Today is my grandma's birthday! She would've been 91 today. While it is sad to me that she's not here anymore, I know that she lived a long, adventurous life. I owe it all to my grandparents. Without their hard work, dedication and strong values I can safely say, I wouldn't be in the position I am today. I was told I couldn't read her Euology, but I ran up right after my aunt and read mine anyway. Now that was something I learned from George, "don't take no for an answer."
A Course in Miracles tells us “There is no death, because an opposite to God does not exist.” While to some it may seem obvious that Elmira is no longer alive, this is not the case. In my mind, she is more alive than ever. She is no longer bound by human error, guilt, judgement or limited perception. This transition she has experienced only makes her more complete. I recently came across a quote, that I can no longer find. It went something like “Only those that are forgotten are truly dead.” In this sense, Elmira is immortal. To experience her, all we have to do is recall a memory.
I don’t know what to say about my grandmother that you don’t already know. She was wise beyond her years, which is saying a lot considering how old she was. She was an amazing woman and one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. She always had a positive attitude and a great sense of humor. Everyone always enjoyed her company. She could make a joke in nearly any situation. When she was last released from the hospital, she wanted to go the beach, so they got an ambulance to take her to my parents’ house in Westbrook. The ambulance pulled up, the doors opened and she says to my dad, “Hey Will, we were in the neighborhood and thought we’d stop by.” That was the night the doctor said would probably be her last, and was over two weeks ago. She wasn’t ready to leave. She needed to go to the beach, have her yard done and pick out paint colors for the trim on her house. And she accomplished them, for the most part. Ground broke on her yard on labor day, and she picked out a slate blue for the trim on her house.
Elmira knew what was important. Family, food and fun. I know there’s almost nothing she wouldn’t have done for her grandchildren. She was an adventurous woman. Mark Twain said “the fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” I realized my grandma didn’t fear death when I was 7 years old and we went to Disneyworld. I don’t think many other people can say they rode Splash Mountain 5 times in a row with their 70 year old grandmother just because the pictures weren’t coming out good enough. I think even fewer people can say they went to the Bomba Shack with their grandmother. Although, she didn’t go for the full moon mushroom punch. She felt better getting a drink that entered the shack in a sealed container, a Heineken. She went into each day without expectation.
I like to think that I got my memory, love for the beach and appetite from her. But let me be clear, she got her hair color from me. We could spend hours just sitting talking. She had something to say about everything.
She had the ability to spark up a conversation with anyone. She would come to Boston somewhat regularly to see her doctor, and we usually went to the same restaurant, Sonsie. On one visit, she was having some tests done and had to wear some kind of monitor with wires and electrodes all over. That wasn’t going to stop her from lunch, but she did say she didn’t feel comfortable entering a bank. She looked like she was wearing a homemade explosive. She told the waiter she was carrying a bomb, but this was pre-Boston-bombing. Anyway, a single older man came and sat at the table next to us. Out of the blue, she looks over and asks if he wants to try her cake! And he said yes! Turns out he lives in West Hartford. That’s just one example of her being kind and generous to someone she’d never met. She was friends with everyone.
I can tell you now that I don’t think I’ll get in trouble for this eulogy. I can’t quote my grandmother swearing or taking the lords name in vain, my grandfather did enough of that for the both of them. I don’t think she ever got upset. Her version of swearing was “Oh, ma!” and that only came up when whatever restaurant we were at said they didn’t have Santa Margherita.
She’s the only person I know that’s closed an Olive Garden. My dad and I flew down to Florida to visit my grandparents and my cousin Michael who was at their house. At the time, the closest Olive Garden was in Wellington. We stayed past 11. The manager had to unlock the doors to let us out. That was also the same night she sent back her glass of wine for being watery, after she drank it of course. Turns out the bottle tipped in the ice bucket. She didn’t want to complain, so she just drank it. Then we saw the booth next to us send back their wine, which prompted her to notify the waiter that she too got a glass of water. Elmira was extremely easy going. She never wanted to make a fuss.
She taught me about humility. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you can’t laugh at anything else. From the time she accidentally went to the food bank in Salisbury for lunch with her friends because she thought it was a restaurant, to sitting on the front porch of her time share at Water’s Edge, both her and her sister Lois missing front teeth. Lois fell and and knocked a tooth out and one of my grandmother’s veneers came off. That didn’t matter to them, they were still fully capable of critiquing the weddings from their porch. The last time she went out to dinner was to La Foresta in Killingworth. She had told me about this place, and how it was authentic Italian, and all the pasta was made in house. We saddled up and drove over. First things first, my grandma orders Prosecco. Second, she asks for a straw.
Then there was the time she she wanted to get her own credit card. Her cards were in my grandfather’s name but she wanted her own. So she applied, and was denied. She called the credit card company and asked why. They said they would review her application again but requested lots of additional information. They wanted bank statements, to see her tax history. Finally she asked what this was all about. They told her she thought she was a prostitute! She had a car, houses in her name, and no source of income. The funniest part about this story is hearing her tell it. Such an elegant woman, being accused of illegal activity!
Everyone loved Elmira because she was authentic. She was true to herself. I came home last week to spend a few days with her at the shore. While she wasn’t very active, she was still herself. We spent hours talking about what it takes to become a Saucier, how to make the perfect beurre blanc. We didn’t need to do anything to enjoy each other’s company.
One afternoon, she, Debbie, one of the nurses and I were sitting outside. All of a sudden Debbie asks her, “are you happy?” I was astonished. I thought that was kind of a loaded question and could go either way. Looking back I’m glad Debbie asked. My grandmother just smiled, nodded and said yes. In that moment I knew everything was just how it’s supposed to be. She lived a very long, full life and was happy until right until the end.
Last night Ray and Ellen were talking about Angels and Ellen said she didn’t believe in coincidences. Right after Debbie asked her if she was happy, she asked me to get a chocolate bar. I don’t think she ever asked me for chocolate before. If there were a bar open or something, of course she would indulge. But asking me to go get one struck me as out of the ordinary. I went to the fridge, where my dad keeps his Chocolove Sea Salt and Almond bars. I grabbed it, opened it and broke it up into squares. There’s a love poem on the inside of every wrapper. The poem inside this particular bar was titled “Bound for your Distant Home.”
Bound for your distant home
you were leaving alien lands.
In an hour as sad as I’ve known
I wept over your hands.
My hands were numb and cold,
still trying to restrain
you, whom my hurt told
never to end this pain.
My grandma was one of the most elegant, graceful woman I’ve ever met. She taught me that you can’t buy class. Not too many people would get on a private plane wearing head to toe Bon Worth from the Westbrook outlets. But she was balanced. She told me that something is only expensive only if you never use it.
I know she had a huge impact on my life, and probably many others as well. I think one of the most important things we can take away from this is the importance of attitude. It’s not about your situation, but how you react to it. Elmira was always calm, kind and generous because she was fearless. And in that absence of fear she was able to express her truest self. That’s a gift she not only gave to herself, but everyone she encountered. She knows how much we all appreciate it.
As sad as it is that she’s no longer physically with us, we can be at peace knowing that she was and still is happy, and has been reunited with my grandfather George and my Uncle Chooney. I’m sure the three of them are looking down at us with full hearts, waiting to greet the rest of us. In the meantime, I think a great tribute would be to figure out how to serve grinders at a wake. I know my grandmother wanted to at George’s funeral. I don’t think anyone here would complain about that.
I’d like to finish with a prayer from A Course in Miracles.
Our Father, bless our eyes today. We are Your messengers, and we would look upon the glorious reflection of Your Love which shines in everything. We live and move in You alone. We are not separate from Your eternal life. There is no death, for death is not Your Will. And we abide where You have placed us, in the life we share with You and with all living things, to be like You and part of You forever. We accept Your Thoughts as ours, and our will is one with Yours eternally. Amen.