ailments and was able to explain how you might benefit from different phases of the moon.

Most importantly, a fact which I almost forgot to include. Gladys was an avid reader. To my very keen recollection, her favorite book was a true classic - tell me if you’ve heard of it: The Pill Book. If you’re not familiar with this book, it is a photo reference guide for prescription pills whereby Gladys would carefully research any medication prescribed to her, my grandfather or anyone in our immediate family, being sure to warn you of the nastiest side effects you might expect.

She did so, of course, with the best of intentions. I was privileged to spend a lot of time with her in childhood and to earn the title of private chauffeur to she and my grandfather after I was old enough to drive. I know she could sometimes drive the best of us a little crazy, but when I think about how different her life must have been from most of ours, I can’t help but hold space for her and everything she experienced in her 89 years.

I’m sure many of us are holding on tight to the memories we have with Gladys. Perhaps some of us are grieving deeply, wishing for more time or different times. Regardless, if you are in this room, I know that Gladys touched your life in some way. Let’s take a moment together again and pray:

Dear God,

We pray for the spirit of Gladys, our mother, our grandmother, our sister, our friend.

Take her into Your arms, dear Lord, and bring peace to her soul.

We see at this time, dear Lord, all of the people that mourn her passing.

We surrender to you our grief, we surrender to you our pain. We surrender to you any unforgiveness left between ourselves and Gladys. We release what has been; the very human dramas of our love for this woman and ask that you bring great healing to our souls.

We see now, a golden cord which binds us to one to another beyond physical bounds. That cord which goes from each of our hearts to hers. We know that this cord which binds us one to another cannot be cut, surely not by death. Our relationship with this beloved woman lives on. Through this eternal connection, let us find peace, knowing that our connection to this loved one is not lost.

Dear God, may we say at this time what we need to say and hear what we need to hear. We ask that you be our strength at this time and always, help us all to grow stronger and more connected to one another and to you.

And so it is.

Amen.