On her 90th birthday, Nana pulled me aside and asked me if I would be willing to give her eulogy at her funeral. The question seemed so odd –given her mortality never seemed to be on hers or anybody else's mind. So, feeling a bit alarmed, as if death may be imminent, I began to work on it the very next day. I then curled up on the couch next to her and read it to her. We laughed, cried and reminisced. She teased me saying, "there better not be a dry eye in the church."
The eulogy was then placed in a drawer where it remained for the next 15 years.
As I pulled it out of the drawer to review it and prepare for today. It no longer seemed complete. I couldn’t have possible known what it would be like to stand here today—in real time --trying to share with all of you the true essence of who she is.
My grandmother was born as Amelia Bernishwava Sitosky in Rossiter PA to Polish immigrants in May of 1912 –the same year that women advocated for the right to vote and the first toy was placed in the cracker jack box.
She left this world the same way she lived--- with a smile on her face.
Her death was certainly not tragic. After all, at 105 years old, she lived a very long and blessed life. And so it would seem that saying goodbye should be easy as we celebrate a life well lived. But this morning when I gathered my notes out of the drawer that have been waiting for years to be shared; put on her pearl necklace ---the one we bought during one of our many shopping trips to Polski’s department store; and walked past her empty bedroom, I realized that it is actually BECAUSE she lived such a long life that this will not be easy nor quick to say good bye. Her death has left a silence in its wake—a silence that is unbearably loud.
I have very few memories that don’t include my grandmother. She was not the grandmother that you visited on the obligatory Sunday. She was the one who you ran to when you wanted something from the cookie jar or had the desire to learn to bake bread. She was the lady sitting at the small kitchen table who could make you laugh until milk would spew from your nose. She was the person who could hold you accountable for your actions all the while making you feel valued and respected. She was the smile saying you are loved no matter what.
She was my college roommate, my shopping buddy, my ceramic partner, my guru of moisturizers, my confidant, my advisor, my heart.
She was the women who I finally convinced that simply sitting on a bar stool would not magically turn her into a “lady of the night”—contrary to what she had been told. So, at the age of 92, she reluctantly allowed me to push her up onto a bar stool so we could split a beer and enjoy a burger---all the while mumbling under her breath, that my grandfather must be turning in his grave.
She was the lady who had a great sense of humor but she didn’t know it. She could catch you off guard with her wit and make you laugh until you peed just a little- then she would laugh.
In fact, during her major league pitching debut she had the announcers laughing. For her 100th birthday, she was set to throw out the first pitch during a game. While getting the ball over the plate was important, of course, what was more important to her was how she looked doing it. She practiced her wind up overhand pitch for weeks with Jay to get her form perfected. The night before, she carefully selected her outfit ---the stretchy blue pants and the signed Omar Visquel jersey. The microphones from four different television stations were attached to the top of her pants. She was ready. She began to walk to the mound, as the announcer could be heard in the background calling her name. And with the microphones live, transmitting to the booth ---she turned to me and said, “hey, do these microphones make one side of my ass look bigger than the other?”
She was the human being who could see need in others and would respond without hesitation. Nana would often say that when we sit quiet and we listen to the life stories of others, we learn to be compassionate free of judgment. Even on her death bed as we sat near her talking about this funeral--- she said that the best way to honor her is to support organizations who offer food to those in need. She could not bare to think about anybody going hungry.
She is my grandmother. She was and will always be the quiet, raspy voice in my head guiding me to my purpose on this earth. Her voice pushes me forward with a passion to be grateful for all the moments that were painful but brought me incredible gifts—like this one. She reminds all of us that the challenge is to live knowing there is an end—reminding us to make courageous choices –deciding on what to expend energy and fear and where to place our passions and our heart.
Nana lived Greedy for Life because of each of you sitting here today. She cared about what you were doing and how you were feeling. She absorbed moments, savored every blessing and held on to every last drop of life. And I know she has passed on that Greed to all of us, because we sit here today, wishing for just one more moment with her.
I will carry her heart in my heart and with every act of kindness, generosity or courageous choice that I make —she will be the whispering voice.
Nana knew that today would be hard for all of us-- so she asked me to share this message from her.
Thank you all for being here today. Not only for me but for each other. To be here with each other to offer a tissue or a hug or to simply laugh and share stories. I wish I could be here with you to listen in on what you are saying about me or to simply share some of the popcorn that I know you are enjoying.
I want you to know that I have lived a wonderful life—not an easy one but a wonderful one-- thanks to all of you.
I knew the hardship of growing up as a poor child. I knew what it was like to be hit and spit on and made fun of for wearing shoes with holes in them and hand me down clothes.
I suffered physical pain and on a few occasions fought death off when it wasn’t my time.
I endured the heart break of burying two of my three children, my husband, my parents and my siblings.
But wrapped into all of that was the sheer joy of living --- I knew what it was like to feel love and to give love, to hold my babies, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren and my great, great grandchildren---such a blessing.
I am taking with me a heart filled with love and gratitude for every small and big act of kindness that was every offered to me. Trust me they mean everything.
“For it is in giving that we receive, It is in pardoning that we are pardoned and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
I won’t say goodbye to you because that word makes me feel sad.