Her Eulogy

A little over a week ago we lost my beloved grandmother.

Some of you may recall that I’ve written about my visits with her every summer. Getting Old is not for Sissies  She was 96 years old and passed peacefully in her sleep.  It’s a blessing to know that her passing was quiet and quick.  It’s heartbreaking for me to accept that she is no longer with us.  A physical and emotional presence that reminded me every day to be my best self, even when I wasn’t.

This past week our family came together in her hometown of Bloomington, Illinois to celebrate her life and lay her to rest.  We are a family strong in Catholic roots, and my Nanny was a devout Christian Catholic woman to her core.  So, as you would expect, her service included a Catholic mass in the church where she was raised, and where she also raised her family.  I was baptized in this church.  My parents were married in this church.  My grandfather was memorialized in this church.  Our family’s life is intricately entwined with sacraments and services that took place in this church.  I spent countless Sundays sitting in the pew next to her, learning how to participate in the Catholic mass by watching my grandmother.  Memorizing the responses, imitating her motions of kneel, stand, sit.  Kneel, stand, sit.  This particular house of God has immeasurable significance for me in terms of emotional and physical memories.  To stand in the sanctuary, in front of her casket, was almost more than I could bear knowing it would most likely be the last time I ever had cause to visit this place.

When the service started I was beside myself with emotion.  As were the rest of my family.  My Nanny meant so much to each and every one of us.  We were all trying to manage our grief.  The service was lovely, but something was missing.  The priest gave the eulogy for my grandmother.  This is not common.  Typically, a family member would do it.  But for some reason no family member had been identified or asked prior to the service to give the eulogy.  I don’t know why, and wouldn’t dream of questioning the decision because I was not the one responsible for planning the service.  But it felt incomplete.  The priest did his best to honor my grandmother, but he did not know her. He could not convey with any depth of emotion or real intimacy the woman that she was, or what she meant to all of us.

I know I wouldn’t have been able to stand at the alter and talk about her without completely breaking down, and I’m talking about some serious ugly crying.  And because I need closure I decided to write my own eulogy, of a sort,  honoring her and my memory of her.  So, this is what I would have wanted people to know about my grandmother….

Kathryn, or Kay, as most people knew her was born in June of 1921.  She was an Irish Catholic Midwestern girl who grew up during the Great Depression.  She often told stories about the depression, describing food shortages and what little money most families earned at that time.  She talked about having one pair of stockings that she had to wash out by hand every night so she could wear them again the next day.  She told these stories in an attempt to help us understand how good we had it growing up.  I’m embarrassed to say that at the time we were just horrified  to learn that she had to live without things like Doritos and Taco Bell.

My Nanny was very meticulous with her appearance.  She wasn’t necessarily vain, but it was extremely important that she always look her best.  Perhaps this was something learned during the depression, as she had so little material possessions or clothing.  She learned to work with what she had.  She did her hair and make up every day.  She pressed her blouse and her slacks.  She sewed clothes for herself and her children.  Once, she made herself a beautiful camel colored wool-lined dress coat.  She loved cashmere turtle-neck sweaters and wool blazers.  She once made my cousin and I matching plaid, wool, pleated skirts to wear to Christmas Eve Mass.  I would give anything to have that skirt back.  She also slaved to ensure that her husband and children went out into the community every day as representatives of her household.  They were meticulously dressed, pressed, and laundered.  At her funeral service my cousins and I were laughing and trading stories.  One cousin told me that she came to Nanny’s house one day wearing a pair of ripped and torn jeans.  Nanny asked her if she bought the jeans like that, and when she confirmed that she did, Nanny said, “Poor girl.  Can’t even afford to buy a whole pair of pants.”

She kept her home in the same meticulous manner.  She made her bed every day.  Hospital corners.  She cooked and baked almost every meal from scratch and she always had a cake or pie prepared in case someone dropped by and she needed to offer them something.  She knew how to refinish wood floors, kept a garden, and everything had it’s place.  She tried to teach me the importance of these things.  As a teenager I would laugh.  Make my bed every day?  Well, that was just crazy talk.  But when I stepped into her home I would breath in the smell of freshness, with a hint of bleach, and it was comforting.  I loved knowing that I would crawl into a bed that night with freshly washed and ironed sheets.  And that I would wake up to the sound of eggs frying in the pan and the smell of biscuits coming out of the oven.  My own childhood home was often chaotic and unorganized, so being in her home provided a sense of old fashioned comfort.

Given that my Nanny was a devout Catholic woman, she was truly a servant of God.  She took her responsibility as a Christian seriously and every moment was a teachable moment.  She prayed openly for everyone.  She and my grandfather organized and coordinated a prayer group every week, and they were huge members of the charismatic movement within the Catholic church.  No one loved Jesus more than my Nanny.   Last summer when I was visiting her, she was worrying quite a bit about family members, and I said to her, “You know what you need to do.  Just give it to God and everything will be ok.”  That’s what she would have said to me.  She looked up at me with wide eyes and said, “You have been listening to me all these years!!!!”  Even when I didn’t want to, I was listening.

I have a strong personality, much like my grandfather.  Nanny would always remind me that my tongue could be sharper than a sword.  She would say, “Mind your words.  They are like feathers, and once you let them go, the wind takes them and you can never get them back.”  I didn’t want to hear it at the time, but over the years I found myself measuring my actions and words by whether or not she would approve.  I can honestly say that in those moments where I held back, or didn’t do something impulsive because I knew she would disapprove, I never once regretted the choice.  The thought of doing something that might embarrass her was unacceptable.  She would often say to me, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, and that covers a lot of territory.”  Of course, I often did thing she wouldn’t do, and in my adult years I would sometimes tell her stories of my bad behavior.  Sometimes she would laugh and other times she would roll her eyes and say, “Well, I will pray for you.”

She loved the Lawrence Welk Show.  She would sing at the top of her lungs while cooking or doing housework.  She made me homemade mashed potatoes and gravy every Sunday because she knew it was my favorite.  She helped my grandfather manage their drive-in restaurant.  She coached the young people who worked for her at the restaurant on how to mind their manners, develop a strong work ethic, and represent their employer and community with pride and dignity.   She was an old fashioned, fierce, Godly woman who loved her family and loved her Jesus.  She refused to talk poorly about others because she felt it was a terrible sin.  She taught me about faith, unconditional love and how to respect myself and others through her actions.  She could talk the talk and walk the walk.  She held her loved ones to a high standard, and she voiced her disapproval when we fell short.  But there was always love.   She was love and light, with a little bit of sass.

The last time I saw her prior to her passing was last July during our annual summer trip.  Her Alzheimer’s was progressing rapidly and she had become more emotional and confused.  I knew it was the last time we would make the trip as a family.  Too many people in the room made for a rough afternoon.  As I was leaving and saying good-bye, she was the most distant she had ever been,  like she was saying good-bye to the mail man.  At the door as I was about to walk out, I turned around and said, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”  In an instant she lit up from the inside and said, “And that covers a lot of territory.”

She was laughing as I closed the door behind me.

Getting Old is not for Sissies

At least that’s what my 95-year-old Nanny (grandmother) tells me, and after spending a little over a week with her in Illinois last week, I would whole-heartedly agree with her.

My daughter Bryn was going on vacation with her grandparents, so I flew her to St. Louis from LA, handed her off to her grandparents who were driving to Florida for a week of fun in the sun, and then drove the three hours north to my grandmother’s house in Bloomington, IL.

Upon my arrival, my grandmother burst into tears and announced how happy she was to see me.  I had just been to visit her the month before as part of our annual summer vacation, but sadly, at 95 years of age her memory is not what it used to be.  Although it had only been a month, she was unable to recall my previous visit.  This always breaks my heart.  She will say things like, “No one ever comes to visit me.”  I gently remind her that I see her every summer, and although she believes me, her reality is such that she cannot remember the visits, so for her it’s like it never happened.

10422269_10153164412434668_2062150226730818813_n[1]While my Nanny is very healthy physically, her memory loss and diminished capacity for independence grates on her self-esteem.  She hates that she can no longer stand at the stove and prepare full meals or bake the delicious cakes and desserts she always enjoyed having in the house.  Every time I came to visit she always had a cake, pie, or some amazing sugar creation waiting for whatever company happened to stop by.  She was always prepared for company.  Now, she is still able to care for her own physical needs, prepare light meals like sandwiches, and also do some very light housekeeping, but for the most part her recliner in the living room occupies most of her attention these days.

12019820_907152482686906_3905592130149668443_n[1]My Nanny is 95 and my grandfather turns 97 this week.  They don’t have computers, internet, Wi-Fi, or even a DVD player.  They have cable TV, but that’s about it for modern technology.  Their day consists of rolling out of bed around 9am, and sitting in their chairs in the living room all day long, watching baseball, Mass, Fox News, and AMC movie classics.  That’s it.  I imagine I will find that life pretty enjoyable if I make it to their advanced age, however, for a 41 year old active woman, it was enough to make me want to throw myself from a cliff.

I wanted to spend quality time with them, so that meant sitting with them in the living room.  For hours.  Every day.  For nine days.  Watching Fox News.  And Lawrence Welk.  For the love of God, Lawrence Welk.  Watching her sing along to songs she has known for fifty years was heartening, but it was also like nails on a chalkboard.  My grandmother sings beautifully, and it made me happy to see her happy, but an hour of Lawrence Welk is enough to make me want to grind my ears through a pencil sharpener.  Now imagine a week of that.  (If you are reading this and you don’t know who Lawrence Welk is, google it.  Right now.  Then drink a bottle of wine and thank your lucky stars you weren’t me last week.)  I used to watch it with her when I was in college, just because it made her happy.  I did the same thing this week, just to make her happy.  Damn, I’m a really good granddaughter.  One night I came upstairs to find them watching AMC Classics, and Animal House was on.  OMG!  Talk about awkward!  But I sat through the movie because it was two hours of something funny and relative to my age group.  At the end, my Nanny declared it to be “junk” and she stated that if people actually thought this movie was good, then she held little hope for the future of our country.  I informed her that Animal House is a cult classic and almost everyone loves this movie.  She was thoroughly disgusted with humanity and went to bed.

11870911_511767202313147_6626111183102035627_n[1]Oh, and did I mention that many people tend to lose their filter when they hit advanced ages?  Well, my Nanny is no different.  This is a Christian Catholic woman who took her responsibility as a Christian seriously, and my whole life she refrained from talking trash about others because she felt it was a horrible sin.  However, that is no longer the case.  She has become brutally honest and says whatever pops into her head.  For example, among other shocking statements, she told me one day that I was the fattest she had ever seen me, and what the hell did I think I was doing letting my body go to shit like that.  I’m totally serious, and this is a woman who never cussed.   I reminded her that I’m not 25 anymore, I’m almost 42 years old and I usually work out 3-4 days per week.  She said, “Well, whatever you’re doing, it’s not working for you.”  One day I came upstairs wearing fashionably distressed jeans.  She said, “Are those the best clothes your husband can afford to buy for you?”  So I said, “Yes Nanny, and can you believe I bought these jeans with the patches already sewed into them?”  She rolled her eyes in disgust.  I winked at her.  We both laughed.

Due to her memory loss, we also had many repeated conversations.  She would ask me the same questions every few minutes, and I would give her the same answer, every time she asked.  We did this every day.  Several hours per day.  I was kind to her.  I was gentle.  I tried to remind her that she was still pretty and valuable.  Whenever I told her she was beautiful, she would say, “Yeah, pretty ugly, and pretty apt to stay that way.”  I’m laughing as I type this because her sense of humor is awesome.

IMG_1163I had to leave the house for a little while each day to maintain my sanity.  I found myself falling asleep on the couch with them at 6:30pm.  I was sleeping until 9am in the morning.  I was becoming an old person.  One day I looked at my VivoFit and saw that in the entire day, I had only walked 892 steps.  In a whole day!  The next day I went for a four mile walk just to combat the sedentary inclination.  I also went to the local campus, Illinois State University, my alma mater, and walked the quad.  It felt good to see the buildings, the new renovations and the efforts made to beautify and modernize the campus.  I found myself thinking, “Damn, I went to a nice school.”  I relived a lot of great memories that day and refreshed my old lady soul.

One day, Nanny let me take her for a drive.  She was alive with excitement driving around this town where she had spent her entire life.  She was seeing old and new buildings, construction and modern architecture, as if she were a young child in a new and enchanting land.  She was filled with memories and emotion as we drove past homes where she lived as a young woman with my grandfather, and cried when she observed new buildings where her old favorites no longer existed.  She lamented the time when she also would no longer exist, torn down and forgotten like an old, worn out building.

The day I left we said a tearful good-bye.  We are both painfully aware that at the end of each visit there is a very real possibility that it will be our last.  Before I left she looked at me and said, “You know I may not remember you at all next year.”  I held back my tears and said, “Yes, but I will remember you.”  And I drove away watching her in my side mirror as she stood in the driveway, beautiful and proud, with her hand raised in the air.  As she always does when I leave her.

So yes, whether you are 41 or 95, getting old is most definitely not for sissies.

Another Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary, world!

Today marks the two year anniversary of A Girl Named Wanda!  I can’t believe it’s been two years, and I continue to be blown away by the fact that so many of you continue to read my non-sense and ramblings. Thank you for your support, encouragement, and the endless hours of entertainment I’ve enjoyed by reading your blogs and sharing in your experiences.

Currently, I am visiting my grandparents in central Illinois and I am without Internet. 😳They are 95 and 97 years old, so computers and wi-fi isn’t really their thing. I’ve used 20% of my cell phone battery in typing these two paragraphs into the WordPress app.  Awesome. While I can’t go into great detail at this time, after spending a week here away from my family and no access to modern technology outside of my phone, you can rest assured that my next post will be worth the wait. 😜

Thank you again for reading!

Wanda Says…Blogging Awards, number 3!

 

neatblog

 

It happened again!

A Girl Named Wanda has been nominated for the Real Neat Blog Award by Ray over at The UnsimpleLife.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Ray through his blog and you should head over and check him out.  He has a fun, wicked sense of humor combined with the madness that is raising children, and that makes reading his posts a real good time.  Thanks, Ray!

I love blog awards, and let me tell you why…there is validation in being recognized by your peers.  To receive that recognition is to know that other people ‘get you.’  They pick up what you’re putting down, and they enjoy it.  I love knowing that when I write a post and throw it out there for the world to read or discard, that even if only one person hits the like button, or only a handful of people read it or leave a comment, that someone understood what I wanted to say and maybe felt the same way too.  Or maybe I made someone laugh with my stupid sense of humor and not-so-artfully placed F-bombs, which is even better.  So again, thank you for the recognition, and thanks for reading my Wanda!

Let’s get to the award!

Real Neat Blog Award Rules:

1. Put the Award Logo in your post

2. Answer 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you

3. Thank the people who nominated you, linking to their blogs

4. Nominate any number of bloggers you like, linking to their blogs

5. Let them know you nominated them (by commenting on their blog etc.)

Here are Seven Questions for me to answer, provided by Ray at The UnsimpleLife….

imagesCIAWB5U7If you could be a sound, what would it be?

Have you ever been at an airshow, and an F-18 fighter jet flew overhead?  Have you heard the earth-quaking sound and sonic boom as the jet breaks the sound barrier?  Felt the way your bones compressed with the energy and noise?  If I could be any sound that’s what I would be.  It’s strong and creates an intense physical reaction.  It forces your heart to beat a little faster and chills to sweep up and down your body .  You can actually feel that sound moving through you and the ground vibrates beneath your feet from the enormity of it.  Yeah, I would be a totally fucking badass sonic boom.  (My friends who read this are probably like, “You’re more like a sparkler, or a weak firecracker, Wanda.”  And I would say, “Oh yeah, screw you guys!  I’m a sonic boom and you know it!”).

What is the most wonderful thing that ever happened to you?

Of course, becoming a mother is the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me.  If you’re a parent, you get it.  If you’re not, then let me describe it as the moment in your life when you truly and irrevocably become part of something bigger than yourself.  And I think it’s the most amazing thing in the world.  Everyday I look at my kids and think, “I can’t believe I made you.”  (And please, God, help me not to screw this up!).

loch nessIf you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

I would go to Scotland.  I’ve always wanted to visit Scotland.  It’s so beautiful in pictures and I want to explore old, ruined castles and spend hours imagining the lives of the people who lived there.  And I want to go to Loch Ness and look for Nessie.  I totally believe in Nessie, and I don’t care what anyone says.  And just so you know, Mermaids are real, too.

If you could invite any three people (living or dead) to dinner, who and why?

First and second would be both of my grandfathers.  Each, in their own way were larger than life and two of the greatest men I’ve ever known.  I would introduce them to their great-grandchildren and my husband.  To be able to spend an evening with them, just one more time, would be one of the greatest gifts I could ever receive.

imagesJJGJ5OSEAnd third, I would invite Linda Carter, but only if she shows up as Wonder Woman, parks the invisible jet in my driveway and demonstrates the Lasso of Truth to my kids.  Wonder Woman was my childhood hero and I still idolize her today.

 

What is your ideal sandwich, and why?

The Rueben is my favorite sandwich.  I love it because it’s sweet, salty, and a little bit sour, just like me.  😉

What is true about you today that would make 10 year old you cry?

As a child I was painfully shy and insecure.  I grew up in a dysfunctional household (who didn’t?), which didn’t help with my low self-esteem.  It wasn’t until I became a young woman that I began to embrace my own inner-strength and to speak up for myself, as well as others.  As an adult, I would tell my ten year old self to be patient, because life gets better.   I would tell her that she has to learn that she can survive the hard things in life, because that is part of becoming who she is meant to be.  I would tell her….you are good enough, and one day you will feel the unconditional love and acceptance that you so desperately wanted as a child.  One day, you will feel whole instead of fractured.  One day, you will be confident and happy.  And it will have been worth the wait because you will be made stronger and smarter for the more difficult things you experienced in life.

What do you get out of blogging, and why do you continue to blog?

Blogging helps me to feel more connected to others.  Since giving up my career and becoming a stay home parent, I’ve struggled with my sense of self and my sense of purpose.  I like being a stay home mom, but it’s hard to feel connected to the world when your life seems to be centered behind the walls of your house.  Being a part of the blogging community takes me to different corners of the world.  I can read and share in the lives of others, both near and far.  And I can contribute my own little piece to the ever-expanding puzzle.  Plus, I feel valued differently when I write something that another person enjoys, finds interesting or funny.  It makes me feel good to know that another person appreciates what I have to say, and also appreciates my participation in their blog, or their little piece of the universe.   I also enjoy reading and gaining the insights of others on topics that I may not have much experience with.  People are fascinating, even if you don’t always agree with them.

Now, onto my nominations….to the nominees listed below, if blog awards aren’t your thing, no big deal.  But hopefully you’ll enjoy some new traffic based on the super awesome things I’m about to say about you.

1.  I Refuse to Follow Your Blog  (This blog is very funny and the mastermind behind the catchy title enjoys making fun of all things in life that he considers to be pathetic, which is pretty much everything, including himself.  It’s a great read so check him out!).

2.  inspired4business (I’m new to this blog, but I love it.  Steve’s posts are always positive, upbeat and inspirational.  Just the pick me up many of us need to regain some perspective and insight on life and how we interact with others.  Check him out and I dare you not to be moved by his amazing attitude and outlook on life).

3.  Ben’s Bitter Blog  (Now, Ben’s blog has been around for a little while, and he’s been nominated for multiple blogging awards.  But not this one, because I checked!  Ben is very bitter, about everything.  And I really enjoy reading his bitter ramblings, and if you like to laugh, you will too!).

Now, I could list seven new questions here, but I found the questions provided by Ray to be thought provoking and entertaining.  So I’m going to mooch off his genius and save myself some time.

Thanks again for the nomination, and happy blogging!

Wanda Says…Birthdays can be dangerous, I guess.

My birthday is on Friday, and the customary cards have started rolling in from family and friends.  I had to share this because it was funny, and I would rather think about funny shit than the fact that I will be 40 on Friday.

A card came yesterday from one of my grandmothers, and she inserted this little gem into the card.

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I’m guessing she accidentally sent this instead of the customary check for $10.00.  Well, knowledge is power, so I guess having nine months advanced warning of National Safety Month is a gift, in and of itself.

Thanks Grandma!  🙂