1 year ago today, I lost my grandmother to kidney cancer. A few days after she passed, I was honored to deliver the eulogy at her memorial service.
The moments that surround her death still feel surreal to me. Four days before she passed, she was placed in hospice care. We had all been told that she had about a month to live. I was scheduled to fly home for a wedding the following week, but thought better of it and decided to fly in three days after hearing the news, instead.
On the day that I flew in, I called my sister, who was at my grandmother’s bedside, while I waited to board my connecting flight. “Ask him what’s taking him so long” my grandmother had joked to my sister. I told my sister to tell her that grandma could yell at Delta if she wanted me to get there faster, but that I would come see her as soon as I landed. She smiled.
And I did. She was highly medicated that night and mostly unresponsive, but I held her hand the whole time when I got there. I knelt next to her bed and kissed her forehead and spoke to her; joked with her. I told her that I’d be back in the morning to hangout with her again, and that we’d go on a walk while I was home. When visiting hours were over, I said goodnight.
The next morning, as my family was already walking out the door to visit her, we got the phone call we’d dreaded. She had passed away just minutes before.
Within 15 minutes from the time she let out her last breath, I was back beside her again. She was at rest, and I felt, well, everything. But I was numb.
I turned to my father. We locked eyes. “You know she waited for you,” he said. And I finally broke down in tears.
These are the words I shared at her memorial service.
First, I want to thank my Grandma for waiting for me so that I could say goodbye. I was supposed to arrive on a flight tomorrow night, but opted for a Saturday return flight. My sister texted me Saturday morning, relaying a message from grandma asking what was taking me so long. But I got there Saturday, spent the night with her, and she passed on Sunday morning. Thank you for letting me say goodbye, Grandma. And I promise I’ll still take you on your walk.
And second, I want to acknowledge my mother – and yes, I’m biased because you’re my mother, but I heard it from my grandmother’s lips, too. You poured your heart and soul into her care these past several months, and I know how much that meant to your mother in her final days. Both of you will always have that memory, and no one can take that away.
ONE: Family First. But you’d never hear her say it. My grandmother was a woman of action, not of words. She was always present in my life, and in the lives of so many others. Family first was more than a nice saying, or one of those cute signs from Target that you can nail to your wall.
Every one of her grandchildren has a grandma story, of a time when they were comforted by her. Meghan and I talked the other night, and grandma simply holding her and stroking her hair gave her peace as a child, in the middle of a storm. I don’t have many of those experiences, of grandma stroking my hair, but I’ll take Meghan’s word for it.
My mother will tell you about times as a child when grandma helped her in the girl scouts.
I spent several years doing Thanksgiving with my grandparents in Florida, and I just remember how she went out of her way to make her grandson feel right at home.
Blankets and towels were ready. My favorite snacks and foods were in the fridge.
We would sit and read Alex Cross novels in the back yard, and cuddle on the couch when I watched the Lions get destroyed on Thanksgiving Day.
I’ve volunteered at a radio station inside Miami Children’s Hospital for nearly 8 years. An organization that my grandmother never saw for herself, but that she donated to year after year because she knew how much it meant to me.
She was a rock. The first grandmother in the history of the Internet to open a Facebook account. Not so she could talk about herself and post selfies, like everyone else, but so that she could stay in touch with family, near and far.
And who could forget her love for my grandfather. A hard ass at all times, but a softie when it came to her. She was his everything, and he was hers. I know he’s well aware of all that she did to show her love for him, but even more so in recent days when he’s discovered things like online bill payment, cell phone accounts and more.
And I know she’s proud of you, papa, especially since you finally used a credit card this week.
TWO. Get Over It. Until I was about 3 or 4 years old, I couldn’t stand my grandmother. What a snotty kid, right? My parents would drop me off at grandma and papa’s house, and as soon as the door closed, I’d run up the stairs in my blue winter coat, climb onto the corner of the couch, press my forehead against the glass, and look out into the driveway, waiting for my parents to come get me. And I’d fall asleep that way, face first on the glass, telling grandma not to touch me.
She forgave me. It wasn’t about what I could do for her, anyway. And let’s be real, as a toddler, there was nothing I could do for her anyway. But she was grandma, and she loved me no matter what.
She’s been that way more ways than I can count. She never took anyone’s side if they were in the wrong. She was honest with you even if you didn’t like it. Her first principle was always love, and if being good to someone came at the expense of your hurt ego, that was on you to figure out, not her.
Which is why even if there were divisions in the family, she was never involved.
No matter what side you were on, you knew two things. 1. She was probably right. 2.She loved you no matter what.
THREE: Love May Be Strongest When You Are Weakest. In early October, I was back home to see my grandma, for the first time in two months.
I helped walk her along to the couch in the living room, and fluffed up some pillows to help her get comfortable upon helping her find her seat. I asked her how my grandfather had been in helping her since she’d fallen ill. And she spoke to me some words that I’ll never forget.
“I’ve been married to your grandfather since I was 19 years old; 55 years,” she said. “And I haven’t felt this close to him since the day he walked me down the aisle. He’s been perfect.”
The look on her face that confirmed it. In her eyes, I saw a 19-year-old girl, staring at this hot young stud, just like she had 55 years earlier.
Their love, in 55 plus years of marriage, hadn’t been validated by joy, but by pain. It had shone brightest not in health, but in sickness. When one of them had become the least able to rise to a challenge, they’d managed to elevate their love and meet it together.
Papa, if you ever need reminding, I want you to know that without certainty, you were the love of her life. And on behalf of all of us, I want to thank you for helping to build the firm foundation on which this family was built, hand in hand with my grandmother.
Love is the song in moments of joy. Love is perfected in moments of pain. And true love endures both. Every day. Every moment. Until death do you part.