I will miss losing game after game of Gin to my Grandma. Her enthusiasm for fun precluded her willingness to throw a game or two my way, and I really respected that. In losing, I always felt as though she was showing me respect; and as a kid, that is a rare consolation – really much more valuable than winning a card game when you suspect all along that it’s merely out of pity.
Grandma never made me feel bad about a loss, quite the contrary. A kid knows when an adult is patronizing him; and with Grandma, she always appeared to be as excited about spending the time with me (and the win) as I was with her. And she celebrated my winning hands as fervently as her own.
If there was ever a funeral where sadness is inappropriate, it is this one. True, I wasn’t present in the last months and days, and those hours of deterioration and suffering are freshly upsetting to those who were there on all of our behalf; bless their hearts. But for most of us, and even those at her final bedside, I have no doubt that the pre-eminent emotion filling our hearts is one of jubilation; admiration for a life lived to the fullest, and envy for a universe that has absorbed this amazing soul into heaven, and reunited our Grandma, mother, friend, and companion with those who preceded her.
My earliest memory of Mary Kay was meeting her in the kitchen on Foxboro Way in Birmingham, Michigan before sunrise – my parents safely out of range – and holding her hand as I perused the selection of forbidden, sugary breakfast cereals lining the pantry shelves. Then, she would pour me an oversized bowl of my choosing topped with whole milk and sit across from me while I cherished the sweet kernels and – even more precious – basked in the one-on-one time with this majestic figure emanating unconditional love and sincere interest in my thoughts on whatever subject was occupying my little mind; usually the toy at the bottom of the cereal box and how many bowl fulls would be required before attaining the treasure; and could I get there before my sisters and cousins did?
I remember staring at her pictures of China’s Great Wall after her visit there and thinking, “Wow, how brave to go to the other side of the world; and what would possess someone to do such a thing when she lives in the best house in the world. I mean, there is a basement, a great room, and a pool for crying out loud. Plus, there are trees to climb and cousins with which to share these amusements. What more could anyone need?
Her travels, however, never seemed like a need as much as a passion. As did her commitment to staying close to her expansive family, even as entropy dispersed its many members.
Later in life, I can picture Grandma in every house in which I lived with my itinerant family. She and Grandpa, and then she alone, would venture out to California for extended visits with her West Coast contingent. Skiing, hiking, sight-seeing, and forever talking to each and every one of us. I always felt that I was so special to her, and that, though absent most of the year, she had followed with great interest my pursuits: school, back-country adventures, girlfriends, and challenges.
I remember a conversation I had with her at a birthday party for my Grandpa in Tucson about philosophy. I was taking a class in college and not particularly enjoying it. My scientific mind was struggling with the esoteric concepts of Plato and Descartes; yet, with her gentle wisdom, Grandma was able to put the topic into a perspective that allowed me to synthesize those elements of the human experience taken on faith with those based upon empiric evidence.
That conversation – among others – is how I know that Grandma embraced her final moments on this Earth with courage, grace, and even excitement; for, no one I have known was more certain that she was soon to be reunited with Grandpa, next to Jesus, probably sharing a little wine, and basking in the glory of everlasting peace.
Everyone dies, the saying goes, but not everybody lives. Grandma Mary Kay lived. She ate life up like an ice cream cone and inspired others to do the same. My wife reminds me of my Grandma and that certainly is one of the things that attracted me to Stephanie. She explores the world, like Grandma, cherishes her family, like Grandma, and loves me despite my flaws, like Grandma. Alice Joy – my little girl – will always know about her Great-Grandma, and will grow up to admire this matriarch whom she barely knew as a role model for what a woman can be, what a Mother can accomplish, how a Grandmother can love, and how a person of such great faith, who loved the life that God gave her, can live up to the blessing of a finite yet limitless presence among those fortunate enough to find warmth in her radiant beauty, inside and out.