Someone told me that the moment I started talking about her, a hawk started circling over the stage.
The news had come earlier that morning, as my friend and I stood in his horse pasture trying to figure out where to put the hundred-plus cars we were expecting that night. He saw my face and backed quietly away. I turned and sobbed.
Nobody should have to suffer as long as she did. But she was a fighter in everything she did, so why should dying be any different?
I’ve told her story in other pages before, a story of a hard-scrabbled life growing up in Depression-era California, a story echoed in John Steinbeck’s writings of a great generation that learned to never, ever give up, because giving up meant dying; a generation that worked and saved as if their lives depended on it, because this was their truth; a generation that wasted nothing, because they had nothing; a generation that we are losing, one by one.
We could use a few more of them these days.
She outlived most of the few friends and family she kept close. Those of us left behind gathered yesterday where she’d be laid to rest, next to her husband who passed away almost four decades ago.
No one planned on speaking, but almost all of us did.
And I’m usually pretty good with words, but I couldn’t say what she meant to me.
Which says everything.
I stood up by her casket anyway, and I tried.
What was supposed to be a small moment at 2 o’clock in the afternoon with no eulogy turned into many unplanned, unrehearsed moments, as we stood up to speak, one after the other. If we were to tell all the stories we knew, we’d still be there. Her life was rich, but not in an everything-is-always-beautiful way. She lived deeply and hard. She took risks that didn’t always work out. She was stubborn and stuck to her guns, sometimes at the expense of those she loved.
And this is how she built a life that allowed her to be generous to others, even though she wasn’t all that generous to herself.
Her attorney of over forty years stood up just before they laid her to rest. His words weren’t blithe remembrances or expressions of delayed gratitude.
He challenged us.
He talked about all she’d given to people in need, almost to a fault sometimes, over the last four decades. And how signs of her generosity weren’t easy to find, because she wanted to remain anonymous.
But he knew, because he’d written the contracts.
And I knew, because she was that way with me.
He said she left a legacy.
A legacy of giving.
A legacy of helping others.
And that if we want to honor her, we will continue that legacy.
And I will.
Someone told me that the moment I started talking about her, a hawk started circling over the stage. She landed on a branch above me as I told the audience that she was the only grandparent I ever really knew, and that she had just passed away that morning after over 100 years here.
She stayed on that branch as we played ‘There’s No Goodbye.’
And she took flight.