Sunday, October 10, 2010

In Memory of Gram

Who can find a virtuous woman? She is far more precious than jewels...
Strength and honor are her clothing, and she can laugh at the time to come.

She opens her mouth with wisdom, and loving instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the activities of her household and is never idle.
Her sons rise up and call her blessed.
Her husband also praises her:
Many women are capable, but you surpass them all!
Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.

~Proverbs 31:10, 25-30

A J M, 82, of Springdale, passed away Monday, Oct. 4, 2010, surrounded by her loving family at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, Pittsburgh. She was born Aug. 24, 1928, in Russellton, to the late F and B S L, and has been a lifelong resident of this area. Mrs. M was a member of St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church in Springdale. Among her interests, she enjoyed shopping, watching her grandchildren and cooking for her family. Survivors include her husband of 62 years, C M; daughters, K (A) R, of Springdale, K M C, of Harwick, and K M, of New Kensington; grandchildren, A (A) R, K R and T M; sisters, C M and D (F) T; brother, B (J) L; also nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents; a sister, J D; and two brothers, A L and J L. Friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday in Springdale at the CHARLES B. JARVIE FUNERAL HOME INC., 801 Pittsburgh St. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Friday in St. Alphonsus Church with entombment to follow in Our Lady of Hope Cemetery. Memorial donations may be made to Central Blood Bank, 5 Parkway Center, 875 Greentree Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15220.

Gram's obituary ran in all the local Pittsburgh papers.  I thought I'd start with it, just because it laid out the facts.  Date of birth, date of death.  Recording of all family members.  A place to start, I guess, an outline that I could try to fill in with color as best I can.

Gram was A's maternal grandmother.  I didn't meet her until late 2002, when I had begun dating A.  By that time, her health had already declined.  She walked with a cane, and macular degeneration had slowly begun to rob her of her vision.  Despite that, she was a spitfire.  A real trip.  She would always ask you to come "real close" so that she could see you, and she'd hold your face a few inches from hers and look at you very carefully before saying "Oh my, you're so pretty."  I guess that I got her seal of approval pretty quick, and it was a good thing because it was clear that in this family Gram's approval carried some pretty heavy weight.

There are stories that I can share.  About her love of cooking and food.   Of her, hardly able to stand, propping herself up on the stove to make sure that Christmas dinner turned out just right.  I'll always remember her teaching me how to fry apple fritters on Christmas eve - even though she couldn't see two feet in front of her damned if she didn't bark at me each time I accidentally stuck the fork into one of those fritters.  I will always remember her like this - at her best even when she was physically suffering - in her kitchen cooking too much food for the people she loved.

But what I really want to do is not to just give more facts, but to try to share who she was, for my children and for their children, too.  She was the strongest woman I've ever known.  She fought so hard to live, even if living meant just lying in a hospital bed holding hands with her daughters and her husband.  She held her family together with an iron fist.  She was a true example of a matriarch - a powerful woman who led her family.  There was never any doubt what was most important to Gram - and it wasn't money or fame - it was the faces around her kitchen table. 

Now, don't get me wrong.  She could be proud.  I had witnessed her sharpness, hurting her daughters in a way that only a mother can.  She had that "my way or the highway" attitude that made her impossible to argue with.  She could be harsh in her opinions and she never hesitated to express them regardless of the company she kept.   But these things - well, they all just made her who she was. 

In the final years of her life, she suffered.  There isn't a way to candy-coat the ending.  But she was a faithful woman.  She prayed the rosary with her daughters.  She believed in her church and in her God, and I am certain that she believed that she would be rewarded for her suffering.  And when that reward came both in the form of spending more days with her family and eventually in her release to heaven, I feel that she was at peace.

I spent some time last week going through photos and preparing a collage for the funeral.  From small black and white photos to full color snapshots, I watched her life fly by.  Dozens of photos of family - weddings, new babies, family vacations, special events.  So many smiling faces, with Gram always in the center of it all.  It struck me that this was the hard evidence of a life well-lived. 

I have to say just a few words about her funeral, not really because I want to record it but because I think that it reveals who she was as a person in her life.  To be honest, it was really my first experience of death in that up-close-and-personal way.  But to be with her family - with her daughters, with her husband and with her grandchildren and see the way that they loved her and remembered her - it was truly remarkable.  There was sadness, of course.  But I could see how she had helped her daughters prepare for her ending.  I could see her strength in them, and her faith that she had gone to a better place.  I could see her husband's love for her - 62 years of marriage between them.  It was Pap that nearly made my heart break in two as he struggled to say goodbye to the love of his life.  I watched as her grandson, my husband, stood in a church in front of dozens of people and fought back tears as he spoke about his Gram.  Afterwards, my father said, "You know, I felt like I watched A become a man today," and I thought that after eight years together, I saw a new side of my husband.  It was as though as one generation passed, the next summoned her strength and the family that she had built prepared to move forward - without her physical body beside them, but with her spirit in their hearts.  I did not find it ironic that she passed on his thirtieth birthday, it seemed was a sign that she knew that her family was well-prepared to go on.

As we said goodbye, I felt my own sadness, too, that she had been my Gram too - while eight years isn't a lifetime, it's no small thing, either.  I grieved her loss for my children that would never know her.  But the more I thought about it, the more I began to imagine that isn't quite the case at all.  Probably, she's meeting them on the other side of heaven right now.  I can see her caring for them, whispering to them about the family who is waiting for them, preparing to wrap them up and send them on the journey of a lifetime, straight into our arms.  I can imagine years from now, when her great-grandaughter stomps to her room or her great-grandson refuses to finish his dinner, I will remember her, and know that she lives on in them, too.

Rest in peace, Gram. 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God upon every remembrance of you. ~Philippians 1:2-3

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