My paternal grandmother passed away a few months ago, and during her funeral, the preacher asked for anyone who wanted to say a few words, to come up, and speak. I wanted to, but I’m not a public speaker, and I have anxiety just thinking about it. I let it pass, but I built the speech in my head, what I would’ve said. I’m not a speaker, but I am a writer, and hopefully, I can give her something she would’ve liked to read.
I didn’t really know my grandmother. I mean, I knew who she was, and what she looked like, but pretty much everything I know about her is from hearsay. I’ve probably seen her around twelve times that I can remember– if even that. So, there’s a lot I don’t know; for instance, I had no idea she liked to thrift, and window shop. So, maybe it isn’t right for me to talk about her life, when I didn’t know it. But, it doesn’t take much time, to get a hold on a person’s spirit. One as big as my grandmother’s is hard to miss.
I didn’t realize my Aunt Cheryl, and my Grandmother Gayla were sisters for the longest time. How could two people be more different? My (Great) Aunt is conservative, and very ‘old-school’, while my Grandma was very much a free spirit, accepting people’s differing lifestyles, and embracing the change that swept this country during her young-adulthood. Both, though, have equally big hearts, and I guess that’s where you can see their relation to each other.
She caught me spray painting in my room once, when I was about eleven. This is the most poignant memory I have of her, because I saw her as the bad guy. Now, I have the eyes of someone much older, and much more experienced. I see now, that she wasn’t truly angry that I was expressing myself with art. She was concerned that I would pass out, and die in my tiny room, suffocating on the fumes of that black mess I called ‘art’. I wish I would’ve understood why she reprimanded me, and I wish I didn’t lash out. I know she didn’t take it to heart, but I was, and am, a strong willed, hard headed fool, and I had a desire to push against any sort of authoritative voice bearing down on me.
Other memories, are much more hazy, and I can’t recall them with any sort of clarity. The only true memory I have of her, was about a year ago, when we came to visit. That entire trip is something I’m not fond of recalling, but now that she’s gone, I have examined the peaceful moments. I remember seeing her smile, as all of her grandchildren crowded around, making her a handprint jacket, so that she’d always have us close, no matter where we went. I didn’t realize at the time, but she seems to have been extremely fond of the jacket, as it takes its place on the chair of her prized garments at her funeral.
I am not the type of man that dwells on what-if’s, and if-only’s, etc. Though, I do wish her, and I got to know each other better during her last years. Now, that’s she’s gone, and everyone has something to say about her, I can see that she was much deeper than I thought. I never gave her the chance to show me, and I know that’s wrong of me.
I’ve been to one funeral prior to this, for her mother, my great-grandmother. I truly did not know her, so I found myself unable to feel the loss of her. I assumed my grandmother’s death would not stir any feelings in me. I’m not a cold person, but it is hard to stir feelings for someone, when they never had the chance to form anyways. Now, that’s she’s gone, I find myself feeling numb. It’s a weird feeling, one that I’m not used to. It’s a weird thing, the finality of death. It doesn’t feel real, I keep expecting her to pop up, to like a status on my facebook, or (when I was down there for the funeral) to walk through the door, and kiss my grandfather before she sat down, and talked to all of us grandchildren.
When someone dies, we always talk about them moving on, to bigger, better things, that life was just a stepping stone. Now, I don’t believe in that personally, but even if I did, I don’t think that should be the focus when a person dies. To say their life was a ‘stepping-stone’ turns their experiences, their mistakes, into trivialities. My grandmother, seems to have had a great life. Not to say it was an easy life, or one of great wealth(not in just terms of money or status), but it was a great one. She created experiences, she loved, and found herself swept up in a wondrous movement. She didn’t judge people by their color, or status, or anything but who they were, and what they were.
I don’t know what happened to my grandmother after she passed, I can never know, until I die. I like to think, though, that when she died, she was content. Ready, because even though her death came relatively suddenly, and earlier than everyone expected, she could look back on a life well-lived. A life full of choices, mistakes, learning, and experience. What more can a person ask for? Wealth, status, notoriety, are all life’s concerns. The acceptance of death, is the acceptance of one’s choices, good and bad.
There isn’t going to be a movie about her life, or a thick biography about her, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is, that people remember who she was, what her spirit was. How she smiled, the way she said her husband’s name, the embarrassing stories about children told to grandchildren. People think you have to have some kind of huge epic story of a life for your life to have meant something, but that isn’t true. You just have to have had a life full of experiences, and learning, and love. She had all of that, and I can tell. I may not have known her well, but I don’t think that matters, because she loved me as if we spent everyday together, laughing, and learning.
I will always carry that, because it’s easy to forget in this hard world, that there are people who look at you like your a leader, even if you aren’t. They see what makes you special, even if you don’t. They love you, regardless of how close you are, and how much facetime you spend with one another. I will remember her always, not because I was close to her, but because she taught me that you don’t have to be close to someone to love them, or to be proud of them. I love my grandma, and I am proud of her.
For Gayla Hockenbury, I hope you would’ve liked this.