My beloved grandmother died on Saturday, January 2, 2010. She never wanted anyone to know her age (though I did know eventually) and thus I won't share that here. She was such an amazing, lovely woman and is missed by her entire family. She raised two daughters—my mom being her oldest. She had two loving sons-in-law. She had 4 grandchildren and was able to see 3 of them marry—she longed to see my brother marry and find happiness. And she had 3 great-grandchildren, my son being her youngest.
This is the eulogy I gave at her funeral today.
Most of you probably knew my grandmother as Sheila. But some of you knew her as Momma. My brother, my cousins, and, I believe, their spouses, as well as my husband and his family all called her that—and I’m glad that I gave her that name.
When I was little, it confused me to have TWO grandmothers with the same name. So I came up with mum-ma, pronounced the British way with a U, even though Momma spelled it with an O, and Grandma for my dad’s mom. My grandfather was Poppa.
Mere words cannot truly express how I feel or the impact that Momma had on my life or upon my family. She was a force of nature. When she wanted to get something done, she did it. And she would make friends with everyone—get their life story—from each waitress she met to every receptionist or doctor. I don’t know she did it. She was nosy in a charming manner.
Momma always said to me “I can talk to you” and that I “tell it like it is.” And that makes me feel good, that my grandmother was able to tell me things and know that I would give her my honest opinion. I think we had a special relationship. And Momma also always “told it like it was” so I’m glad I got that trait from her.
One of my favorite stories is when Momma and Poppa took care of me after my brother Andrew was born. Back then I was, apparently, a picky eater. I didn’t like my foods “touching”. So when I had meatballs and spaghetti, the meatballs were on one spot on the plate and the spaghetti on the other. But when we had that for dinner and Momma put the meatballs ON TOP of the spaghetti, I flipped out and cried (because I always cried) and refused to eat it. In exasperation, Momma called my mom and asked her “what kind of daughter do you have?”
I’m not sure if it was that same time, staying at the apartment in Queens, that Momma asked me if I watched Howdy Doody and I said “Howdy Whatdy?” because I thought she was making that name up. I watched Sesame Street, I told her. Now that I’m a mother, I am again.
I have wonderful memories of spending time with Momma—and Poppa—throughout my childhood. Getting my first manicure in Forest Hills. I remember walking in Chinatown and Momma and Poppa buying me a silk doll.
One of my earliest memories is actually when I was around two years old and Momma took me to visit her nephew Richie, who is a chiropractor. During the visit, she had him check my back and I SCREAMED bloody murder.
And when Momma used to mooch cigarettes off of strangers at restaurants—now this was in the 70s, when I was a young girl—I used to tell her, with Poppa’s approval, that they were yucky and that I wouldn’t let her kiss me.
As a teenager, my parents allowed me a lot of freedom in terms of self-expression. And I have to admit I did dress a bit unusually. Momma wasn’t a fan of how I dressed and she would let me know that. So I would deliberately dress in the most—shall we say—“avant garde” outfits I had when I visited her—knowing it would get a reaction.
When I was in college, Momma would call me all the time. My roommate used to pick up the phone and say “it’s your grandma” and I always knew it was Momma and not my dad’s mom. Actually, she had an uncanny knack of calling my parents’ house JUST when we sat down for dinner. It didn’t matter what time we ate—whenever we picked up our forks, the phone would ring.
Momma was actually a very good confidant. Perhaps it’s unusual to discuss dating with your grandmother, but she was a sympathetic ear during the years I was single. When I met my husband I really wanted him to meet my grandparents. We had lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, only a few months before Poppa died. It was a day I’ll never forget and my grandparents made quite the impact. They dressed impeccably—Momma always in heels, even with her arthritis—and the term grande dame comes to mind when I picture her.
That luncheon was quite memorable. Momma ordered Eggs Benedict and they were quite runny. She was not thrilled and brought it to the attention of the waitress. She turned to us and asked us “I’m not embarrassing you, am I?” And we assured her that she wasn’t.
And she and Poppa regaled us with stories about how they first met and when they were dating. Stories I’d never heard before. It was a wonderful afternoon.
Sadly Poppa died that Spring and Momma was heartbroken. Then my husband and I became engaged the following November and were planning our wedding and we wanted Momma to be a part of it, to share in our happiness. She battled long and hard with depression to be there for me. It meant so much to us that she was there.
Last December we were thrilled to share the news that we were to become parents. Momma cried with happiness. So I am very glad that Momma was able to see me become a mother. She knew how much I yearned for that.
Though my son had other ideas about that part … he needed a little shove to make his entrance into the world. I was induced. She wanted to be at the hospital—like she had been for my cousin when she had her children—but I didn’t want her sitting in an uncomfortable chair waiting for hours when I heard that induction could take a long time.
I went in the night before and Momma actually called the hospital early in the morning to check on my progress. She was upset that she hadn’t heard from me yet. The nurses couldn’t tell her anything but patched her call into Labor & Delivery for me to say “Nothing had really happened.” However things progressed quickly after her call.
I was concerned about how she would feel about my choice of name—Aaron being my dad’s father’s name, and not naming him after Poppa. I worried needlessly. Momma said to me that it was a perfect choice. That she remembered my grandfather with a big grin on his face and that she hoped that my Aaron be like that.
I hope that the time she spent with Aaron added to her joy of being a great-grandmother. I will forever treasure a photo I took of her, holding him with this look of love in her eyes. The last day I saw her was last Wednesday. I brought Aaron with me and we went into her room. I put him on the bed next to her and she opened her eyes and said, very quietly, “Tattie Shayna.” She tried to say something else to me, which I think was I love you. So I said “I love you, too.” I’m glad those are the last words I said to her.
Lastly, I want to share what my husband Jonathan and I did yesterday. I didn’t have anything appropriate to wear today. So we went to the Short Hills Mall—alas Nordstrom and not Nieman’s—to get something to wear. I got this dress and my husband got suspenders and a new tie. We figured Momma of all people would approve.
And, Momma, I’m wearing makeup.
(Momma was always telling me to wear makeup... she was quite upset that I seldom did.)