Delivered with so much love at their funeral on October 16, 2020
Mamaw wanted me to speak at her funeral. It was an unconventional request made several years ago. I never gave her an answer.
But when I was a little girl and wanted ice cream because I was sick, she made a special trip to the store right then just so I could have a bowl of ice cream. And when Mamaw got us Care Bears when we were little, maybe for Christmas, I can’t remember, she got me Tender Heart Care Bear. She told me it was because my own heart was so tender. This gesture said to me that my sensitivity, my quickness to cry, my hyperactive empathy was not a weakness or flaw. I am grateful to her for that.
So, of course I am speaking at her funeral. She was my grandmother. I loved her.
Sometimes my husband calls me “Darlene” when I retell a story or make a hilarious joke that no one else finds funny. Or when I randomly break into song, inspired by what someone has said. Sometimes it’s a look on my face. But he knows how much I love my mom and that there is no better compliment he could give me.
My daddy sometimes calls my mom “Thelma”. And they are so much alike. They share so much beauty, strength, and goodness.
Mamaw made things. Like her daughter one day would, she sewed clothes for her children: matching outfits, a wedding dress for Aunt Cindy. Mamaw painted. I remember us grandkids gathered around her kitchen table while she worked on her paintings. And she made biscuits. But it wasn’t just the biscuits. Everything she made was delicious. In the same way, everything tastes better at Meme’s, my mom’s, house now, according to my son, Joe.
Mamaw was beautiful. The younger pictures of Mamaw remind me of my mother and my niece, Charlie. I see them there in Mamaw’s clear eyes, her thin lips. It’s a clear beauty. By that I mean it captivates by its transparency and mystery. It is unadulterated, pure, and unpretentious.
Mamaw was strong, maybe stubborn. My grandmother buried three children, lost three homes, and dealt with so many other heartbreaks. She raised a family and weathered life with resolve and fortitude. She sacrificed so much.
Mamaw was loved by her children. With the heartaches that come with life, through all of the trials and pain, her children never stopped loving her. My childhood is filled with memories of Mamaw with her daughters. The Disney trip with all eight of us crammed into one hotel room. The World’s Fair. Countless trips to town. And so many days and evenings of being together at someone’s house. When my mom had a kidney infection after Rene was born, it was Mamaw she went to. When John decided to come into the world far too early, Mamaw was there. In the same way, my sisters and I love being with our mom, the same way Lauren loves being with her mom. Our moms learned that from their mother. They have passed that on to us.
My mom is her mother’s daughter. She possesses all the qualities that made her daddy fall in love with her momma. She possesses all the qualities I loved about my grandmother. And there were so many.
When I was a little girl, I stood in front of Papaw who sat on the couch in his family room. We were eye to eye. “Okay, Little Debbie, I’m going to make this here quarter disappear,” he said. Then the quarter he had shown me was gone. “Where is it?” I squealed, delighted and in awe of my grandfather’s magical powers. “I made it disappear,” he said, laughing. “But where is it?” He turned me around. “Look up yonder at the ceiling. It’s up there, floating all around. You just can’t see it. Maybe if you squint real hard.” I did, but I saw no quarter. I did hear Papaw laughing behind me. When I turned back around, he had the quarter between his stubby fingers. “How did you do that, Papaw?” I was amazed. “Magic,” he said.
I think Papaw is still up to his old magic tricks. Just like that quarter, he hasn’t gone anywhere. Not really. We just can’t see him.
One of my earliest memories is in Mamaw and Papaw’s living room full of people and children and Buddy the Chihuahua. Mamaw sat beside Papaw while he strummed his guitar and sang. Around the room, everyone was singing and it went on and on. And it was happiness.
This scene has stuck with me because it is when I started piecing together who was who and how they were connected to me and why they loved me. In other words, it is when my identity started, while Papaw sang to his grown children and their families. That sweetness imprinted on my soul. That love was powerful.
When we were little, we spent a lot of time at Mamaw and Papaw’s house, John Wayne or Spaghetti Westerns on the TV in the background, bunches of cousins running around, and so much laughter. When we were very little, he bounced us on his knees and sang “Old Man Brown.” When we got in trouble and was fussed at by Mom or Aunt Cindy or Mamaw, Papaw would crook his finger and say, “Goody, goody, goody.” And smile.
He told us stories of wompus cats and pole cats, of Santa Claus spitting in our eye. He sang songs with our names in it. And he had nicknames for us: Little Debbie, Blondie, Dump-dump. He wrestled and tickled and played and ran around when he was younger. Then when he was older, he still tried to do all of that. He played volleyball at family reunions with all the young people. He never stopped playing corn hole with his Body and anyone who was around. Until the very end, he never stopped playing.
And he never stopped smiling. Papaw found joy in everything. He was a simple man who delighted in simplicity. Make no mistake—by simple I do not mean that Papaw was unintelligent. He saw the world differently than most are capable. He had no use for grudges or contention. He had no time for complaining or arguing. He truly loved like Christ - completely, unconditionally, with grace and joy. Because of that, he saw the world through the eyes of love.
My Papaw, the Godly man that he was, is the greatest example of Christ-like love I have ever known. Sometimes it upset me, because it was so true and so fierce that it was unfair to him. Sometimes I wanted him to think of himself. Sometimes I wanted him to get angry. Sometimes I saw his gentle spirit and blindness to the faults of others as a character flaw. But I know better. It takes great strength to love another so completely, it takes great wisdom to see beyond earthly comforts, it takes great understanding of the Biblical truth of what love is in its purest form to live the life my grandfather lived. And because of that, he had a life of joy. Because of that, everyone in this room knows he was a good, genuine man who always meant well.
My own faith in Christ ultimately began with my grandparents, and I am sure I am not the only one here who can say that. My earliest memory of church has Mamaw in it. Gina was asleep on the pew and I stood by Mamaw. And we sang together. I remember how she clapped her hands, closed her eyes, tilted her head back. At one point she cupped my face with one hand, pressed my head against her outer thigh while her other hand was raised in worship. I felt love.
There was a time, later in his life, when Papaw attended church with me for several months. I had my own family then. What joy to hear my Papaw’s loud, rough, wonderful voice belting out hymns in my church, with me.
But their faith was more than church attendance and following rules. Their faith was truly about a relationship with Christ and a community of other believers. My grandparents were flawed people, just like we all are, but they were forgiven people. Faith is not about living a perfect life. Faith is about love.
Theirs is truly a love story. Theirs is a love story that is about devotion and forgiveness. It’s a love that sees beauty hidden beneath wrinkles and pain and grief, a love that forgives completely and finds joy in serving, purpose in giving, delight in humility. It is a love that sacrifices, provides, completes. It is a love so strong that it follows through death into eternity where it will last through the ages in the heavens and through the generations of their children and their children and their children and so on.
Near the end of their love story, as the dementia took over, Mamaw was often in a hurry to leave when they were over visiting at Mom’s. Most visits during the last several years ended with “Come on, John,” or “Time to go, John,” or “John, I’m ready.” And Papaw would jump up, “The wife is ready. I gotta go.” And we would all plead with them to stay, just a little longer.
And so, with Mamaw hurting, it was time for her to leave this earth. It’s as if her spirit said to her husband one last time, “Let’s go, John. It’s time to go.” And he followed her. His heart would not work without her with him anyhow.
There is so much sadness and uncertainty around death, even for those with the strongest and surest of faiths. But I am certain of this—my Papaw would not want us to weep for him. My Papaw died doing exactly what he delighted in doing-loving and caring for his wife. I’ve heard his voice in the quiet moments over the last week, saying things like, “Sister and Poohdle-loo, thank you for letting me take care of your mama the way I wanted to. You both did great.” I hear him saying things like, “Mule, I’m always proud of you. Keep an eye on my girls.”
I also hear him say, to the rest of us, “I swuneey, there’s a lot of y’all here. But I sure wish y’all wouldn’t be hurting so much on a count of me and Thelma. We’re okay. I love all y’all. I sure do.”
Mostly over the past several days, I have heard him chuckling and laughing as I’ve thought back on memories of him and Mamaw. That is the music I will keep with me most, my Papaw’s laughter.
And I will wait for the end of the magic trick, when all secrets will be revealed to us. Like it says in First Corinthians, “For now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” I will wait for the time when we will see our Savior and our loved ones. Oh, what a good laugh we will have then.
Welcome to my Blog! I am a wife, mother of three, high school English teacher, and a graduate of the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. Before anything else, I am a woman of faith.