I always find funerals really hard. I know that’s obvious because nobody finds them to be easy, but I’m personally always torn between the feelings of sadness that come along with saying goodbye and the joy that comes with celebrating the life of someone you loved and admired so much. But, yesterday during Easter service I was reminded that this moment for my Grandma- this moment when she enters the gates of Heaven- that is what life is all about. That is what we’re all working toward.
The story of Easter is often times summed up with John 3:16, “for God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Eternal life- she made it! She is now not only in the hands of Jesus in a place that is free of pain, of sadness, of any worry, but she’s been reunited with so many she loved who went before her- my grandpa, her parents, a sister and four brothers. Now I didn’t know all of my great uncles, but I did know enough of them to know that she was most certainly greeted with a lot of practical jokes, a lot of time spent giving her a hard time and at least a few hands of cards.
Just as my grandma had 3 children- 2 sons and a daughter- I too have 2 sons and a daughter. And with her passing, I found myself for the first time having to explain to them that someone they found so much love in had been called home to Heaven. Their response was beautiful. They had some questions, but overall they were just really excited that Grandma Nanny- as they called her- was going to get to spend Easter with Jesus! This Jesus that we talk about every day? Grandma Nanny gets to hang out with him forever!
And it didn’t hurt that Grandma Nanny also left behind Easter baskets overflowing with their favorite treats. But that was my grandma – always firm in her faith, always focused on her family and always ready with treats for all her babies- no matter how big or little.
And those three things are what for me defined her- her faith, her family and the comfort and love she gave through the gift of food.
Her faith and more specifically her belief in the power of prayer was the foundation to all else in her life. Some of my earliest memories of her involved reading with her from her prayer book. My grandma for as long as I can remember always had a notebook full of prayers that she used diligently each day to say her prayers. You may not realize it, but each person in this room, I assure you, had their name and their needs written in that book, most likely many times. She left behind many notebooks full of prayers and I can’t help but think that if we were to read through them, we would be reading through the story of her life- her conversations with God, I’m sure, told of the many ups and downs she went through. And for every page full of questions and requests I firmly believe there were ten more giving Him thanks for the blessings he had filled her life with- namely her family.
If her faith was her foundation, her family was her center. She made every choice, every action centered on those she loved most. Yesterday we celebrated Easter as a family and I think I can speak for all of us when I say it was bittersweet. It was the first time, of course, that we were all together without her there. I found myself throughout the day looking around, expecting to find her and when I didn’t it just felt a little empty, a little incomplete. But, it was also the first time in a long time that we were all able to be in the same place at the same time and while we wish the occasion would have been for different reasons, the reality is that being able to be together is a gift only she could have given to us. Together with my grandpa, their love resulted in 29 of us who are all here this today missing and honoring this one woman who we called mom, grandma and Grandma Nanny.
There are a lot of things we’ll miss about her. A few really simple, but obvious ones will be the jello that she made every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember, and the homemade pies that she would hand delivered for birthdays- always making the kind that she knew each of us loved most- custard for me, apple for my brother. And for my kids, the bags full of treats she sent home with them each time they visited, always far exceeding any kind of sugar limit I naively thought I could impose during a visit with their Grandma Nanny. It took me a long to understand it, but this love of food- or rather love of giving food- was her favorite way of showing love and giving comfort. It was her way of continuing to take care of us long after we stopped admitting we needed taken care of.
And so on this day when we’re told we’re it’s time to say goodbye, lets just not do it. Lets not say goodbye because she has left us with the gift of each other. She has left behind some of her inside each of us. If you look closely enough, you will see her- you’ll see her big heart in my cousin Jen, her willingness to always help in Sara, her sense of humor in Bridget and her tenderness and patience in Allison.
I could go on, but my point is that instead of saying goodbye, lets instead honor her by following her example and putting thes same effort into those three things that defined her life- her relentless faith, her love and devotion to family and the power she found in giving just the right meal at just the right time.