Over the weekend we held a celebration of life memorial service for my grandmother. During the service a few family members and friends shared reflections about her. I mustered up the courage to get up in front of the gathered to share nine life lessons I learned from my grandmother. Although I got a little choked up toward the end, I made it through for her. What follows is the text of my mini eulogy:
Lesson 1: Xacto knives are the handiest tools ever created.
I remember visiting Grandma’s home on North Avenue as a child and waking up before anyone else so I could creep down the hallway and join her at the dining room table where she could be found reading The Cleveland Plain Dealer with an Xacto knife in hand. As she read, she would carefully cut out interesting articles for her files, friends, or family. Yellow sticky notes labeled each person’s pile of articles, and when enough had accumulated, many of us would receive an envelope in the mail. She’s was always thinking about her people and looking for ways to bless them.
Lesson 2: Always be curious!
Kids, before there was Google or Siri, we had something called encyclopedias. And I can remember Grandma pulling out one of those World Book volumes anytime we had a question. There we would sit on the floor as she read us the entry about whatever topic we were intrigued by. Grandma saw every moment as an opportunity to learn and as a way to fuel our sense of curiosity.
Lesson 3: Words, books, and libraries open doors.
I can recall a plethora of times that Grandma would introduce us to a new word and then use it repeatedly to magnify our vocabulary. She also made a habit of going to the library before visits with us, filling her famous grandma bag with a variety of books to engage our minds and hearts. She knew the potential for books to open doors and take us on adventures.
Lesson 4: Bring beauty and love into everyday things.
Magical moments with Grandma weren’t always elaborate—they sometimes came in the shape of a 9×13 pan of lemon bars, carefully dusted with powdered sugar, made with love in anticipation of the arrival of her treasured grandchildren. They also came in the shape of Grandma’s beautiful Christmas cookie trays. Oh! How I am going to miss those tin cans filled with dainty, old-fashioned cookies! I have the same recipes, but I have never been able to get my cookies to taste like hers. Each one was lovingly made and they were truly an art form—a gift that exemplified Mother Teresa’s advice: “Do small things with great love.”
Lesson 5: Life is short—have fun!
Grandma loved life—which is why she threw herself into countless projects and hobbies. From tap dance to puppetry to travel and balloon rides, she loved having fun. And anyone who knew Grandma can recall something she did to make someone laugh. There are many stories about the creative Christmases, where presents like moo-moos and vinyl records were never just wrapped but elaborately presented using things like false bottoms and boxes wrapped inside boxes. And my parents never knew what to expect when they left her in charge of us kids for a weekend. Remember the lollipops and flowers stuck throughout the front yard? Or the spiders and flamingoes? Grandma was always full of surprises.
Lesson 6: You can do anything you put your mind too
The fact that I am standing up here right now is a testament to that. I, the once quiet, shy, and introverted child, have never forgotten Grandma’s encouragement and prodding to become a strong woman. I stand in awe of the many struggles she had to overcome in her life. She never let fear stop her—and the word “can’t” was never part of her vocabulary.
Lesson 7: If it wasn’t designed right, a man probably designed it.
How many of us remember Grandma saying that? If there was one thing Grandma wanted her granddaughters to know, it was that if a man could do it, so could a woman. It was a mantra we heard repeated often, and although I may not have always agreed with the full maxim, it was part of her legacy to inspire us to greatness.
Lesson 8: Never be afraid to try new things—adventure is waiting!
Grandma’s bucket list was long, but what is amazing is how many things she checked off. She always said she wanted to go and do while she could so that one day when she was in a rocking chair in a nursing home, she would have her memories to share. As grandchildren, we were the beneficiaries of her sense of adventure and each summer she would open up her Grandma Camp file to plot a week of experiences—from farm tours and tea houses, to garage saling and ethnic festivals. Today her legacy of adventure lives on in my own life as I share new adventures with my own family.
Lesson 9: Been there, done that, don’t have to do that again.
Closely linked to her exuberance to try new things, was the realization that you will have many experiences in life that fall flat. Rather than dwelling on the moments that missed the mark, though, she taught us to accept the disappointments with the delights, because when life fails to live up to our expectations we have a choice in that moment as to how we will respond. Which is why she would say with a smile and a shrug, “Been there, done that, don’t have to do that again!”
These vignettes are just a small snapshot of who my grandmother was. There are so many more stories and adjectives that could be used to describe her—something that would make her, a word connoisseur, very happy. She was fiercely independent, classy, compassionate, plucky, spunky, and yes … she was eccentric. But as she wrote on a note Mom found shortly after her death, Grandma had spent decades developing her eccentricities, and she didn’t figure there was any reason to change in her 80s.
I’m glad she didn’t change, because those eccentricities defined the incredibly full life that she lived. And although her passing will leave an immense hole in our lives, Grandma would want us to take a page from her book and remember this: Live fully, laugh often, love deeply. In doing so, the melody of Grandma’s song will live on in all of our hearts and minds.