I wrote this tribute for Grandma's funeral on April 16, 2016, when I said goodbye to her for the last time, a few days after the last time I actually talked to her. The opportunity to read this as part of the service was a huge honor to me; I didn't expect to be able to physically get through it, but I looked up from the words on the page only once and somehow made it to the end.
I just needed a place to share this, because I want to tell you about my Grandma Mayer. She's gone now, but not her legacy and her testimony. I want to tell you about her, because I want to honor her life and her impact in my life.
“Oh, we’ve just been busy covering chairs.” In the past few years, this has been my grandparents’ standard cheerful response to my query about what they’d been up to that day. It was realistic of their reduced ability to be active, but also full of humor and positivity, in a way that I feel is characteristic of my grandma’s approach to life. I hope to echo some of those values in my tribute today: to acknowledge my deep sorrow in the face of her death, while also acknowledging the joy of this truth.
There is definitely sorrow. It sounds silly to say “my heart is full,” but it must be, because sometimes it trickles over out of my eyes. You would be sad, too, if your grandma were as awesome as mine and she weren’t going to be around anymore.
She won’t ride over with Grandpa in their golf-cart-Cadillac anymore, and I won’t get to bend over to give her a short little hug anymore. I’ll miss making pots of seafood soup for them, chuckling at her newest ways to bend the rules in a card game, sitting down to a motley lunch together, and talking about what’s coming up in the garden. Shoot, I’ll even miss her unique grape jello laced with slices of banana, talking to her (and everyone else in the room) on speaker-phone, and her perpetual preference for Ladies’ Golf even though that’s what we played the last fifty times we visited.
Sure, I have some things from her. My favorite blanket is so not-me girly, but it’s from her and the one I always use anyway. There’s the classic old-school Mennonite cookbook, spattered and pencil-marked, placed prominently on my shelf; I told her she didn’t really need it anymore and that I did need it. And of course there is a lifetime of photos and memories.
Some of those stories I wasn’t there for but still know, like how she was woken up on a long car ride by Grandpa proposing, and how she awkwardly didn’t answer him for the rest of the trip. Or how she squashed a frog in her bare feet; started dozing during a sermon and had a grandchild loudly admonish her; or sat in the car twenty minutes waiting for Grandpa, who was sitting waiting right beside in the truck.
The best stories I have, though, aren’t as much stories as they are facts. Her candy drawer. Christmases at their house. Danish pastries and pecan twists. The familiar smell of their basement. Picking up sticks in the orchard and going out for ice cream afterwards. Playing cards shoved “hidden” under the doily on the table. Cats and popsicles and Rummikub and salsa-canning and French vanilla creamer and bread soup. Organizing her pantry and cleaning her already-clean house.
Inseparable from the memories about Grandma are the heritage, values, and example of one of my best friends and one of the most beautiful women I have ever known. Some things are less significant, like the knowledge that coffee isn’t worth drinking if it doesn’t scald your mouth, and how to crimp pie edges, and that wearing old slippers is the best way to get around the house. Some things I didn’t get from her, like her preferences for cleaning rather than cooking, for Amish fiction, and for green-onion butter sandwiches.
There is a whole list, however, of ways I hope I become like her and of qualities that I will always remember in her. Grandma had prodigious patience, and ample opportunities in which to exercise it. Trust me, with grandchildren like she had—I’m referencing my cousins, of course. We brought kitties into the basement, causing an unfortunate flea infestation, yet continued to plead for their allowance in the house anyway. We ransacked her candy drawer as soon as our feet crossed the kitchen threshold; we tracked dirt all over her clean floor; we threw apples at each other instead of picking them and ate raspberries instead of bucketing them. And we were always noisy. But I don’t remember my grandma ever reacting negatively or even speaking critically. She was gracious, longsuffering, and gentle.
She was so sweet because she loved so much. Family was obviously one of Grandma’s top priorities, and you never had to wonder if she loved you. In fact, the only time I can think of Grandma saying anything slightly negative were some of the comments my poor husband got when she was getting used to the idea of him taking me 850 miles away. But her love for family still got the best of her, and soon Brian was accepted and loved, too. Going over to Grandpa and Grandma’s for holidays or playing games is just part of life; the idea of feeling anything less than completely welcomed at their house is an entirely foreign concept to me. You just ring the doorbell and walk in. Actually, if you didn’t want to come over, you couldn’t let her know you were around or she’d hunt you down.
At the apex of her love for family is her love for her husband, and if you’re here, you know exactly what I mean. It’s been hard for me to keep this tribute about Grandma because so much about Grandpa is intertwined in my thoughts about her. When I think of a solid marriage, I think of theirs. Loyalty and faithfulness are words for concepts that they lived out every day in their almost 63 years of marriage, and I will always look to the example they left for me. Sure, Grandpa dreamed Grandma was a cow in the middle of the night, and she backed into the gas pump once, but they still held hands when they walked together, even in their 80’s. You missed out if you never saw Grandpa and Grandma playing Wii bowling or husking corn together or heckling each other in a competitive round of SkipBo. I feel like I’ve never seen them separately, and I don’t know how to understand the idea of one without the other. The hardest part of saying goodbye to Grandma has been thinking of Grandpa without her. She loyally supported him through a lifetime of ministry and he faithfully cared for her until the very end.
Another aspect of Grandma’s influence on my life that obviously can’t go unnoted is her relationship with God. The majority of times I would walk into the living room and my grandparents were busy covering chairs, the book she would put down would be a daily devotional or the Bible. Her promises to pray for me were not perfunctory remarks, and her life of grace and service were reflections of Christ’s presence. Any woman who codes in a hospital bed and then shows back up to sing her favorite hymns has some pretty clear priorities. Lines from the song, “Heaven is calling out to me, my soul longs for a city of peace,” keep going through my head.
I could go on and on about my beloved grandma. I think I already have. But you’re here; you knew her and loved her, too. It always amazes me that no matter where I travel, somebody will know Willard and Esther Mayer. You know how sometimes people are hesitant to be known by their family? It has never crossed my mind not to proudly name-drop. Yes, I’m their granddaughter. And even though she’s not here any more, I’ll always be her granddaughter. I have 26 years and 364 days of stories and memories with her so far, and someday, we’ll hang out together again. Until then, I’ll keep on valuing family, making pies, supporting my husband, drinking scalding coffee, and being thankful for my grandma.