In the spring of 2017, my maternal grandmother passed away, leaving a deep hole in hundreds of hearts and lives. I’m not sure how to explain to people who never met her just how special and important she truly was. The day of her funeral, as I was milling about in the entrance of the church and I overheard one of her friends say to my aunt, “We lost one of the angels. Your mom was truly one of the angels.”
My grandmother always told me I should be a writer. When I was a young girl, she would read my short stories and school assignments and say, “You’re going to be a writer one day!” From the time she passed, I have been hearing her voice just behind my shoulder urging me, “Write.” I started to write and kept writing and kept hearing her, that soft encouraging whisper, “Write.” This blog is at least partially because of how much she believed in me and my writing.
The piece below is the eulogy I delivered at her funeral. It is my gift to her and her incredible legacy. The truth is, this eulogy was written in my head before I knew I would have the opportunity to deliver it. I knew almost every word before I sat down at the computer to write it out. It was all in my head. Writing this eulogy was an out of body kind of experience. The words came out on the keyboard with very few thoughts in my head. It felt like she was writing through me.
It’s been more than a year since she passed and none of us are over it. We still quietly mourn her every day. She led a remarkable life. Everyone who knew her loved her. She faced incredible challenges throughout her life. And through it all, she was always kind and loving. It seemed that the harder her life got, the more good she sought in the world. There is so much to learn from her life and legacy. I hope to be able to continue spreading just a fraction of her incredible love and spirit in the world.
So, to all the strangers out there, let me introduce you to one of the very best human beings that ever walked this earth. This is my grandmother, Kay Jean McDonald. May her memory be a blessing for ever and ever.
With love from your first grandchild,
Anna Rachael Marx; April 20, 2017
Just days before Grandma passed, I was reading a beautiful book called Love Warrior, a memoir of a woman on a long and painful spiritual journey. In the book, she feels held back by the story of Eve, who we are taught was created to be man’s “helper.” So she begins some research and learns that the Hebrew word used for woman in this particular story is Ezer. The passage from her book reads:
The original Hebrew word for woman, a word that is used twice to refer to the first woman, three times to refer to strong military forces, and sixteen times to refer to God, is this: Ezer […]
I learn this: “The word Ezer has two roots: strong and benevolent. The best translation of Ezer is: Warrior.”
God created woman as a Warrior.
When reading this passage, how could I have not thought of Grandma Kay? She was a warrior. And no surprise there what a great fan she was of the Golden State Warriors.
When you know the story of her life, you know that she was a warrior. When you know the story of her life, you know how remarkable it truly is that she lived 78 long and full years.
From her earliest days with chronic ear infections so severe, her family had to move across the country to prevent her doctor’s warning that she would be deaf before 10 years old,
a rather abrupt turn of events when her mother suddenly had a religious awakening and would yell “Heathens!” at her children,
a husband who stole her youth and quite literally tried to beat the spirit from her,
five teenagers who she raised as a single mother, practically still a kid herself, with limited education, and never as much as two nickels to rub together,
chronic health trouble, cancer, countless surgeries, and two life-altering severe back injuries,
the deaths of so many, including her young nephew, both of her parents who went slowly and required incredible care, many friends, and also her beloved older brother who she admired and looked up to as only a little sister can until his last days.
When you know the story of her life, you know that she was a warrior. She fought and fought and fought; armed with the only weapon she had: with love.
A couple of years ago, I was sitting with my mom and my Aunt Theresa. In case you might not know, my mother was Grandma’s oldest child and Theresa was her youngest. And Aunt Theresa was sort of wondering out loud. She said, “I can’t even imagine what it must have been like when I was born. Her fifth child.”
And my mom said, “Oh I remember that day. She was so happy with her newest little baby wrapped up in her arms.”
And Aunt Theresa looked at mother and said, “WHY? It’s all right; I would understand. How could she have been happy? I was her fifth baby in seven years. And she was practically a baby herself. “
And my mother said, “Oh, no. I remember that day. She was so happy and proud to show off her brand new baby. She loved you so much. Mom could never have been unhappy with a baby in her arms.”
When my husband Jamie and I were reminiscing about Grandma Kay and how warm and loving and kind she was, he asked me, “When do you suppose she became the way she was?” And I said probably about the same time I was born. And he said, “Oh it was all you, huh?” No. It was not about me. But I was the first. The day I was born she became a grandmother and I believe that was her truest calling in life. She was a grandmother to her very core. It’s very hard for me to think of her any other way.
I know she was truly a grandmother because in addition to the grandkids and great-grandkids who were born into her family, she was Grandma Kay to almost everyone. Every friend, every child, every person I introduced her to, she would say, “Well hello. I’m Grandma Kay.”
And when she discovered Facebook – oh she loved Facebook – it became her online identity. She signed everything Grandma Kay Jean McDonald. And sometimes just GK. It didn’t matter if she was commenting on one of our posts, or making a political statement; it was signed “Grandma Kay.” I remember comments she wrote to President Obama and signed them “Grandma Kay.” And recently she congratulated Dolly Parton on her 50th wedding anniversary on Facebook, and it was signed “Grandma Kay.”
There was no one who embodied a grandmother more than she did. She saw the very best in all of us. And no matter the circumstance, she offered nothing but love and kindness. She always had a warm hug, boundless encouragement to offer, an excited tone to her voice, and an unlimited well of patience. How could one person contain so much love? I’ll never know; but I’ll always remember that it was true.
The morning after Grandma passed, I had this selfish, obnoxious thought. I thought to myself, “I think I might have been her favorite.” And then, I thought of my sister and my cousins, and I thought, “I bet every one of them thinks the exact same thing.” And you know, we’re all right. We were her favorite. Her grandchildren were her favorite. And her great-grandchildren, her great-grandchildren were her favorite.
And her kids; her own five children; they were her favorite. And her beloved siblings, they were her favorite. And her nephews and nieces, and cousins and large extended family; they were her favorite. And her in-laws; the family of her ex-husband; they were her favorite. And her hundreds of friends were her favorite. And all of the people we brought to her life – our partners, our friends, our extended families, our in-laws, all the people we brought in and out of her life – they were her favorite.
We were her favorite. We were all her favorite.
There are two ways I believe we can best remember Grandma Kay. First, we must tell her stories. She was a wonderful storyteller. She had a library worth of stories in her memory. She could tell you the stories of her childhood, or her friends, or her children. She knew the stories of every pro football player who ever lived, every country western star, all of her favorite actors. The stories never ended.
I learned some important things about telling stories from Grandma. Most importantly, do not worry about accuracy or facts. A story is not about the facts. It’s about the journey that the teller and the listener go on together. It’s about the hidden and deeper truth behind the story. And to get to that deeper truth, you must make it a true journey, an adventure even.
So, next tip is: embellish the tales freely and often. Make them come alive. Use the important sound effects and gestures, and descriptions. Make them fantastic. When you capture your audience, that’s when the story really happens. Wow, could she bring a story to life. Moments that I was never privileged to witness myself, I can see perfectly in my own memory.
I can see the porch at her house in Wyoming where she could have left the deer in the snow instead of frantically trying to chop it into small enough pieces for the freezer.
I can see the stack of comic books she sat on in the boiler room of her elementary school with a little boy, sneaking a chance for this rare opportunity to read comic books, only to find out she wasn’t supposed to be in a small room alone with a boy.
I can see her brother Bill’s blue jeans, carefully hung in his closet so that he wouldn’t know she’d borrowed them, only to forget that she’d cuffed the pants, giving the secret away.
I can see the brand new refrigerator her youngest daughter bought for her with a whole summer job’s pay saved up.
I can hear the shuffle of my young cousin Manuel’s footsie pajamas – psh-psh-psh – as he snuck out of bed at night.
And I can see the Barbie Dolls she told me that I left on her floor as my parents and I moved to Hawaii. The Barbies that she said she couldn’t bear to put away for months.
And finally, I learned from Grandma, make sure to perfect the punch line. Every great story has a punch line. Get the words right, in just the right order, with just the right timing. Get that punch line down, and tell it again and again.
So go ahead and embellish. And then, practice those stories. Tell them until you’ve perfected them. Don’t stop telling. Doesn’t matter if you’ve told it a hundred times before. Doesn’t matter if you told that very person one hundred times before. Keep telling it. Just like she did. There’s an important gem of wisdom in there to share.
So we will tell her stories to remember her. And the second way we will remember her:
Find all that love she gave you. I can still feel it, that sincere and true and deep love.
Find it right here… And then give it away.
Give it freely and generously and expansively. Give that love to everyone you can.
We will remember her. And we will love and love and love and love and love and love and love and love and love and love. And when it seems impossible to love any more, we will remember her and we will love again.
Grandma never reserved her love. She didn’t hold back. And she didn’t discriminate. She loved everyone. And when you know the story of her remarkable and difficult life, you know how amazing it was that she could find that much generous love to give. She was a love warrior.
And in her memory, we will do the same. We will love each other and our extended families and our families of choice and our friends and our friends’ families and our coworkers and the strangers we meet.
We will love them all. And we will remember her.
Ordinary Days, Meaningful Life is a labor of love geared toward working moms ready to embrace the chaos and find meaning in it. If you found this post meaningful, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it too! I’d love to stay in touch with you! Leave a comment below, contact me, or sign up for the mailing list. I can’t wait to hear from you!