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.

This is how I know I’m getting old, Part 2

Several months ago I wrote a post titled, This is how I know I’m getting old.    I talked mostly about how my attitude and perspectives about various things have changed over the years, for better or for worse.

Well, my attitude is not the only thing that’s been changing.  As my 94 year-old Nanny would say, “Getting old is not for sissies.”

Here are a few more tell-tale indicators that I am officially old.

1.  When I was younger, if I had a weird pain in my abdomen I wouldn’t think twice about it and blamed it on the pizza I ate for dinner.  Now, weird pains in any part of my body makes me worry about kidney stones, ulcers, cancer and any number of horrible diseases that seem to be an inevitable part of aging.  I’m 41, and it’s logical to think my shit is going to start falling apart.  I didn’t worry about my liver in my twenties.  Now, with every cocktail, I worry that my liver is 41 years-old and may not appreciate my love of wine and margaritas.  The same holds true for all my other organs.  I think to myself, “Damn, my lower back hurts, I hope my kidneys aren’t about to have a mid-life crisis.”

2. I have sun spots on the back of my left hand, but not on my right hand.  My left hand is my driving hand and the hand that gets the most sun exposure when I’m in the car.  Now I hate myself for not putting sunscreen on that hand before driving every day for the last 25 years.  No one thinks about sun spots or sun damage on their hands when they’re 25!

11195999_s3.  When I was eighteen, my mom warned me that as I aged the elasticity around my eyes would be one of the first things to go.  Her intention was to provoke me into a routine of good skin care.  Thankfully I listened to her, for the most part.  But she was right.  The skin on my eyelids isn’t as tight as it used to be, and I can no longer wear any type of shimmer eye-shadow because it accentuates the loose skin and makes me look like an old hooker.

4. Saggy boobs.  Sigh.  I won’t go into too much detail about this because, you know, TMI.  But I will say two things on this subject.  1. I would kill to have my 25 year-old boobies back, and 2.  Gravity combined with Age is a double whammy of a mother-fucker and I hate you both.

5. More often than I care to admit, I will walk into a room to do something and realize I’ve completely forgotten what I entered that room to do.  My short-term memory is for shit at this point, and it never fails.  I will walk all the way back downstairs and then remember what I walked upstairs to do.  So then I have to walk back up the stairs, which is hell on my knees.  And this leads me to #6…

If you're too young to get this reference, then I feel sorry for you.

If you’re too young to get this reference, then I feel sorry for you.

6. About two years ago, I noticed my knees were starting to hurt when I walked up stairs.  Then it was my ankles.  I went from being able to do jogging intervals during my workouts to low impact incline intervals because my knees and ankles couldn’t handle the impact from jogging anymore.  Also, whenever I bend at the knees or ankles, twist or pivot those joints, everything goes snap, crackle and pop.  The other night my knee popped so loudly it sounded like bone snapping and my husband looked at me and said, “Holy shit, was that you?”  Arthritis runs heavily in my family and my mom and grandmother have both had knee replacements.  After multiple workouts with my trainer that resulted in extreme pain in my knees and ankles, she insisted that I stop ignoring the problem and see an orthopedist.

About two weeks ago I had my first appointment with the orthopedist.  During the appointment I was shuttled between various techs, X-ray,  and the doctor’s physician’s assistant.  At one point, two techs got into an argument over which one of them was to assist me to an exam room.  Here’s how the conversation went:

Tech 1:  I’ll be taking you to exam room 4.

Tech 2:  No, she’s with me in room 6.

(I’m standing in between these two guys who are towering over me.  They’re young, perhaps in their mid-twenties.)

Tech 1:  Are you trying to steal my patient?  She’s with me.

Tech 2:  Dude, she’s with me.  She want’s to be with a better looking guy anyway.

Me:  Boys, settle down.  This isn’t a bar and you don’t need to fight over me.  And by the way, everyone here is good-looking, so that’s not a qualifier.  (I live in LA.  The staff in this doctor’s office all look like they stepped off the cover of some trendy health/fitness magazine.  And the fact that they were arguing over me and I was annoyed by it is further proof that I’m officially old.  It wasn’t flattering.  I wanted to knock their heads together and tell them to grow the fuck up.  See, I’m so old.)

20686060_sThankfully the physician’s assistant came to my rescue and directed me to the room she wanted me in.  When my doctor walked in my jaw almost hit the floor.  He did not look like a distinguished orthopedic surgeon.  As my husband so aptly described it, he looked like a Swedish porn star.  Tall, definitely younger than I expected, athletic, easy on the eyes.  I could imagine him more clearly in a wet suit surfing on the beach or posing in a photo shoot for a men’s health magazine before I would imagine him in an operating room. (I realize this information is completely irrelevant to the topic of my post, but when your doctor looks like he could be working in a strip club, that certainly adds an element of holy-crap-I-have-veiny-legs-and-I-have-to-let-hot-doctor-touch-them stress to the situation.  Hot doctors are not a good thing, and they add to the discomfort of the situation.  I already feel old.  Now I feel old and self-conscious about whether or not I shaved my legs good enough that day.  The struggle is real, folks.)

It's an angry needle.

It’s an angry needle.

He sent me to get an MRI and the results showed that I’ve lost most of the cartilage around my patella/knee caps.  I also have the beginning stages of arthritis in my knees.  The treatment at this point is a series of shots in my knees to replace my joint fluid and lubrication, along with physical therapy.  I almost lost my shit when he asked if I was ready for my first shot.  I’m not thrilled about letting anyone stab me in the knees with a four-inch needle!  So,  I said, “No, thank you.”  He said, “PT is going to hurt like hell if we don’t do this, and it will help alleviate the pain and inflammation in your knees.”

Rock, meet hard place.

So I sucked it up and got the first of six shots.  If you’ve never had a shot in your knee, let me say this….it was unpleasant, but it certainly wasn’t the worst thing I’ve endured.  It was fast and I didn’t scream or curse out loud.  That’s good for me considering I dropped a ‘mother-fucker’ during my mammogram.   But I had to grit my teeth and my back involuntarily arched off the table in physical response to the sensation.  For me, dental shots are worse.  An epidural is worse.  Mammograms are most definitely worse.  And considering I need three shots in each knee to complete the treatment, that’s a good thing.  My knee was sore for the rest of the night and I rewarded myself for my bravery (yes, I’m calling it that) by having wine and sushi for dinner.  It was a treat, and my old, broken-ass deserved it.

In summary…my Nanny was right, getting old is definitely not for sissies.