All Hallows Eve on October 31st, with ghosts and goblins running around the neighborhood, is replaced on November 1st with All Saints Day – a more respectful time when we meditate on the saints – those who are holy and good. Thankful for the models they have provided for us and all of the blessings in our lives, we look forward to family gatherings with abundant food, drinks, and fun activities. However, this family gathering idea is not always pleasant for some, and they may dread the thought.
I never wanted to visit my grandmother, my mother’s mother. It seemed she never had a nice thing to say to me. Often, a visit to her left my mother in tears. I dreaded a visit with her. A wedding reception once brought all the cousins together at the same group of tables. Someone asked if Grandma was coming, and I said I didn’t care to see her because she didn’t like me – she never had a good word for me. It was always a criticism of what I was wearing or what my hair looked like. My cousin, Tim, said, “That’s ridiculous, of course, she likes you, don’t be silly.” Just then, Grandma appeared and said hello to everyone except me at the table. When she left, I said to Tim, “See, there’s the evidence – she doesn’t like me.” Tim said, “It’s probably because your hair looks so nice she didn’t recognize you.” Not funny.
The biggest conundrum of my life came when Grandma died, and my mother insisted that I write her eulogy. “Me? Why me? Ask somebody who liked her or someone she liked.” But no, she insisted that I do it. What could I do? Everyone knows it’s not appropriate to say bad things about the dead. I had to come up with some good attributes. She was beautiful with lovely skin and hair, but then she could be mean. She often made me feel bad and made my mother cry. I think one cancels the other, so I needed to work harder. She was a fabulous cook. She could cook anything, and it was yummy. Cooking a big meal takes a sacrifice of time and talent and is done to serve others. Okay, I’ll give her that one. She was married a bunch of times, and the last one was a step-grandpa, but he was such a good man we all loved him. She took care of him for several years when he was sick and cared for him until his death. Okay, I’ll give her that one, so maybe she wasn’t so bad after all. She was, good or bad, our matriarch and brought all of us together as family. Okay, she is the reason we have each other – got to give her that. Now, I thought that maybe she wasn’t a wicked witch but mostly a good witch with a sharp tongue. What an epiphany this was for me, and what a process it was that led me there. When forced to think differently about her, I discovered her good attributes and turned them into a positive eulogy. My mother, aunts, and cousins all loved it – an affirmation of the truth of it.
The lesson from the eulogy exercise is that a higher standard may measure grandmothers, but we know we are all broken and need forgiveness. It is true that some of us sometimes behave in ways that may hurt others. Try as we might, we are not all examples of the saints. There comes a time when you just have to forgive and then let things go – so let them go.
When the November holiday we call Thanksgiving comes around, it calls on us to be thankful for all we have – grateful for the sun and the rain, for the summer and the winter, for all things great and small. It’s not easy to be thankful for Uncle Elmer, who talks with his mouth full, and Aunt Eunice who gossips about everyone and everything. God knows we all are broken, so He had to command us to love one another. When the dysfunctional family gathers together, and all families are dysfunctional, we should realize that the most important thing to be thankful for is love.