A week ago, my 96 year old grandmother passed away. Featured here in a previous post, she is one of the inspirations I look at to write here on this blog. Although she had such longevity and was in steadily failing health recently, I’m sure the days to come will seem very different without her here.
It was difficult to mourn her death completely, though. To an extent, I was happy for her. As a believer in an afterlife, I’m thinking she just took a trip to another level of her existence, to see the family and friends that passed before her. She had a really big party waiting for her on the other side.
I think when we mourn the death of someone like this, we mourn more for ourselves. Because a little piece of our own lives has been chipped away. Again. And we sooner or later have to look our own mortality square in the face.
Even for someone who has faith, that can be a daunting task.
My grandmother’s funeral was an event, if she could have seen it, that she would have loved. The mass was at the church she was married in. “Ave Maria”, a favorite song, was sung beautifully for her. And she was buried in the cemetery where her husband and son were waiting for her.
As her health declined, I imagined I would have to deliver a eulogy at her funeral, and I had the privilege to do so. It was appropriately positioned by the priest after that stirring version of “Ave Maria”, which provided comfort as I went to the podium.
The following is some of what I said:
‘Life is precious’. When my grandmother said this, with her thick Italian accent, it always came out sounding like ‘Life is pressure’. She was right on both accounts. When I pointed out to her the way it sounded, we had a great laugh about it, and it became a running joke from that point on.
A lot of us here (in the church) today had the privilege of sitting at my Nonna’s kitchen table, to have a cup of coffee or eat something. In some cases, be forced to eat something. Those of you who didn’t eat, heard the words ‘mangia, mangia, mangia’ over and over again until you finally put something in your mouth.
I was lucky enough to not just sit at that table once in a while, but practically grow up sitting there. My parents worked at their restaurant a lot, so I was fortunate to spend many days and weekends at my grandparents’ house.
‘Life is precious’ is just one of the many nuggets of wisdom I learned at that kitchen table. It wasn’t just a place to have coffee or to eat, but also to grow and learn how to live life the right way, and how to enjoy yourself.
At that table, I learned that ‘Food is life’, ‘It’s later than you think’, ‘Life is a-worth living’, and to never trust anyone who doesn’t like music. They’re bad people.
After Gram passed away, I thought a lot about those kitchen sessions, and with the help of food and coffee, how I acquired many of the skills I have today. When I chop garlic, make sauce, roll a meatball, say a prayer with my kids, or sing along with a song on the radio at the top of my lungs, I do it the way she did it. And for all that, I’m very grateful.
I appreciate all of the simple things in my life because that’s what she did. Her life really was simple, but her impact on other peoples’ lives was simply spectacular. She was small in stature, but she was a giant in so many ways.
Following that, I acknowledged my parents for their selfless dedication to her care in her last years, which brought applause from everyone. It was nice to walk from the podium with those sounds echoing throughout the church. I imagine it would have been difficult to walk back to my seat to the sound of silence.
The weather was unusual that day. The morning had started with the last dredges of freezing rain and slop, but at the mass in church, we could see the sun begin to blaze outside as it’s rays filtered through the stained glass windows. As we went to the cemetery, the warmth of the sun seemed even stronger, like it was all those days spent in my grandparents’ back yard. On their patio. On their street.
Riposare in pace, Nonna. And thanks in advance for all the inspiration to come.