Last week, my grandmama passed away. While I have other posts in the works, I wanted to commemorate her life here on this blog. She was an extraordinary person. The following was my eulogy at the funeral. Note, I inserted some levity at the beginning, however, only locals in her town will get it…
Libby Talbot. That’s how most of you know her. To me, she is Grandmama. As I grew up, I learned that there were other names… Grandma, Grandmother. It took me awhile as a child to realize it wasn’t spelled G R A M A M A, but not nearly as long as it took me to realize that the school on the hill wasn’t named after two women: “Audice and Broadice”.
Grandmama… like my mom, she was easy to tease, which I learned from my uncle Jim. But I rarely ever teased her myself. The reason?… she was too sweet & gentle. Adorable, in fact. Whenever I’d introduce anyone to her, they’d come out of the experience telling me how cute she is – which is a similar reaction to folks meeting my mom. They’re two of a kind. The main difference being that grandmama was a *quiet* person.
Thoughtful. Understanding. She was a poet. Figuratively and literally. When she wrote, her words were well crafted. She researched for every article, and it showed. She wrote poems and editorials that have been published in the papers. They’re framed on tables and walls, cherished by those who possess them. About 20 years ago, she wrote about her experience of aging. I came across it in one of her many scrap books as I wondered what to say today. I’d like to read it to you now.
Autumn of Life
I live in the autumn of life. I have witnessed the passing away of whole generations. Now, the mirror betrays, that the roses have left my cheeks and silver laces my hair.
At this age, much of my treasure is memory. This generation knows little of kerosene lamps, streetcars, five-cent pay, hitch-hiking or disciplined homes and schools.
Many of us are retired, others are at least thinking about it. Maybe the desire grows strong – to curl up with a nice book or a good crossword puzzle and idle away the time.
I find myself in a “giveaway” mode. Over the years, I have collected too much stuff. Someday, I may move to a smaller place, and though I don’t know what I will do. It is time to simplify. Lord help me to know what is valuable. Give me the sense to garner the good things. Show me the things that only weigh me down. Help me to get rid of those.
Heavenly father may I live as though this day may be my last. I thank you that though I know this road has an ending, you have strewn it with many joys.
– Elizabeth B. Talbot, upon her 85th birthday.
I can see why Grandmama was good at being a poet. When she spoke, you could always tell she’d given her words a lot of thought. She is the personification of the old adage, “think before you speak”. And yet, she never thought through her words at the expense of listening. She had this amazing focus of attention when you talk to her. I can’t think of a single moment when I spoke with her and saw her attention wane. As I wrote this eulogy, I realized that this was the first time I’d explicitly realized this about her, as I’m sure may be the case for you as well, and that’s the mark of a good listener. A good listener like Grandmama, gets you to talk, in such a way that you don’t realize she’s not saying much. Personally, I’ve aspired to devote my attention to every conversation for my entire life and continually find myself failing, my mind adrift with all these “important” things or simply formulating what I want to say, at the expense of the moment. To her though, listening just came naturally. And I now realize that I have Grandmama to hold up as an example. I want to be like her. I want to have the power that she had, to make people feel valued, appreciated, and deserving of attention.
As a quiet person by nature, she never boasted. She was humble… and caring. She would always tell me how proud she was of me. Throughout my life, despite distance and never faltering, her pronounced love for me and pride in me was a constant. Her devotion and unconditional love was a boon to me and she helped me realize that the bonds of family are strong.
As you can imagine, Grandmama was easy to be friends with. Everybody who met her loved her. They realized she was someone special. She valued her friendships so much that she kept and made notes, cut clippings and articles, and documented the details of the lives of those she held dear. She had a notebook with pages and pages of records of friends of hers who have passed away. Her memories of them were so precious to her that she needed to keep them recorded next to her bed. Her scrapbooks and photo albums leave her legacy. She was a compassionate, intelligent person who was an inspiration to all who knew her.
When I think of her now, I surprise myself when I say she was also fun loving and adventurous. She traveled around the world with my uncle Jim and Ralph, and my parents, Ann & Tom. She’s pet dolphins. She’s been to Alaska. She’s been to the Vatican. And she’s sailed the 7 seas. I never really thought of her as an adventurous traveler until I sat down and reflected on her life. When I think of her, I always picture her in the home she loves… in the home that Pappy built. She loved that home so much. She wanted to be there, but eventually, she needed help, as we all will some day, and was forced to reluctantly leave. But not a visit went by when I didn’t hear her wish she was home.
When we were little, visiting in that home, Grandmama used to throw my sister and I little parties when we came to visit as kids. She’d set us up with little plates of candies in the kitchen and we’d sit and talk or play a game. I remember the feeling much more than what we did. I remember how special and different it felt. She was throwing us a party – just for us. She had this way of making us feel special.
I also remember how she would light up when she was excited or happy. She’d get this sparkle in her eye and say she was “tickled”. I remember her laugh. I spent time going through my photos on the bus on my way home. I’d captured some precious moments and could hear that laugh ringing in my ears as I looked at photos of her, mid-laugh.
Grandmama was always concerned about those around her. Even now, as we grieve, she is concerned about us. We found a note that she’d left for us in this grieving time:
To My Children
When I must leave you for awhile
Please do not grieve and shed wild tears
And hug your sorrow to you through the years
But start out bravely with a gallant smile
And for my sake and in my name
Live on and do all things the same
Feed not your loneliness on empty days
But fill each waking hour in useful ways,
Reach out your hand in comfort and in check
And never, never be afraid to die –
I’m waiting for you in the sky!
Now Grandmama is with Pappy. I’m sure they’ve had quite the reunion. I know not a day went by after Pappy passed away when she did not think of him. They had two children that turned into wonderful human beings and I love them very much. I know everyone thinks their family is great, but I seriously marvel at my mom and my uncle. My mom is kind hearted to a fault and my uncle is the most boisterous person I know. They are both genuinely fun to be around. Grandmama is in them. I can see it, and I treasure it, even more-so now.
I’d like to close with another passage written grandmama, entitled…
I’d like the memory of me to be a happy one. I’d like to leave an afterglow, of smiles when day is done.
I’d like to leave an echo, whispering softly down the ways, of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those who grieve to dry before the sun of happy memories I leave behind, when day is done.