The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The People Most Likely To Stick With You in the Future

     Today was my grandmother's memorial service.  Grieving my grandmother was strange until today. Today, it felt normal and okay. Memorials are important.

That's my grandma, but her body language and face here,
she looks exactly like my mom.
     My family and I have all spent the past three weeks preparing for this. The service was really nice. Just enough humor. Just enough spirit. When my cousin said during her eulogy that it had hit her that she would never receive another illegible letter from Grandma again (her eyesight wasn't great in the last few years, which made reading her letters somewhat of a shared family decoding activity) or sit around and chat politics, well, I pretty much lost it there. My grandmother was really rather "with it" until right up until the very end. Even when she started to lose her wits a little, the conversations were delightfully entertaining. Grandma always said exactly what was on her mind with no concern for political correctness or offensive content, which made listening to her like watching an episode of Saturday night live.

     I went on Pinterest and found some great ideas. I collected everyone's family photos with her in them in one Dropbox folder and I ordered prints of them from a legitimate photo place so that they would be high quality and look really nice, and I hung the photos up on clotheslines in the backyard and made a table runner from them too. (Incidentally, I forgot to take a picture of these and I thought it looked really nice. If anyone did snap a photo, can you send it to me?).  This way people could feel free to take the photos with them, so that they would have photos that they might not have had otherwise.  There's something to be said for paper photos that we might be losing in this digital age. It's nice to sit around and look at photos together without staring at a screen.
    I haven't really been emotional about it all this week -- the first couple of weeks were pretty tough, but this week I was more in "get ready for the reception mode."  But when I stood outside by myself hanging up all those photos, my grandma's entire life was on display for me and... wow... just wow.  I got so choked up. It's like disbelief, admiration, and sadness, all mixed into one.  In the video montage at the memorial, the song "My Way" by Frank Sinatra really said it best.
The little baby on far right, yeah... that's me. 
Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
 When I bit off more than I could chew 
But through it all, when there was doubt 
I ate it up and spit it out 
I faced it all and I stood tall 
and did it my way
 I've loved, I've laughed and cried 
I've had my fill, my share of losing
 And now, as tears subside, 
I find it all so amusing  
To think I did all that 
And may I say, not in a shy way, "Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way"

My grandma's life really had some ups and downs. When I think about some of the things she faced, I know that, put in the same situation, I'd have difficulty getting out of bed and functioning. But grandma ate it up and spit it out.  Okay... well really, there was very little spitting it out for Grandma. Especially not if it was sweets. If there was leftover chocolate cake in the house, you had to hide it if you planned to eat it later because to Grandma, well if no one's gonna eat that....
Food is a precious commodity to the Feeney clan. Haha. Although you'd never guess that today with the amount of food we had leftover. I love this family more than words.

Some of the family came to say goodbye to her the weekend that she passed away, so being together there was important, but this weekend's service and reception brought real closure.  I saw family I hadn't seen in quite literally twenty years, and then I saw some family I haven't seen in about three or four years, but a lot changes in a few years. The older I get, the more I realize that time is flying by.  I got to meet one of my eldest cousin's first baby. I feel like I remember just receiving a birth announcement for him and, well, he isn't even really a baby any more, he is a full fledged toddler. My own children spent the day ecstatically running amuck around the backyard with their cousins and second cousins. Tiana, who has not had a potty accident in nearly two years, was having so much fun playing with one of her teenage cousins that she just stopped in the middle of the yard and peed and let it run out through her shorts and then expected to jump back and play again. "Tiana! Why did you do that?" I asked. When she realized with disappointment that I was going to make her change her clothes before she went back to playing, I didn't even need an explanation. Her look really said it all. Family is important. Making time to see family is truly important. Every so often, one should enjoy the company of family so much that stopping to go to the bathroom feels like an unfortunate lapse in the pleasure of it all.

I convinced my mom that we needed to start the memorial service with Baz Luhrmann's spoken word recording, "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)," because in the past few weeks I have been reminded that this sound advice is truly a form of nostalgia that time and wisdom etch permanently on my heart:
"Get to know your parents, you never know when they'll be gone for good

Be nice to your siblings, they're your best link to your past
And the people most likely to stick with you in the future
July 19, 2014
Understand that friends come and go
But for a precious few, who should hold on
 Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle
For as the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young."

   My mom cried through most of her eulogy, which made me cry too, especially when she said that her mom was one of her best friends. My mom is one of my best friends too.  I'm so grateful to be of her clan.

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