A eulogy is often not an easy thing to write. I tried to explain to my mother that it would be impossible for me. “No!,” I said. “Get somebody else to write this eulogy. Get someone who she liked; or better yet someone who liked her.” Neither one of those applied to me.
“Mother said, “I want you to write it. You’re a good writer. You can do it.” She was not going to take no for an answer. I would have to figure out how to say good things about the wicked witch that was my grandmother.
I never heard of anyone speaking at a funeral who spoke ill of the dead, so relating how I really felt about her was out of the question. I couldn’t say that she was a wicked witch who only cared about herself — saying that would definitely not be acceptable.
Her history spoke volumes about her character. She abandoned my mother and her siblings and their father to run off with another man. My mother was in high school at the time. All of the household duties and care of younger siblings fell on her. Her parents divorced, and eventually the children went back to living with their mother.
My mother graduated from high school, left home, and got a job working in a factory. The war was on, and she became, metaphorically, Rosie the Riveter. Even though she no longer lived with either parent, each time she had contact with her mother she left feeling empty. Their relationship had been broken by past events, and though she wanted to repair it, grandma did not.
Grandma’s treatment of my mother churned up out of the guilt she had for what she had done. It seemed the more my mother tried to do for her the meaner she got. After I was born she also transferred her meanness to me. I felt like she never had one good word to say to me.
I remember a time when I was trying to make this point to my cousins. We were at a wedding reception. The cousins were seated together, and I made the comment, “Grandma doesn’t like me.” Cousin Tim said, “Of course she likes you.”
“No, she doesn’t. She never has anything nice to say to me. It’s always, “Never wear that color — it’s horrible on you.” Or, “What have you done with your hair now?” Here she comes.
Grandma went around the table saying hello to each of the cousins, but skipping me altogether. When she walked away I said, “See — what did I tell you. She didn’t even say hi to me.”
“Cousin Tim said, “Probably because she didn’t recognize you — your hair looks so nice.”
Dredging up these old memories was not helping me complete this eulogy. I had to think positive thoughts. I had to find something good to say.
She was a pretty woman — she had beautiful skin. She never really looked her age. She told me once to wash and cream my face and neck every night — even cheap cream would do. Ok, so she shared her skin genes and beauty tips. That’s one.
She had the good sense to marry a man named Earl whom we all loved. Earl was a good man plain and simple. And I think just being in close proximity to the good she became better. Earl liked to hunt and she learned to cook wild game, and boy could she ever cook wild game. Ok, two — she was a good cook.
After some years went by Earl became ill with lung issues. Grandma took very good care of him and supported his healing when he was hospitalized. Ok, three — she did have compassion.
I was making progress, and amazed that I had come up with three things establishing that she wasn’t totally the image I had held in my mind of her.
I love my cousins, and have especially close relations with some of them. If it hadn’t been for grandma, I wouldn’t have these people in my life who love and support me. Blood is thicker than water they say…it’s probably true. Number 4 is a big one. The legacy she left is us. We have each other. Some of us have her skin, and some of us have her attitude, but we hang together good or bad because that’s what families do.
My cousins used to tell me I was a spoiled brat. How rude. Anyway, do you think that there is a possibility that grandma had harsh words for me because I deserved them? Maybe she saw that I needed knocking down a peg or two?
What I can tell you is that my mother is the smartest person I know. By forcing me to write this eulogy, she provided a conduit for healing. Maybe grandma was really more like Glinda the Good Witch, than the green faced Wicked Witch of the West.