22 January 2013

Little signs. Little moments.

Today my Grandma Cook would have turned 82 years old.  We had a birthday party for her when she turned 80, and I spent some time reflecting in my post A Legacy

I'm still having a hard time accepting that she's gone.  She had congestive heart failure and struggled for years, but always pulled through.  I can't even count the number of times she came close to death and somehow found the strength and perseverance to live on.  I think that's why her death has been so hard to accept--she had become, in my mind, an invincible woman.   But, her time came on a Sunday night in September, surrounded by family, surrounded with love. My mom, Aunt Brenda, sister, cousin, and myself were with her, and I know she left us and joined my grandpa, her son, and her parents.  Without question, those spirits were in that room--we could feel them. 

Grandma and Grandpa's engagement (around 1950)

Grandma with her mother, grandparents, and daughter 

There were a lot of forest fires nearby and the air in the valley was thick, heavy--an air to match suffering and sadness.  We'd sit with Grandma feeling the heavy air of pain in her room, only to leave and face the smoke outside.  It felt oppressive.  After she died, an emptiness replaced her room--no more pain and no more suffering.  Release. Relief.  When we went outside at midnight we saw stars for the first time in weeks.  The smoke had cleared.  I looked up for a moment and felt humbled and touched.

I feel her with me still.  I took Ellie to the Nutcracker for the first time this year--something that Grandma took me to each year when I was a child--and I thought of her all night.  At intermission I noticed a old woman sitting a couple rows in front of me.  Her hair was the same color and style as Grandma's.  Every so often she turned to the young man next to her and smiled and from the side she looked just like Grandma.  Her glasses, cheeks, nose, the gray cardigan draped over her shoulders, even her hands were the same.  My eyes watered, but it made me happy to see this woman who reminded me of Grandma on this night of tradition Grandma instilled in me. 

With Gram, September 13, 2012

A couple months before she died, Grandma gave me her mother's china cabinet and a little spinning music figurine that was also her mother's. I keep the figurine in the cabinet and look at it often, but never take it out.  On Christmas morning after we opened gifts and were heading the into kitchen for breakfast, I passed the cabinet and heard music.  The figurine was slowly turning and playing music.  To be sure, I asked Matt and Ellie if they touched it, but both said no. I got goosebumps and knew then why the music was playing. 

Little signs.  Little moments.

I miss Grandma especially on days like today--special days that remind me of her. But the little moments when I feel her with me and when I'm reminded by the beautiful person she was and what she taught me help me feel at peace.  

I want to share with you the talk I gave at her funeral (I added a few things as I was speaking, so this written one is slightly different).  I tried to capture the woman she was--as I saw her--and the influence she had on her family. 


{Talk, September 29, 2012}

It’s difficult to put into words the richness of 81 beautiful years. My grandma was an extraordinary person, the kind that people were naturally drawn to because of the warm, welcoming spirit about her, and because of the love and kindness she emitted.

This week has been a time of reminiscing, looking back at all the memories Grandma gave us. And I’ve found as I’ve chatted with my family and cousins, that Grandma gave us more than just memories—she gave us values and joy.

Her life was filled with an appreciation of the arts, humor and fun, the love of service, and a deep devotion to family.

Gram loved the arts—ballet, opera, and especially music, and this love is something that she cultivated in many of us.  Because of her encouragement and inspiration, many of us sing or play an instrument, something that she always wanted to hear when visiting our homes. She went to all of my dance and piano recitals, all of my choir concerts, and she went to everyone else’s too.  She was so proud of us, and made us feel like real musicians with her encouragement and praise.

My first memory of Grandma’s enthusiasm for the arts stems back to a time when memories have a dream-like quality.  I was probably only 3 or so when Gram would put her record of Phantom of the Opera on her old record player, turn the volume up really loud, and let the music glide through that wonderfully sunny front room.  She didn’t care that Ariane and I ran around belting out right along with it.  Imagine two little girls' high-pitched voices and Gram’s gravelly, alto voice trying to sing soprano, projecting as loudly as possible, the lyrics to the Phantom of the Opera.  I’m sure it drove poor Grandpa nuts.

As I got older, Gram started taking me to the Civic Center to watch local productions of musicals and to the Boise Philharmonic concerts—we probably saw two or three of each a year and it never, ever got old. As she got older, we went less and less, until we finally couldn’t go at all.  This is when we’d re-watch movies like Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof. 

The Nutcracker ballet was always a special treat for us girls.  We’d get dressed up, Gram would drive us to The Jewett Auditorium, and we’d sit next to Gram and watch the ballet and listen to the music.  It was of great importance each year that Herr Drosselmeyer was cast just right, or Grandma would let us know. The set was usually the same every year and so were Gram’s comments and the way she’d jab our ribs and point out the men in very tight leotards.  It was times like that when I wasn’t sure if she really came for the ballet or not. 

But that was just Grandma’s sense of humor coming out.  She loved to laugh and joke, and always spoke her mind.  Many of our memories are of Grandma’s silly antics, things she did that made us laugh our whole lives. Things were never dull with Grandma, and she made sure that we weren’t too serious.

 In the evenings sometimes, she’d have Grandpa bring Sally or Lady—the cocker spaniels—in from outside so she could sing to them.  I don’t remember what song she’d sing, but it was terrible, and she’d raise her pitcher higher and higher and louder and louder until the dogs howled and scratched their ears.  And then Gram would laugh and laugh.  I’m still not sure which was funnier—watching those dogs howl or hearing Grandma’s deep, genuine laugh.

 When we were children, Gram had a way of making everything adventurous and fun.  We’d go for drives to get ice cream at Beefy’s or fries at Wheelers, but they weren’t just trips to the drive through. Often, we went after church. Grandma always said that Grandpa mustn’t know, nor our parents, and the excitement and mischievousness of it all made each little trip fun, and ever so slightly scandalous. 

As children, Grandma’s adventurous spirit felt magical, and she had a way of making each of us feel like the most important person in existence. Her hugs were the same way—you just sort of melted into her, forgetting the rest of the world.

And those hugs and that warmth were shared with everyone.  She loved making people happy, serving them, and giving of herself.  Everyone I meet who knew Gram always says the same thing—she always had something to give—time, food, gifts, kind words. Serving others was the motto and purpose of her life.  She always quoted the hymn “Because I have been given much I too must give.” It was one of her favorites, and one she modeled her life after. 

Service and compassion meant more than just giving—it meant seeing the best in everyone.  She’d always say “She’s such a neat lady,” or “Brother so-and-so is such a special person.” When I lived with her, I learned that no one could be faulted when they knew Gram—she held an unconditional acceptance of everyone.

I think everyone here knows Grandma best for her service and love—I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone in this room has, at one time or another, received a meal or flowers from her.  She gave not because she expected anything in return, not because she felt obligated to, but because she wanted to—it was in her nature to think of others before considering herself. 

She was relief society president when I lived with her, and I witnessed the dedication with which she served her calling.  Mornings were spent calling sisters, seeing who needed a meal, which families needed food from the church storage, who had passed, who was ill, or who needed a pick-me-up phone call—all before breakfast.  The rest of her day was spent making and delivering food, visiting people, and chats on the phone. I think she was made for that church calling—she was as close to a saint as anyone I’ve ever met. 

And even as she lay dying, Grandma was thinking of others.  I went to see her last Saturday and when I walked in her room noticed a little bottle of hand lotion and a card addressed to “Marge” sitting on her dresser.  I had never heard of “Marge”. The card was gone when I came back Sunday. Just hours before she passed, as I knelt by Gram’s bed consoling and comforting her, I heard singing erupt from the dining room: “Happy birthday dear Marge…” Grandma, in this time of personal suffering, made sure that her new friend Marge received a birthday gift—she never stopped giving, right up to the very end. 

           This same devotion and service extended to her family.  Above all, family took precedence in her life.  Somehow, she was able to divide her heart by 62 (if you count all of her children, grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, and all of our spouses), and the love she emitted multiplied by as much, if not more, with each addition of the family. 

               She was concerned about us grandkids as we grew up, making sure we knew how special our parents are, how “quarreling” was useless.  Forgiveness was her solution to fights and arguments, and the best way to have a happy family. 

               Emily was pregnant during the last months of Grandma’s life, and it wasn’t an easy pregnancy.  Gram worried about Emily and the baby so much—she’d always update me about Em, or ask if I’d heard anything. We learned of little Wyatt’s birth Sunday afternoon, and when I told Gram he had been born and that things were going to be okay, although she was slipping quickly, she did her best to respond. I know she heard and was happy. About 5 hours later, Grandma died.  We all feel that she held on to see the Wyatt’s birth—it was so important to her that her family was okay.

            As I’ve grown, leaving girlhood behind and entering womanhood, Gram proved to be a source of wisdom and strength, an example to emulate. Seeing the transition of her grandchildren into parenthood was something she took great joy in.

In 2007, four of us were expecting a baby all within 6 weeks of each other—Bryce, Tyson, Nate, and myself.  Bryce’s son Bryant was born first, and Gram called to let me know all the details.  Then Ty and Erin’s little Logan was born, about a week or two before I had Ellie.  I always told Gram how much I disliked being pregnant and sick, and how badly I wanted Ellie out of me, and she loved to tease me about keeping the baby in a little longer.  I’d say “Oh Gram! Don’t tell me that ANOTHER baby was born! I’m so ready!” She’d laugh and say that babies are much easier inside the body than out, and told me how difficult birthing a baby could be.  She was right, and the tidbits of wisdom she shared made me better prepared for the tasks ahead of me.
 She once told me about my mom’s birth—mom was breach and back then, there weren’t epidurals to help with the pain.  Grandma said that doctor gave her ether to know her out, but it was just too painful and didn’t work. “Your mother was my last baby for a reason” she said.  Gram spoke candidly about the issues of parents, especially mothers, but she’d always end with something like “Babies are just so sweet.” 

          Gram was, as Brenda says, “The rock” of our family. She single-handedly held us together, kept us up-to-date on all the goings-on of the cousins, provided a sense of calm and strength in times of hurt or need, and always let us know how loved we were.   Grandma was an extraordinary woman. I’m so blessed to have developed a close relationship with her (she was like second mother to me, more than just a grandmother), and that I was able to witness all of the good she brought to the world. 

Six years ago when I got married, Gram mailed me a 3 page, handwritten letter full of memories that she cherished about our relationship.  These memories aren’t of just the two of us, but rather, family memories.  That’s how she saw us all –one unit—her family.

I’d like to end with Grandma’s words, by sharing with you a few excerpts from this letter:

I remember a beautiful day about 21 years ago. I was wished with a very special little granddaughter. She was so precious to me…we enjoyed you being raised by us for your first quite a few years…It was nice having you raised on the farm…When you started school we would go to that drive in across from the park when I would pick you up, remember? You and Amber used to love to go there.  We used to bake cookies, put them on plates, and then you would go with me in the car and deliver them to different people…
After school we would somedays get a rose from Nampa Floral and you would take it to your mom at Murdochs. You always looked forward to Bryce and Scott and Ariane coming for the weekend and they would tease you and sometimes be mean to you. It always made me feel bad, but those are all the days gone by.
I used to love to go to your school concerts and watch you sing, but also earlier I liked your dance recitals and also your piano recitals. I love to hear you play the piano, you are such a talented person…I am so proud of you. I really liked it when you lived with me for a few months…
   I can’t believe you are going to get married. I just seems like yesterday you were born and we were all so happy. The time has gone by so fast…
I want you to know you are a special spirit and daughter of our Father in Heaven….I don’t know what I would have done without the church. I am so blessed every day because of my wonderful testimony. I know our Heavenly Father is always there for us.”

I am so thankful  that I was blessed with such a wonderful, loving grandma.  Through her example, I learned what it means to be a family, to love others, and how to live a beautiful life.


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