(This is a reprint from a tribute I posted on Facebook, Jan. 30, 2010, a week after my grandmother died, followed by a post originally published by History in Advance, one year after her death.)
Thanks to everyone who prayed and supported my family during the loss of my grandmother. She was one special lady. And honoring her this past week was a joy but also sad to those of us left behind.
Marcelle Neely was my last grandparent. Her 93rd b’day would have been Feb. 5th. But she’s been wanting to “go home to Jesus” for a long time now. Because of that, I always thought once she finally got her wish, her age and her desires would make it not as hard to accept.
I was wrong.
It has surprised me how much this affected me emotionally… and the loss of her is felt deeply by many, even though she lived a full life.
My sister and I realized we hadn’t been to a funeral since I was 15 years old, when our grandfather died. We felt much younger than we truly are when it came to facing certain things that happened this week. But it was neat to share that with her.
I was thankful to make it to Boston before Gramma passed away. I visited her at midnight when I got in, then returned the next day and had the privilege of holding her hand for hours. I whispered secrets in her ear, when I got some moments alone with her. I gave her permission to let go, to not worry about me. There were a lot of people at the home where she was staying who are clearly worse off than she was. It’s kind of hard to watch where life can end up for people. And seeing her suffer in those last hours was extremely difficult. But there was something amazing about it too: she waited for the arrival of her last child (there’s five of them) before letting go. All of them made it on time.
Gramma loved both Jesus and the Catholic tradition. The church limits eulogies and personal stories to just one person. They suggested three minutes only. Thankfully, my aunt, Jackie, took the liberty of speaking her heart for six minutes. And it was six glorious minutes. Jackie surprised us all by having a letter, handwritten by my grandmother, in the event of her death. It was clearly written long ago. Some guess maybe the 60s. But the remarkable thing about it is she could have written it recently. Her character and desires and legacy never changed. Her strongest desire was for her children to love the Lord and share her faith and pass it along to others, and to serve well and help others. Hearing her own voice left not a dry eye in the church.
The rest of us did not get to share publicly at the funeral how much we loved her and specific things she had done to touch our lives, which is why I’m sharing this. But naturally we had many opportunities to do that throughout the week.
My grandmother and I had a lot in common. We shared similar fears and struggles. She understood me like so few can. She prayed for me often and let me know it.
She once wrote to my mother after seeing The Ultimate Gift years ago and said now that she’d seen one of my biggest dreams come true, she could go ahead and “leave”. God made her wait a little longer than that. But she was always looking for other people’s dreams, supporting their hearts and desires. (I see where my mother gets that from!)
My last real conversation with her, in the earlier days of her dementia, was one of amazing clarity– she wanted to speak about my life, its struggles and pains. Given that she’d introduced me as her niece to someone that week, I didn’t know how much she really remembered about me and my life. But as I was leaving her … she stopped me to have a conversation I will never forget, speaking directly to my heart, remembering things I didn’t realize she could still recall. I knew in my spirit this was going to be our last ‘real’ conversation. It gave me peace regarding those dreams that still haven’t been fulfilled yet… that she wouldn’t be here to see. But I knew this conversation was extraordinary grace to help me through giving up the dream she’d be here. Her blessing upon me that day with her words was enough.
As sad as certain moments last week were, I was also happy to experience some moments of extreme joy. It showed me how incredible life really is when you embrace the sadness and joy. There were a lot of gems last week when she brought us together. I kept thinking (and many kept saying) this was a party she would have wanted to be invited to! I got to know my uncles and their spouses better. Seeing them all in the same place at the same time was amazing. I got to have “sleepovers” with my sister at “Chateau Richard” (my parents, sister and I were blessed to all stay at the same house of cousin Rita Richard and her amazing hubby Fred. I’ve skied many slopes and sang many songs about snow snakes with him.) I reconnected with my ‘long lost’ cousin Annie who I’ve missed terribly. A friend from childhood, Jessica, showed up at the funeral and for a visit and seeing who she’s become was awesome. We played Tripoly, one of my grandmother’s favorites, and lots of other games during our downtime. Gramma showed me how to play Tripoly during our summers in Cape Cod. (She always pretended I was helping her.) Hearing my dad and Fred sing and play guitar was a total blast. (And they kept it up for over 3 hours while Rita, my mom, Heather and I cheered them on.) Sharing traditions with Jackie is a must when visiting Boston, and this trip was no exception. Hearing Uncle John’s crazy stories (which can’t all be true-haha, seeing Uncle Jim’s beautiful, handmade journals, and hearing Uncle Bill read a poem for Gramma’s funeral with both heart and humor, hearing Mom laugh and joke with her siblings, talking to my many cousins (including Michael, Sam and Devin) were definite highlights. Hearing from friends in support of what we were dealing with, the encouraging notes and texts, was a big help.
Hearing my nephews missed my sister so much they slept in the same room every night (and one night her hubby even slept in their room, too) reminded me of how a new generation brings such life into this world.
We went to visit my grandmother’s last surviving sister (of 16 in the family, brothers and sisters). She still has her clear mind and is very grieved. To see her cry out how much she loved “Marcelle” broke all of our hearts in the room. She was too sick and immobile to come to the funeral herself, so on two days, groups of us went over to see her at the convent. She’s spent much of her life serving as a Sister at the St. Anne’s Convent. What a beautiful soul she is.
Grandma’s “graduation” moved our world forward. We are all changed, for having been there to experience this together. I have a deeper appreciation for my family and friends. And now as we disperse and all move back to our lives, I hope and pray we will never be the same in the best ways she tried to inspire us. That we will always remember the legacy she left behind. And that we will find reasons to see each other that do not just involve funerals.
We are blessed.
I will miss you, Gramma. ‘Til we meet again.
“Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us. And the art of life is to get the message.” (Malcolm Muggeridge)
The following photo was taken of my grandmother’s hand in mine the last day of her life:
(History in Advance article, Jan. 24, 2011)
Today is the one-year anniversary of my grandmother’s death. She died shortly before what would have been her 93rd birthday. I always knew she had great stories to share with us about her life, growing up in a Catholic family of 16 siblings, in Canada and the States.
Long before dementia harmed her ability to remember a lot of details about her past, I gave her a book called “Reaching Back.” It was filled with over 100 pages of questions about various eras of her life and family members. Gratefully, when I gave this book to my grandmother, she willingly began to share her life story with me. It was the late 90s. She labored over page after page, using her own handwriting to fill in the blanks. She even added about six additional long hand notebook pages to elaborate on a story she wanted to be sure to leave behind.
My grandmother gave this book back to me in the early 2000s. I read it back then. But I can’t tell you how meaningful it was to go back to reread this book after her death. How grateful I was that she took the time to fill in it! I was also glad I had the foresight to give it to her long before she lost many of her precious memories.
Often, when we think of leaving behind a legacy, we believe we have all the time in the world to take care of that and can do it closer to “the end.” But the truth is we have no idea how much time we have on this earth. And leaving a legacy should start today.
I’m glad my grandmother didn’t wait. I’m glad she filled the book out while she could still remember with detail the events of her life, her love story with my grandfather, her life with my mother and the rest of her children. Her book is one I will always treasure.
An additional letter written by her was opened after she died; it was addressed to her five children. We couldn’t tell when it was written, probably a couple decades earlier. But she wanted to express the inheritance she was leaving behind in writing: A legacy of her faith in God, memories of being raised by loving parents, her hope everyone would find a good and happy marriage, her good character, her faithful work ethic, and her desire that her children would always be there for each other. My grandmother obviously knew that a legacy wasn’t monetary but rather, passing along the values important to her.
Written by a granddaughter: In loving memory of Marcelle Trottier Neely, Feb. 5, 1917 – Jan. 24, 2010
A Ring for a Wedding (04/19/12)
I inherited my grandmother’s ring, as photographed in this blog above, the one she still wore until the end of her life. I am honored to say this ring became the ring I wear today as my engagement ring, with the wedding band my husband gave to me to go with it. I was still single and waiting when she passed away. That “last real conversation” I wrote about in Jan. 2010 blog above was when she told me she was sure that I was waiting for a long time for a husband for a good reason. She felt God had someone very special in mind for me who would be worth the wait. She was right. It was an honor to share my wedding day with her by wearing her ring, and having it be such an amazing reunion between myself, my mom, and all of her siblings who I last saw the week of her death. It was so wonderful to get together for such a happy occasion. I think of her every day when I look down at my left hand, grateful for the time we had with her.