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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Into That Good Night

On December 9th, my grandmother passed away. It had been several days of drastic, and terrifying decline--following six months of steady and heartbreaking decline. We were sleep deprived, and aware of the fact that we were facing the end of her life.  We knew there wouldn't be a recovery.  There is no recovery from Alzheimer's, only the eventual release, and relief, of death.

I'm not entirely sure I'm ready to write much on the subject--well, not more than I've already written.  I was asked to write a poem for her memorial service card, which I did after a great deal of thought and reflection.  And I wrote what I thought would be a blog post one night when I couldn't sleep, and it turned out to be her eulogy.  My aunt and mother read it at her funeral, and I'm still amazed that those two wonderful women were able to keep themselves collected.  If it'd been me staring out over the casket of my mother, looking at the faces of hundreds of people who'd come to remember a woman they'd loved too--I'd have been bawling my eyes out.

For now, I think I'll leave you with the two things I wrote in the 24 hours after Nannie's passing.  She was a tremendously special, and widely adored woman.  She will be missed very much by very many.

The Eulogy:
We have had a lot of time over the last few days to discuss the measure of a life.  How do you know when a life has been full?  There seems to be as many different opinions about this as there are grains of sand in the Sahara.

 Some think the answer lies in knowledge, and how much you learned in your time here.  And by this measure, she had a full life.  Having gone to college in a time when not many people, especially young women, were able to do so put her ahead of the game when it came to learning.  The fact that she could rarely be found without at least one or two books within reach didn't hurt either.  She could play the piano, and the trombone (though she wanted badly to learn the saxophone, her father didn't approve and thought it wasn't a ladylike instrument).  She could speak French and Spanish, and even wrote in her diary in a mix of three languages so that nobody could understand it if they tried snooping.  No, there's no doubt that if you measure a life by learning that hers was full.

But other people suggested that life should be measured by what you saw of the world.  Americans have a bad reputation in foreign countries for not traveling, but not her.  She has been in more countries than I have fingers.  Canada, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, all over the Caribbean.  If life is measured by how much you've seen of the world, she had a full life.

Still, others wondered if life shouldn't be measured in charity, or how much you helped others in your time.  We've been blessed recently with stories of her generosity and kindness towards others.  How she stepped in when someone was struggling to put food in their children's mouths and bought a months worth of groceries.  Or how she helped teach a hard working mother English so that she could get along better in a new, and unfamiliar country.  Or how she adopted people so quickly, making them feel comfortable and welcome in her home even when she'd just met them.  Or how often she would sit and listen to a person's troubles, and find a way to help somehow, even if the best way she could help was just by listening.  No, there's no doubt that of life is measured in kindnesses, that hers was a full one.

And if a life is measured by business success?  Everything her husband struggled for, she stood beside him, helping when she could and supporting him always.  Whether she was bringing sandwiches to the field, or driving a truck during harvest, or taking care of the office work--she was an integral part of their success.  If that's how life is measured, hers was definitely full.

But someone else suggested that maybe life should be measured by how many people will miss you when you're gone.  Looking out across this room today, it's obvious that she had the fullest life possible.  So many people have been in touch to say how very much she has meant to them, and how much she will be missed.  Her sense of humor, her intelligence, her kindness, her acceptance, her support, her generosity, and most of all her love-- all of these things will be missed so greatly, and by so many people.  If this is the true measure of a life, you will never find one as full as hers.

The Poem:
A life of music and laughter should not be grieved.
A life of family, friends, and love should not be mourned.
A life of dancing, and holding hands should not bring sorrow.
A life so full of these things should be celebrated,
And the final freedom of release after a long fight, envied.

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