Thursday, March 03, 2011

My Grandma, Marilyn Becker 1928-2011

Here is the eulogy I delivered at Wednesday's services. I've never written one before. I felt clueless about what to say on Monday, but when I awoke Tuesday morning, the words just started flowing. I ran upstairs to the computer before eating breakfast, and aside from a few minor tweaks, wrote it in about 15 minutes (writing works that way sometimes). I felt that it needed more of an ending, but everything I thought of seemed too trite. I let my wife and my mom read it on Tuesday, and they didn't suggest any changes even when I expressed my uncertainty about the conclusion. The only change I made Tuesday night was to reprint using the largest font size that would fit on a single page so it would be easier to read.

I'd rate myself average as a public speaker. I get a little nervous, but it doesn't scare me. This time I remembered to look around the room (this came before we entered the church proper) as opposed to reading off the page. Although this was a funeral, I didn't expect so many people to be looking down as I spoke -- I didn't make much eye contact. There was no podium or microphone, but I forgot to be conscious about maintaining good posture, not fidgeting, and projecting my voice. People I polled later seemed to think I did okay at those things anyway. The finish was awkward -- I really should have put more of an ending on it, or maybe I should have delivered the last paragraph with more finality. In retrospect, just changing the first words of the last paragraph from "And of course" to "And finally" would have helped. Anyway, here it is...

When my family asked me to write something about my grandma, I thought, Boy, this is going to take a while because there are so many things to say. I started jotting down notes about Rold Gold pretzels, the Olympics, Wheel of Fortune, the Chicago Cubs, her Roman Catholic faith, and WGN radio. Then they spoke with people at the church and changed my assignment – they said it had to be something shorter, just a few thoughts or memories.

At first, I panicked. I mean, how do you choose from such a rich and memorable lifetime of 82 years? Then I felt unworthy because I had trouble remembering specific stories from the past few decades. But I finally realized that Grandma can best be summed up by something that happened very recently.

About two weeks ago, Grandma was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia and placed in intensive care. One night we were all there except my Aunt Lynn and Uncle Jack. Jack was having an outpatient procedure performed on his nose. We were gathered around Grandma's bed in the ICU, and she was lying there with all that medical equipment hooked up to her. We were very worried because deep inside, we knew her prognosis wasn't good. But Grandma just kept asking about Jack. She wouldn't relax until my dad called Lynn and assured Grandma that Jack was doing fine.

I think that was Grandma in a nutshell. She was such a generous, loving, caring person that even in a moment like that she was concerned about someone else in the family. And the more I think about that moment, the more the rest of her life falls into place.

Grandma loved hosting family gatherings and decorating the house for Christmas. She prepared huge spreads for Easter and Thanksgiving, feeding upwards of 20 people. Besides family, she took a genuine interest in everyone around her. Just ask the waitstaff at any restaurant that my grandparents frequented.

Grandma loved to shop, but what she really enjoyed was giving gifts to make people happy. I think the only person with a longer shopping list at Christmastime was Santa Claus. When my brother and I chose not to have kids, she set about spoiling our cousins' kids instead. She was also generous with her time, knitting afghans or cross-stitching pictures for us in addition to the gifts she bought.

And of course, I have to say something about my grandparents as a couple. Their 62 years together through good and bad have been an inspiration and role model to me, and judging from the longevity of their three daughters' marriages, for them, too.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. She sounds like a wonderful person and a wonderful grandmother.

Both of my grandmothers are still hanging on, but Grandma is half somewhere else already, and Grammy is... not doing well. (Suicide by old age, if you ask me, and bent on taking the rest of the family down with her. We're very alike.) Come to think of it, none of the elder Cavalis that I know of have passed from this world with grace to spare, so I guess there's no reason to expect anything else. :(

Sorry for the rant; people are usually astonished to learn that I still have three surviving grandparents, and I'm not even 30 yet. It's hard to talk about Grammy to people for whom Grandma is mostly a childhood memory.