Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Going Home to Memphis....

Doxy's Note: This was the eulogy I delivered at my grandmother's funeral today. It does not come close to doing her justice....

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Ammom in the 1940s


It was her stock threat when she was mad at me: “I’ll just go home to Memphis!”

Over the 15 years we lived together, I heard it more times than I could count. I could almost predict when it would pop up in an argument. “Here it comes...in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...”

But we both knew it was an empty threat. She might actually have decided to go home to Memphis and leave me--but I knew she would never leave as long as the Emperor and the Empress (my son and daughter) were around.

(My Uncle John and Aunt Jo Ann confirmed this for me at the funeral home last night. They said “Every time we talked to her, she told us all about the Emperor and the Empress. We had to ASK about you..." ;-)

Two weeks before she died, we had a fight. She hated it that I insisted on calling in a home healthcare agency to watch over her when I went out of town. She was almost hissing she was so mad. “I’m FINE! I don’t need anyone to stay here with me! All those people do is SIT!”

Which, of course, is what we were paying them to do.

And then she pulled the usual line: “If you are going to call those people again, I’m going back to Memphis.” And she looked at me and added “SOMEBODY [meaning me, of course] has decided that I’m going to die, and I am NOT going to die!”

At that point, I laughed and said “I hope you don't. But let me know how that works out for you...”

It’s impossible to avoid the occasional argument when you live together as long as we did, but by bedtime, we had made up--as we always did. As I kissed her good night, she said “You know I’m not going back to Memphis.” And I laughed again and said “I know.”

And yet...here we are. She has come home to Memphis for good now. She was born here, began her life with my grandfather here, and raised her children and grandchildren here. And now she will sleep here, until Christ comes again in glory and we all experience “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

The time between now and then will not be easy for those of us left behind.

I have often wondered what I would say in my grandmother’s eulogy. I’m a writer, and words tend to flow pretty naturally for me--but not now. The enormity of this loss is too large, and my grandmother’s absence seems to be blocking all my attempts at eloquence.

So I will just speak the simple truth--which is that my grandmother is truly the best person I’ve ever known.

In all that she did, Ammom was kind, thoughtful, and loving. She always put others first--sometimes at great cost to herself.

She showed me how to love--deeply and even wastefully.

She demonstrated that “love” is a verb. For my grandmother, loving was DOING. It was clean laundry and a homemade coconut cake. It was caring for my grandfather for so many years--and then caring for my children--and treating both sets of responsibility as a privilege, rather than a chore.

In all her loving, she was no stranger to sorrow. She knew the price of love is always loss...and she did it anyway. She never held back her love or her gift of service in defense against the pain to come--because, even though she knew what love costs, she also knew what it was worth.

In that, she was a model for us all.

Ammom often said “I have faith like a child.” I know that she took seriously Jesus’ words that we should love God and one another, along with his injunction to us to care for the least among us. She had a servant’s heart and she loved with all that heart, and with all her soul and all her mind.

And now, as Christ promised, she has her reward. She rests with God and all the other saints we love and miss--and she has come back to Memphis at last. Not in anger or chagrin--but in peace and in hope.

Welcome home, Ammom...welcome home.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Death and Disney

I learned that my grandmother had died just after exiting the Soarin’ ride at Epcot. In true 21st century fashion, I got the news on my iPhone in a Facebook message from my mother.

Disney is a surreal place, soin some weird wayit all seemed appropriate to get the news here, and in that way.

I had already been planning a blog post on my Disney experience. I knew I wouldn’t be the firstor the lastto comment on the artificiality and the consumer culture run amok. The four Disney parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios) are paeans to an America that never was, idols to the cult of capitalism, monuments to sexism and patriarchy, and cultural Imperial Storm Troopers, who will co-opt anything that will make the Walt Disney “brand” a buck (or a million).

They also have kick-ass roller coasters, which is not an insignificant point in their favor.

What struck me as I stood there, staring at the message that my grandmothermy rock, my role model, my championwas gone, was how much I wanted that Disney version of the world to be true. Disney bills itself as “The Happiest Place on Earth,” andon some levelthat may well be true. The place is overrun with little kids who are delirious with joy. The employees are invariably friendly and helpful. Everything is spotlessly clean.

And there is no death here.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Disney “does” death, of course. But the only Disney characters who die seem to be those in the background (mothers, mostly) and those who “deserve” it: the witch in Snow White, Ursula in The Little Mermaid, Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, and Shan Yu (and his army) in Mulan, to name a few. All the main charactersthe “good people”get to live happily ever after.

There is no room for the messiness of death and grief in the Magic Kingdom. You have paid a ridiculous amount of money to be here and to be happy, andby Godyou have no excuse and only yourself to blame if you aren’t.

But tell that to an 11-year-old, who weeps for the loss of her “best friend” and who keeps asking me “Why did Ammama have to go away?” She has never known a life without my grandmotherfor whom she is named. They have been friends and confidantes, and my daughterin true Disney fashionhad convinced herself that my grandmother would not…could not…die and leave her with no chance for “happily ever after.”

This is a hard lesson to learn in the Happiest Place on Earth. For both of usI wanted that to be true as much as she did.

We are riding the roller coaster of grief now. There is no line for that one. There is no Fast Pass that will get us through the waiting and the pain and the just-plain-tedium of death and its aftermath.

There is no end to that ride. It will just keep going and going, untileventuallyit will run out of steam and we will be allowed to exit. But we will be instructed to watch our step and to take our baggage with us as we leave. And "happily ever after" will never look quite the same again....