My beloved grandma – Mary Alice – died last week. For those of you who follow my blog, you know that she was my sun, moon and stars: a wise-cracking, Florence Nightingale of a miracle savior. My universe and those of so many others will never be the same after her passing. The lights have temporarily dimmed in my life. Seeing her living room, always filled with laughter and love, dark and silent was harder than I can say. Harder still was the arrival of the final good-bye moment when her casket was to be closed. A film I once saw featured an Italian widow who threw her body on her husband’s casket, weeping and moaning with a primal intensity. I never understood that depth of grief until my fateful last Wednesday in Baltic. If I wouldn’t have made a mortal spectacle of myself, I would have gladly pulled a full-on widow casket flail. The sentiment was in my heart to be sure.
Below is the remembrance I wrote for grams that I tearfully delivered at her church service.
Martin Luther King I was not but I can only hope my little choked-up homily gave her the justice and limelight she deserves. I think of her frequently now as I fly across the globe and give a big smile whenever it crosses my mind that she and I are together again if only briefly in the skies above: she in heaven and me in my noisy US Airways jet in the clouds. Love you grams!
As I was contemplating what I would say here today about my very best friend, I was presented with quite a challenge: how to tell the story of the ultimate storyteller. How to convey the life and light that was the ball of energy, tour-de-force Mary Alice Gerber. To do this fully, we’d need a feature length film of her life but since we don’t have three hours, I’ll do my best to do her justice in 5 minutes.
As many of you may know, my Grandma had a life-threatening heart attack when I was five years old. I have thought often throughout my life how lucky I am, how lucky we all are, that she survived and we had so many years with her. Grandma became such a strong and persistent influence in my life. Second mom, loving friend, grams, she had an indelible impact in forming who I have become and through the toughest times in my life, her love and belief in me kept me afloat and heading forward in a positive direction. She was the rare person who was never too busy to listen to someone, celebrate their triumphs and with them, laugh away their sorrows. She was a rock, always there for me and for so many other people. Many summer nights upon arrival at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, I would leap out of the car, lie down on the driveway and scream “I’m home!” I meant it. Both Prospect Street and Grandma were emotional homes for me. I will live every day remembering her unconditional love and protection.
I always wanted to spend my spare moments with Grandma whenever time allowed. I remember how she would respond in shock when I said every year in college that I wanted to spend spring break with her and Grandpa in Florida and that oh by the way, I was bringing my friends along too. The truth was there was no one I’d rather be with because she was full of fun, wit and positivity with an unending capacity to love. She listened to my crazy 80’s dance music and kept up on the many characters that came in and out of my life throughout the years. She was so present and engaged and always knew what I needed and gave it to me, even if I didn’t say a word. I felt and I’m sure you felt, special being in a relationship with her. Many people as they age, drift away from their family members but with grandma, we were closer with each passing year and I know as a grandchild of hers, my situation was not unique. I talked to her twice a week for an hour even in her sickest days, recounting hilarious life stories and getting her wise advice. We all know that she wasn’t shy about her opinion (a trait many of us have inherited) She didn’t always tell you what you wanted to hear, but instead what you needed to hear. And I for one, appreciated her bluntness and honesty.
Some of my fondest moments with grandma, were as a little girl when I would lay in bed with her and she would scratch my back while we’d watch TV and talk about life. I missed those times as I grew older. I got a special gift last Christmas when in an energetic burst, we talked for hours and stayed up until 1:30 in the morning in her bedroom, laying together, reliving memories and going through some of her life’s most treasured possessions, complete with narratives from her. As we rifled through grandpa’s old war pictures, the love letters he sent her, the treasured kimono and shoes brought back from Japan and her many book and bibles, it suddenly hit me what an incredibly rich life Grandma had experienced while almost never leaving home. Everything she needed and loved was always right here: family, faith, the man that she loved so deeply, the town she adored and the house that was so perfect for her, she insisted upon dwelling in it until her dying breath. She recognized the simple things that were important in life.
One of my favorite and more poignant stories that Grandma used tell was the special method Grandpa had for wiping her worry away. I think it’s a help for all us here today who are grappling with how to fill the huge void left by her passing and somehow know that it will be OK. As she told the story, many times when Grandma was overcome by grief or stressful thoughts, Grandpa would lovingly lead her out to the backyard and show her the night-time sky. He took her hands and said, “Mary Alice, do you see all these stars in the sky? God made all of them and if he can create all of those and take care of them, he will take care of you and your worries too.”
That’s what we all have to believe right now. That a great and amazing God will watch over us and take care of our worries too. For those who want a simpler and more light-hearted solution to deal with the sadness of her passing, you know what Grandma would say to you…one of her favorite phrases….”Just suck it up and move on!”
The only solace I have in losing Grandma is that Grandpa has gained her once again and I picture them in heaven, walking together hand-in-hand on a beautiful beach, searching for seashells and planning for the swing dance later. I know they are so happy to be reunited and to be sleeping on cushy clouds above instead of those stiff “I Love Lucy” pushed-together twin beds they had for their whole marriage. I am also comforted by knowing now that someday when I get to heaven, Grandma will be there welcoming me lovingly with a hug, the little yolky eggs she always made for me and her beloved “homemade” cinnamon rolls bought from the IGA .
I had the unexpected privilege of speaking to grandma on the phone one final time a few weeks ago. As she closed our very last conversation, she exclaimed, “I love you Tishy. Always have, always will.” Me too Grandma. I love you. Always have, always will.
I’d like to end with the words to a song I would sing to Grandma that always reminded me of her whenever I heard it. As the lyrics go, “Did you ever know that you’re my hero? You’re everything I would like to be. I could fly higher than an eagle. Because you are the wind beneath my wings.” Thank you grandma for everything that you were and everything that you did. Rest in peace.