Writers are urged to resist sentimentality. I've tried. But, disclaimer: I. Just. Can't.
Today is my Grandma's 97th birthday. We wrote letters to each other for over thirty years, at least until arthritis and a failing memory prevented her from writing back. She died less than six months ago. I miss her. I couldn't attend her funeral, so I wrote one last letter which was read at her memorial.
Thank you for what you did for me. It meant everything. You were my first real memory: you taught me how to tie my shoes. It’s a simple but essential skill I’ve used almost every day since, and one that I will use for the rest of my life. How could I not think of you everyday, at least for a moment? It’s easy to think about you. Because you cared. You listened. You noticed. You were the first person I trusted. I remember your kiss before bed. No one ever did that before. I remember every new pair of knitted mittens. I felt calm reading your Reader’s digest books. I felt smart doing Grandpa’s newspaper puzzles because you encouraged me. I felt warm being in the garden with you
, watching Tub wander between the rows. I remember when I asked you to sit beside me at your electric organ because I had finally, finally learned a song to play for you, and together we sang Elvis’ hit song, “Love me tender, love me sweet, never let me go….
I felt safe with you—the way you said my name, the way you paid attention. There is a lot of rejection in life, but you accepted me. I didn’t think I was lovable, but you loved me anyway, despite my faults and flaws. There was always a whirlwind of nervousness and shame and loneliness twisting my childhood insides, but I felt peaceful with you. I remember how you would look at me from across the room and smile, just for me. No one else did that. I had two modes as a kid: bawling or annoying. (No wonder you drank scotch.) Yet you were patient with me. I don’t know...maybe you were an annoying kid too, or bullied, or felt different, or loved somebody who was? Or maybe you were fueled by compassion? Whatever the reason, because you accepted me, I learned to accept myself. I will always be grateful for that, plus it taught me how I should treat others, how to support and respect everyone, all kinds of people. I failed these lessons many times, sometimes still do, but they were lessons I surely needed
, and the world does too. Thank you. “Love me tender, love me true, all my dreams fulfilled….
I learned from you that happiness is a choice, and people need reminders. You helped me understand that worrying and bitterness is inaction. Sometimes, I would listen while you had conversations with others around all those kitchen tables, and when topics got dark and hopeless, you would find something witty and positive to say, dropping a mic on all that pointless complaining. You were honest. You would tease Grandpa until he stopped worrying, mocking his voice with a wink. You were authentic. That can be a vulnerable and thus uncomfortable way to be for most of us, but I watched you, and I learned. I asked you what you wanted for your birthday once
and you smiled and said, “I already have everything…plus a cane, and a walker, and one leg shorter than the other.” You were real. You had a way with words. You made me laugh. You taught me that honesty builds bridges between us, and laughter heals rifts, helps us cope, helps sustain us. You lifted us up. “Love me tender, love me long, take me to your heart…
I learned from you the meaning of real strength. I once stopped by to visit and found you in your bedroom on your exercise bike. Your walker was nearby. Sweating, you jumped off and we sat together, talked, and ate cookies. You made jokes about how fat you were getting, even though I’d guess you weighed the same trim weight your entire adulthood. You did not take yourself too seriously, you were always humble, but to me you were perseverance personified. You built a farm, you raised three kids, you picked the roots and shooed the bears. You cooked the feasts and scrubbed the clothes, and during all of this, your hair was curled just so. You lost your only son much too soon. Then your husband, your siblings, three of your grandchildren, your oldest daughter. No one can plan for that kind of grief, for a life with that much heartache. Only once, not that many years ago, do I recall your strength wavering, when you said, “I don’t know why I’m still here.” I understood you, Grandma. You didn’t want to be a burden. None of us do. But this moment passed, thanks to ice cream and chocolate, which are actually two very good reasons to persist through the struggles. But I know why you were still here Grandma. I’m telling you right now. You were here for me, and for everyone else in this room. To show us that we can endure more than we realize, that we are stronger than we think, and you will continue to teach us that lesson as we age. “Love me tender, love me dear, tell me you are mine…till the end of time
People say that everyone growing up needs that one person who believes in them. You were that person for me. You never missed my birthday or any other important occasion in my life. You never raised your voice. You made extra chocolate cupcakes just for me and told me to eat, eat, eat. (This may have worked too well on me Grandma.) You never judged me, ever. You told my wife
once, “David gets me.” You got me too, Grandma. You were my unconditional love. Thank you, because it made me a better, stronger person, even though I’m bawling a little bit right now and I can still be annoying. I will never forget you Grandma. You were loved and will always be loved; you will always be part of my stories, and if I have grandchildren someday, I will treat them exactly how you treated me… “Love me tender, love me true, all my dreams fulfilled….”