Friday, May 14, 2010

Aveatque Vale: Grandma Jean

I’m really glad we are all here together today. More than anything, Grandma Jean wanted us to all be close to her. And never leave. She loved us all so fiercely and wanted to protect us all. She enjoyed our company and never wanted the good times to end. And what she would want, I believe, is for us to be sad today and feel the loss of her and the imprint she leaves in our heart as a remarkable mother, daughter, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend. She would want us to miss her. To remember her and remember what she taught us.

We should also celebrate her life for she accomplished a lot, most times with very limited material resources. Grandma Jean had to grow up fast and she had to learn a lot at a very young age. She was born in Pittsburgh but lived most of her life here in Canton. She told us all of her experiences growing up in a household with, unfortunately, not a lot of adult supervision. It made her tough and independent. It taught her that she had to be responsible and look out for those who couldn’t yet. She told us stories about her rough childhood, but she would tell them in such a way that we could learn from it or be amused. She wouldn’t have wanted us to focus on the heartbreaking parts. She would want us to take away the lesson she shared with us, that we have it in us to overcome adversity and make the world we want to live in. And that we ought to take care of each other.

Having been in charge of her destiny for most of her childhood, Grandma Jean had very little patience with authority and she didn’t trust authority figures. She knew best. She grew tired of school and decided to hit the road at fourteen and go back to Pennsylvania and get a job. She was stopped, of course, and sent back home. But she was determined make her own way in the world and to do it in her own way. She taught us that sometimes, it’s more important to be true to ourselves than to the status quo. For what could faceless authority know better than we do about how to live this live we’ve been given?

When she met my Grandpa, she knew right away she’d met the love of her life. After a short courtship, they spent over 50 years married to each other. Together they created a family that was tightly bonded. And she was fiercely loyal to us all. How many times has she taken us shopping or helped us spring clean? And as she helped us clean, she shared with us what she knew about running a household. She never refused a cry for help and most times, she could hear the cry for help before we could utter it. She would be at our sides, applying her energies to help us. She showed us how to serve others and that it was just part of the family territory.

There were many good times with Grandma Jean. She was an encyclopedia of card games and never said no to a game. She taught three generations how to play hundreds of card games. And when it came to Black Jack or poker, she’d always be there to coach you or to slide some of her change over to your side of the table when you were running low. She showed us how to think, how to be fair, and how to give someone a boost when they’re down on their luck. And winning wasn’t as important as just being happy together.

And she was a dancer. She and Grandpa loved to dance. They took lessons together at Arthur Murray, went to dances and would cut a rug at home too. Some of my best memories include all of us jumping and dancing in her living room. It was heaven to celebrate and cut loose in that house of hers with so many cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. She helped us be joyful together.

Later in life, she suffered some tough blows. She was heartbroken when her son, Bob, had to leave. He went to Arizona and, for a time, the light left Grandma Jean. But she recovered and we would all get caught up in the excitement of his returns for visits. She lost her sister Donna too soon. But before Donna left us and her health began to decline, Grandma didn’t miss a beat. She helped Donna get around in her wheel chair and made sure she was still enjoying life, even with her disability. She lost Grandpa in 2004 and her daughter Gail in 2006. Heartbroken doesn’t begin to describe the depths of her woe from losing a husband and daughter within two years of each other. But she found joy again with those of us who were still with her. She showed us how to suffer and still live on.

Despite the blows her heart received throughout life, she never missed a chance to love. She doted on her grandchildren and great grandchildren. If you take a look at the memory board, you will see many of the pictures show her with a baby on her lap. I remember her with my children when they were just wee tiny babies and she would hold them, swaddle them, coo to them, dress them up and tell me all she knew about babies. She was a lioness, providing for the young and protecting them with all her strength. She loved us all so much.

Part of her lioness strength meant that she could be confrontational. She stood up for what she believed was right. In particular, she didn’t want us to stray from her and tried to keep us all close. Many of us still remain within a few hundred mile radius from her because life is easier, better with an ally like her in your life. But she would tell you exactly what she thought of your plans to move to New York City or Timbuktu and try to work you over to keep you close. She showed us how independence was good but family was better.

And she watched over her world. I remember her last summer. She was following the story of the sparrows that took up residence on the back porch. She watched them build their nest and told us about how the mother and father birds took turns gathering materials. She let us know when there were eggs and when they hatched. She told us when the couple argued and when the kids were ready to go out on their own. She soaked up the lessons of the creatures around her.

When she did get the blues, they hit her hard. Sometimes a pep talk would help. Often times, she’d have a long bath or go shopping. For sure, a win at bingo would brighten her day. I used to play bingo with her every Tuesday morning at St. Paul’s. I’d get off work at seven a.m. and meet up with her at her house. She’d have had her bath and coffee and was ready to go. We’d go out for breakfast and head over to get the good seats. We’d win here and there but mostly, we’d just enjoy the long mornings together doing something fun. I hope you had the chance to play bingo with her. That was when you got to see her joy and experience her gentle way of showing you how to do things efficiently and easily.

And she was efficient. She worked for years at Nationwide Insurance where she focused on the best and easiest ways to do things. I’ve often heard her speak with fondness of experiences there. There she learned her job and the jobs of her counterparts so they could support each other. She got to travel to Chicago and New York City. She and her sister Donna worked there until retirement, where they received a loving send-off. But Grandma was young yet to retire. She later began helping out at Grandpa’s office, then she took various jobs at Value City and Hills, where she was able to get all the linens she could carry at a discount. She taught us to do what we love and to use our time wisely so that there would be more time for fun, for family.

Grandma Jean had a heart of gold. She was so generous and giving of her time and resources. She wanted to give each of us everything our little hearts’ desired. I’m so sad today that her body wasn’t able to keep up with her heart and mind, because until the very end of her life, she was still worried about us. She still cared how we were and if we’d had success or needed help. Her mind and heart were solid. And she showed us that even bound to a bed; we can still be of use to each other and connected to the world.

So let’s go ahead and cry today. Let’s be sad for our own great loss. Let’s hold hands and embrace. We have lost a teacher, a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother, an aunt, a friend. In short: We have lost our rock. But what would Grandma do if she saw us so sad? She’d pull us all together at her kitchen table and get us each a pop or a bowl of soup. We could just sit and talk or get a card game going. Without her, we pebbles can band together and be almost as strong as she was. But I believe in my heart, as long as we are together and close, she is with us.

Thank you.


  1. Beautifully written. My condolences to you and your family, Flann.

  2. Well done. I didn't know here before but now I not only know her, I love her as well. Rest in peace Jean.

  3. Nice remembrance, Flannery. I love that she knew so many card games. It's becoming a lost talent.

  4. Beautiful tribute, Flan. I'm sorry for your loss, but I, too, believe that she will live on in you and the others she touched and that you'll see her again someday.

  5. I'm so sorry for your loss. What a lovely tribute you wrote for her.

  6. What a beautiful and touching tribute.

  7. That, my dear, was brilliant. May we all live our lives in such a way that such a tribute to what we've done can be spoken at our final hour.

    I love the images you paint. such strength and courage! I love the different teacher/coach/mentor roles she so easily filled, and I love the way her passion and zest for the things she loved-- her family, especially-- comes through.

    Yes, we all know that The Clock of Life is wound but once and all that poetical stuff, but I think she really KNEW how precious life is and never took it for granted, and THAT is truely a gift that she gave.

    Again, a brilliant testimony to a long life, well lived. I know she's proud of you, all of you.

  8. Thanks, guys.

    And Cap'n, thanks for your kind words. That means a lot.

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