Friday, June 28, 2013

Eulogy for Gramma Bella

When I went to write this, I looked for a few quotes about grandmothers…  The first two I found were:
“Grandmas never run out of cookies or hugs” and the next: 
“A grandmother is a little bit parent, a little bit teacher, and a little bit best friend.”

Done.   My work was done.

These so perfectly fit our Grandma Bella, that it made me feel a little deflated- those are so generic- anyone could look them up on the internet...  and OUR gram was so special

You probably read in the paper that my grandmother had 21 Grandchildren, 22 Great grand children, and 1 great-great grand daughter.  It is remarkable to note that FIFTEEN BABIES: 1 grandson (Alex), 13 great-grand kids, and baby Mackenzie (The great-great-grand) were born in the last 9 years since our grandpa died. 

Gram experienced a lot of grief after Grandpa died, but looking back, these years were teeming with babies-
and she LOVED that.

But of course if you knew her, you know she didn’t have just 44 grandchildren.  Our spouses, our inlaws, our cousins on the other sides of our families, any one we brought to her house, anyone who was our friend… she counted all of them too… that’s literally hundreds (possibly thousands of people that knew her as
Grandma Gaetano or Grandma Bella) and she welcomed and treated everyone one of us with love and respect.

I had the idea that I might get up here and mention some of the most important things that Gram taught us.
THAT is a completely overwhelming prospect.

I mostly wanted to represent the grandkids in taking an opportunity to publicly thank her for all that she did for us.  I think we all did our best to tell her this every chance we got- to get as many hugs from her as we could…

What is hard to put into words (in the face of losing her) is that we are losing a relationship that was above all else uncomplicated. 

To be Bella Gaetano’s grandchild was to be loved and appreciated. 
She loved us without exception and without expectation. 
She wanted to know us, and see us, and be seen by us. 
She met us where we were and asked nothing more of us than what we could (or were willing) to give. 
She bragged about us. 
She laughed with us. 
She didn’t compare to us each other. 
She just enjoyed us.  

For many of us, she was the first person we brought our grievances and heartbreaks to: When our parents took our favorite toys away or bestowed some insult or punishment, she brought out the cookies and the hugs- sometimes tough love, too- but usually not.

When we started showing up at her door with our tattoos and our more legitimate heartbreaks, scholastic and relationship failures, and other mistakes and adult struggles…
She behaved as a friend. 
She treaded lightly.
She listened more than she preached.
She offered compassion and reassurance…
She reminded us that life was hard, but it was long. 
Without minimizing our pain, she asked us to see hard times as necessary and temporary.
She worried about us when we were hurting

She locked her blue eyes on us- daring us to see what she saw: that no matter what we did or what we didn’t do we were enough, always worthy of love.

She mostly did this without words… 

Truthfully, a LOT of the time she did it with FOOD. (She could heal a heart with a little plate of parmesan cheese and sautéed zucchini, a plate of food that your parents wouldn’t have been able to get you to eat if all of your lives depended on it.)
She might also cheer us up or distract us with a funny story, or a ride on the golf cart,
or invitation to walk with her or to help her clean up her yard.

Gram was such a good role model.

She had LOTS of friends.  Because she was so generous and so eager to help a neighbor, she collected people and racked up loyalty the way some folks rack up debt.  And her friendships were long lasting and withstood the tests of time, because she knew that giving to others did not subtract from, but only added to what was hers… 
She liked to keep busy and visit with people. She was quick to laugh and forgive small grievances.  And mostly her friendships were strong because she was a good judge of character but never a harsh judge of people.

She taught me that a life well-lived usually means losing labels like “us” and “them”.  And accepting and finding things to appreciate about everyone that wanders into your life.  She was eager to meet new people. She enjoyed watching people do things they enjoyed, even if it was something she would never be interested in doing.  She gave everyone the benefit of the doubt.  She sometimes suffered fools GLADLY.  She expressed and experienced gratitude.

Gramma knew her worth and stood her ground- with her husbands, in her business dealings- but she was not immovable.  She was always willing to show vulnerability.  She would put herself out there even if it meant sometimes getting her feelings hurt.
She didn’t stifle laughter.
She didn’t stifle tears.
She was present. 
She was participatory. 
She never shied away from having her picture taken.
She made her mark on people- on purpose-
not because of what they might do for her but for what she might do for them.

In the last 2 weeks of her life, my gram attended 2 weddings.  The one I was lucky to be with her at, she would have stayed all night. 
This was not a woman who prioritized sleep over living. 
Who looked for rest over dancing or watching others dance.  
Who couldn’t keep up with the kids. 
Who would leave a lobster uneaten.  (If you know her, you know she was no joke with a lobster).
Katy and I apologized to her that we were interested in leaving before the dancing was actually over (we were her ride back to the hotel) and in her usual form, she said something like,

“Yes, you two work so hard, you’re probably exhausted.”
(She wasn’t even rolling her eyes at us when she said it).

My sister and I were talking about our sadness and we know that there has never been a moment of our lives (because we were her grandchildren) when we didn’t know that this day would come. 

But this is the other side of being loved so completely. 
This is the bittersweet nature of having been so perfectly nurtured. 
These are the tears that are shed for you when you live in such a way that hundreds of people know they have lost one of their best friends.

We celebrate these tears, because they are from and for you, Grandma.
And the most important thing is
We will try to take care of each other- using you as a role model. 
Because, if we do our job right, people who never even got to meet you will get to feel how it felt to be loved by you.



EILEEN said...

YOU did an amazing job honey.I am crying with you for her.

Tracy said...

Thanks, Eileen.

C-LO said...

Perfectly said. A beautiful legacy.

A Quiet Corner said...

And this is how and whyYOU could follow her well worn path!...:)JP. LOVE YOU BOTH