After bravely and fiercely fighting as hard as she could, my grandmother lost her battle to cancer this summer. It took me a very long time to decide how to write about it. Of course it was difficult on all of us, seeing her go through the pain and suffering that she did. And although I miss her very much, I am glad that she has moved on from that hardship and is in a better place now. However, I don’t think that Jan would have wanted me to focus on the sorrow of losing her. A much more fitting eulogy, I think, is focusing on the celebration of her life; remembering the wonderful woman that she was, and being grateful for the time I had with her.
One of my strongest memories of Jan happened over a decade ago. Mom and dad went away for their anniversary, and so they left me, Chris, and Josh with Pa and Jan (Matt and Hope weren’t born yet at this point). Chris and I bickered a lot that weekend, but Jan was my little oasis. I knew that I could always run away to her and have her teach me something or just talk to me, and everything would be better. I spent a lot of time that week just watching her cross-stitch. She loved cross-stitching, and was really good at it, took – she made some truly brilliant designs in her lifetime. She is probably a large reason why I picked up cross-stitching, myself. Now that she is gone, I like it even more – it seems like a eulogy of sorts to her every time I pick up a needle and thread.
Aside from that weekend, I have lots of vivid memories of going to visit Pa and Jan in their almost-beachside home when I was younger. I would stand next to her at the sink, helping her peel the shells off of the shrimp that we were cooking for dinner – she always made the best food. I remember when she first showed me how to use a shrimp peeler – after I finally figured it out, which took a while, I promptly decided that it was the best thing since sliced bread. Jan loved cooking, and since they lived so close to the ocean she cooked a lot of seafood. It is fitting, I think, that one of the last things I did for Jan in one of my later visits was to let her sit back and relax while Pa and I cooked crab cakes for her. She had already started to get sick at that point, but I had no idea then that that would be the last time I would see her alive.
They moved a few years ago, and I’ve visited them several times since; but their old home still holds so many memories for me. I remember digging through their interesting books and magazines to find something to hold my attention while I curled up in their overstuffed reading chair for hours. But then, more often than not, I would get distracted by the high ceilings or beautiful view, and drag Jan outside to go on a walk with me. Being so close to the beach, Pa and Jan also made sure to make good use of that whenever we came to visit. I have a photograph of Chris and I in 2 separate dune buggies, which were rented courtesy of our generous grandparents. We were obviously having a ball. The pictures don’t show it, but I’m sure that there was some friendly (or perhaps not-so-friendly) competition happening in those dune buggies while Pa and Jan sat and looked on, just enjoying the sight and presence of their grandchildren, regardless of what they happened to be doing. I remember that when we were on the beach and she was in her bathing suit, I would often notice her upper arms and want to play with them – I thought they were smooth and touchable and wonderful. As a little girl, I couldn’t understand why she hated me doing that; I get it now, but I still stick with my guns and say that she was, and always has been, beautiful.
One of my favorite things about Jan was that she not only encouraged my own interests, but she also spurred me on to pursue other interests that I may not have tried otherwise. One year for Christmas they bought me a flute; for my birthday, which falls a few days after Christmas, they paid for a year of flute lessons. As retired music teachers this was probably a no-brainer gift for them, but I had never even considered learning an instrument. I ended up not sticking with it after that year, which I really regret and often wish that I could pick back up; nevertheless, the fact remains that she was constantly spurring me to better myself, something that I really appreciated about her. And she didn’t just want us to learn for the sake of learning; she actually took real pleasure in seeing our progress. My little siblings elected for piano lessons instead of flute, and they are still taking lessons; up until her death, she was always asking for recordings of their recitals, or for live demonstrations when they went to visit. What was happening in our lives mattered to her.
But, as I already mentioned, Jan was always more than supportive of my own chosen interests, too. My first pair of real dance shoes was purchased by Pa and Jan. I’ll never forget that day…we drove ALL OVER town to find those things. Myrtle Beach is not known for its swing dance scene, and thus finding a store that stocked the specialty shoes that many west coast swing dancers use proved to be no easy task. But Jan was determined…it was important to me, and so it was important to her. In the end we finally chanced upon a pair that I loved in a Halloween costume superstore, of all places. I adored those shoes. I wore them into the ground…they were literally falling apart before I finally retired them.
Myrtle Beach may not be known for its dance scene, but it IS known for its golf scene. Every time we went to visit them, they would take us to a different putt-putt golf course. I have never been a fan of real golf, but I always loved exploring a different mini-golf course with my grandparents (and yes, there were so many that we never went to the same one twice). When I got older and started visiting them without the rest of my family, they assumed that I would have outgrown that activity, as well. So when I actually asked to go there again – what can I say, I’m sentimental – they humored me, but then also took me to see Le Gran Cirque, Myrtle Beach’s version of Cirque du Soleil. What a night! I have to say, putt-putt was fun….but I was glad that they took it upon themselves to make me try something new. That was an incredible performance. Along a similar line, the last time our whole family visited them together, they took us all to a hands-on science museum called WonderWorks. Was such a blast. Jan was (and Pa still is) an incredibly giving, generous person.
Even after her death, the impact that she had had and was continuing to have on so many people is impossible to ignore. As I sat there in the church during the memorial ceremony, I marveled at how many people were there, how many people had worked so hard to make her memorial service special and actually memorable. How many people really loved her deeply. How many people were working extra hard to make sure that Pa was taken care of after her passing. Jan left behind a plethora of wonderful memories, scores of people who esteem and miss her dearly, and remnants of herself that will continue to bless people far beyond the scope of her life. That, my friends, is the definition of a life well lived. I miss her very much, but even more so I am proud and grateful to have had her in my life. I am honored to have known her.