This time, of course, is different. Like visiting a place you knew well as a child after many years, the colors have changed, the sizes seem out of proportion, and time seems to have sped up and slowed down all at once.
I was asked to write something and speak at my grandmother's funeral. "You can just put something together, right?" Right. Easy. My favorite addendum was, "We can all give you our stories and you can just put them together into a little speech?"
As I sat at Grandma's dining room table today, a sea of photographs flowing around my elbows, I was relieved that the speech was no longer a thing. Catholics don't go for personal eulogies, and while we'd hoped to be an exception to the rule, we were gently reminded that we were no more special than anybody else. But I was relieved, because the more waves of pictures that rolled toward me, the more stories I saw. My grandma wasn't just my grandma. She was an ocean herself, deeply layered with the experiences of eighty-four years well lived.
Someone had said to me, "Of course your story will be all about how she took care of you when you were sick." Like that was it, that was all I'd come up with to say about a lifelong relationship. When I was four years old, she was my best friend. Last Thursday night, while we watched Wheel of Fortune, she was fast becoming a memory. The last words I said to her that night were, "'Do you know the way to San Jose?'" I'd solved the puzzle, but she'd already fallen asleep for the night.
But it was the photographs today, and trying to organize them by relationship or importance or historical sequence, that made it clear to me I could no more compile everyone's stories in a short speech than I could control the weather. It would be an impossible task. My grandmother was a lot of things to a lot of people, and all of them were very lucky to know her. She was what many of us can only hope to be: Important.
But I can tell you a little bit about how she lived her life.
Runner of the Year for over twenty-five years. We tried to figure it out and lost count. Weight-lifter. Book club member. Tour guide at Our Lady of Victory Basilica. Crisis counselor. Substitute teacher. Maker of amazing meatballs. She made the best salads, of all things, but they were delicious. She was classy. Sleek. She made looking good at any age look like a breeze. Her smile was dazzling. Best of all, it was real, every time. She was a friend, the kind everyone deserves to have but rarely finds. She was fun. She laughed often and loud. And she loved. She loved so many people with everything she had. She fought hard to the end to hang on because she loved us all so much. I know that. She was our friend, our mother, our grandmother, great-grandmother, friend, teacher, counselor, and things I'll probably spend the next few days hearing all about that I never knew.
But dear Grandma, you were the strong hand that held mine when I was a little girl. You were the voice that softly called me "Lovey" and your baby, even on my wedding day. You saw the best me when I was my worst, and more than anything else, you made sure I knew how much you loved me.
I hope you knew how much we all love you. Always.