Friday, March 21, 2008
A life-long eulogy
Looking down from a pulpit at a blue casket and sprays of lilies and roses was surreal.
Even when your loved one is old, it’s hard to plan her funeral, much less sum up the accomplishments of a life that ended just short of a century.
But that’s what I found myself doing this week after my 91-year-old grandmother passed away.
My baby brother and I both had the honor and responsibility of giving a eulogy.
This certainly wasn’t the first time I had thought about what Pauline Vanessa “Granny” Strong Causey meant to me. But I knew that at 11 o’clock Wednesday morning, my words delivered to the First Baptist Church in Doyline had to count. Even for people who believe in an afterlife, a home-going celebration brings a certain sense of finality. I had, maybe, five minutes.
On one hand, it felt perfectly natural to speak about things both painful and joyous in front of a group of a couple hundred people. On the other hand, it was quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve done.
Jonathan recited a knock-knock joke and talked about Granny helping him learn to read. I read her motto, which she wrote on the inside of a card she gave me for a graduation. It told me, among other things, to be dependable and follow the Golden Rule.
There were the trips I’d take her on to the grocery store that somehow ended up including a dress shop or plant nursery. As I said Wednesday, Granny had ways of persuasion.
But after my brother, our cousins and I slid that blue coffin over a big hole in the ground, I started thinking of a lot more things I didn’t mention. Like the hair cut she gave me a month ago before I went to a Mardi Gras ball. She didn’t want any young’un of hers going to a fancy shindig with “duck tails,” she’d said. Or the red capes she used to make me before I started to school. I’d run around her yard with those things flying from an elastic band around my neck.
As we pallbearers pulled the pins out of the carnation boutonnieres attached to our coats and laid the flowers on the box that held her body, I couldn’t help but wonder if my words were enough. Will people remember who she really was? Will I?
The pain of loss is still fresh. But I think I know the answer to my questions. When we pick the first tomatoes off the vine in early summer we’ll think about how she’d bake them into a casserole that looks like a pie. When the daffodils – or buttercups as she called them – sprout in late winter, we’ll remember that she made us wait months to cut them with the mower because she said they wouldn’t bloom right the next year.
We’ll smile as we come across a newspaper clipping she stuck inside a notebook or romance novel. The faded yellow paper will remind us about a wedding or athletic event.
And we’ll cry when we look at old pictures of her cradling a baby.
Teddy Allen beautifully described her funeral service in a column that was a tribute in itself. But the best thing we can do will be to live her motto and retell stories about her in life’s little moments.
That, I think, makes her contributions infinite.
She told me just weeks before she died that she was proud of her family because, overall, we are good citizens. I hope we can continue to make that true.
(The photo is from Granny's 90th birthday party in August 2006. Special thanks to Times photogrpaher Val Horvath.)