The following is an essay I wrote for my grandmother's eulogy. Please keep her in your hearts.
Mary Downes (1932-2017)
My grandmother, my friend, and my hero
My grandmother, Mary Downes, once told me that joy was not the absence of sorrow, but the presence of God. I am feeling immense sorrow today, but as usual, I guess she’s right. I also feel joy, because to speak of my grandmother is to speak of an extraordinary woman who always had God in her midst. She helped us all understand immeasurable love, and was the proudest mother and grandmother I have ever known. Always full of stories and songs, she had an active, creative, and beautiful mind. She often told me that she had the idea for roll-out grass before it existed, and everyone told her it was silly. She also had the idea for rolling suitcases and joked that we’d be millionaires had her childhood ideas not been pooh-poohed. But looking on the bright side, as she always encouraged us to do, had we been rolling suitcase tycoons, we would’ve missed out on many trips to buy lottery tickets with her, on which she always exclaimed “One day, we’ll hit lotto.” We may not have made a million bucks, but we have already hit the lotto in life by having her as our amazing Nana.
She loved life, in spite of many struggles, and could always be heard saying, “This is wonderful, honey.” I know she wouldn’t want us to be sad, because for all her life she reveled in seeing those she loved be happy. If she were able to comment, she’d be reminding all of us not to make a fuss and would probably insist that we write a “fun little song.” I imagine her corner of Heaven looks a lot like New York City, close to the theater, with lots of delicious hamburgers. I am sure she has already told all her Heavenly neighbors everything about her grandchildren, and probably has them all praying for me to do well on my next school assignment.
Nana believed in finding adventure in the most ordinary things. When I was a little girl, I spent three months in the hospital following a surgery. When she visited, she would pretend we were elsewhere and say “put on your thinking cap; we’re going on an adventure!” I am sure that when she came into God’s loving arms today, she was wearing her thinking cap, ready for her next adventure. It’s hard to imagine her on an adventure without us, but I know she’ll be sending us signs and preparing us for the wonderful day we’ll be together again.
Nana had a song she loved called “I See the Moon.” She always told me to teach it to my friends. The song is about love, as was her life. My favorite verse goes “I once had a heart it was good and true, but now it’s gone, from me to you. Take care of it, as I have done, for you have two and I have none.” Today, I feel like my heart went with her. But I know she would rather she leave her heart here for us so that we can keep sharing her love with others…and I know she has divided it up into perfectly even pieces because we are all her favorite. Because I like to plan ahead, I’ve already started my Christmas shopping, with Nana’s name still on the list. This Christmas and on every day forward, I have decided that my gift to her will be what I do with the life she made possible for me. I will be kind, courageous, and strong like she was and I will carry her with me in everything that I do. Nana also loved the song “Hello Dolly” and anything by Louis Armstrong. She said it reminded her of her mother, Dolly, whom she loved fiercely. I am smiling to think that when she arrived in Heaven, she at last got to say “hello Dolly” and reunite with the many loved ones who have gone before her.
Nana, I will miss your sweet smile, your gentleness, and your unfailing generosity. I will miss eating too much pasta from Durso’s. I can do that still, but it will never taste as good as it did when I was with you. I will miss the way you ran your fingers through my hair, your stubborn streak, and your love of theater. In every way, every breath, every moment, I will miss you. I am comforted, however, by your own words. You wrote a poem called Little Hands about how as a mother, you always had a little hand in yours, interrupting your every daydream. The poem read:
“And should I chance to daydream
And I’m off somewhere sublime
I’m brought right back where I belong
By a little hand in mine.”
But being a mother was the joy of your life, and you finished by saying:
“But how I love those little hands
And when I make the final climb
I know I’ll get the pull I need
By a little hand in mine.”
We were all pulling you up today with a force of love that could carry you to Heaven a million times over. We are all better because of you. Love you pieces to mieces.
Image: Me wearing a black shirt and glasses. My late grandma, Mary Downes, is smiling in a red shirt and gray sweater with her hand on my arm.