A week ago my grandmother passed away. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the funeral, but I was able to write the following reflections on her life, her legacy and her impact on me. My grandma Eddie meant so much to so many people – she is already missed and will be missed even more going forward.
An edited version of the following was read by my sister at the funeral:
Grandma Eddie lived a deeply spiritual life, and was in constant prayer. That is not just a platitude, it is literally true. She prayed to God all the time and everywhere. She did not stop to pray because she was already praying. She would pray while cooking, while cleaning, while driving, while watching movies (in those rare moments when she actually sat still long enough to watch a movie). She was always talking to God, even while she was talking to others, and if you shared something with her, you didn’t need to ask her for prayer, she automatically added it to her ever-growing list of topics she spoke about with God.
She prayed for others but she also prayed for herself, and through prayer achieved great heights of spiritual connection to God and deep, transformative peace. She didn’t talk a lot about it because she was humble and aware that not everyone shared her beliefs. But her communion with God shaped who she was and how she interacted with the world. Prayer was one of the themes of her life, and she even printed out stickers with the reminder (as if she needed a reminder) to pray and put them all over her house. Putting stickers and post-its everywhere was also a theme in her life. True, it could seem a bit messy and cluttered, but it was also a mosaic of her spiritual life, of her hopes and fears and shopping lists.
Her constant prayer also took another form for she recognized a great truth: that life itself is a form of prayer, and any action taken, any work great or small can be an act of worship. In God in Search of Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Worship and living are not two separate realms. Unless living is a form of worship, our worship has no life.” Grandma Eddie’s life was worship and prayer. She not only sang songs of praise, she was a song, and she made no distinction between the holy and the ho-hum. Heschel also wrote, “The highest peak of spiritual living is not necessarily reached in rare moments of ecstasy; the highest peak lies wherever we are and may be ascended in a common deed.”
Grandma Eddie was no stranger to the common deed. I have never seen anyone attack work the way she did. She cleaned with reckless abandon and was always scrubbing and dusting and polishing and brushing, and she did it all with joy. While others might despair when faced with a daunting task, like cleaning every toilet in every cabin at Cleftrock because a big group was on their way, she was cheerful and even exuberant. She worked long into the night most nights, and her purpose was always the same – the serve others and to offer hospitality.
You would not be far off in thinking that she was obsessive about cleaning, and sometimes it seemed as though she would not stop cleaning until all of the world’s dirt and grime had been washed away. It was as though she was trying to sweep away all dust and all filth and all crime and injustice and evil, locally and globally. Her vision was always directed outwards, towards others. She knew that she could not clean the entire world, but she would clean what she could clean and she would help those she could help. She worked tirelessly for others and would not rest, and yet she found rest and peace in a world that is devoid of both because she understood another great truth: true joy comes from serving others.
Heschel wrote, “The way to purify the self is to avoid dwelling upon the self and to concentrate upon the task.” There could not be a more fitting description of Grandma Eddie.
I remember throughout my childhood that Grandma Eddie would always organize tea parties for us, which were fun but also instructive. She always tried to teach us proper etiquette, and the table always had to be set the right way. This seemed pointless to me, especially when we were the only ones eating, with no visitors or guests. But she would say that everything has to be ready for a visit from the Queen. We would say, “But the Queen is not coming,” and she would say, “You never know.”
It took me a long time to understand why she insisted on this. Then I read The Guide for the Perplexed by Maimonides. He explains that people always act differently when they are at home than they would if they were in the presence of royalty. He writes, “We do not sit, move, and occupy ourselves when we are alone and at home, in the same manner as we do in the presence of a great king; we speak and open our mouth as we please when we are with the people of our own household and with our relatives, but not so when we are in a royal assembly.”
But the truth of the matter, as Maimonides points out, is that God, the great King is always with us, and we should be what we have been called to be in every situation and in all of life’s circumstances. That is the definition of integrity, and that too is a good description of Grandma Eddie. She was authentic and authentically herself no matter where she went and no matter who she was with. Sometimes you kind of wished that she would tone it down! But she couldn’t because she was who she was, and she cared about everyone and was curious about everything. So if she decided to tell the waitress at Cracker Barrel her entire life story and pray for her, all before even ordering her meal, she was going to do it. It might have been embarrassing, but it was also beautiful and it was her. She couldn’t talk to someone without making, or at least trying to make a deep and meaningful connection. And, of course, praying for them. I am sure that if she ever did meet the Queen, she would have prayed for her as well.
Grandma Eddie was consistent in the way she lived her life – she was always ready to meet the Queen, and now she is with the great King.
I also remember that she was always singing a song that is from the Book of Lamentations – “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.”
I heard her sing this song my whole life, but it wasn’t until much later that I actually realized that this comes from Lamentations. This cheerful, hopeful song seems out of place in the book of Lamentations. It is not a lament at all, but a call to remember God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of sorrow, suffering and grief. That is also who she was. She was full of joy, even in her suffering, and her hope was a strong weapon against despair and tragedy. She faced all that life had to offer, the good and the bad, the happy and the tragic, and she never stopped singing.
I came across a poem by Annie Johnson Flint based on this verse in Lamentations, and it reminded me of Grandma Eddie, and the pain of losing her but also the joy in having had her in my life. It is called New Every Morning:
Yea, “new every morning,” though we may awake,
Our hearts with old sorrow beginning to ache;
With old work unfinished when night stayed our hand,
With new duties waiting, unknown and unplanned;
With old care still pressing, to fret and to vex,
With new problems rising, ours minds to perplex;
In ways long familiar, in paths yet untrod,
Oh, new every morning the mercies of God!
His faithfulness fails not; it meets each new day
With guidance for every new step of the way;
New grace for new trials, new trust for old fears,
New patience for bearing the wrongs of the years,
New strength for new burdens, new courage for old,
New faith for whatever the day may unfold;
As fresh for each need as the dew on the sod;
Oh, new every morning the mercies of God!