I’m still in Michigan. Earlier today, we held a funeral for my grandmother, who passed a few days ago. It’s been a trying few days, but I’ve been surrounded by family, which is nice, despite the circumstances.
I was honored to deliver the eulogy at my grandmother’s funeral. Below is the transcript, minus some names that I removed.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Forty-five minutes outside of Los Angeles, where I live, my friend Judie has a little ranch, where she has about a dozen llamas. About a year and a half ago, Judie was going through a rough patch, and she came home after a particularly difficult day to find that a new baby llama had been born while she was out. The baby was a complete surprise, as Judie didn’t even know that any of them were pregnant, and Judie broke down in tears, overcome with the joy that this new life had brought to her when she needed it most. “The baby is a miracle,” she told me over the phone, “and I don’t know what to name it.” That’s when I told her about my grandmother, whose name, Milagros, literally means ‘miracles’ in Spanish. “But we always called her Millie,” I told Judie. And that’s how there came to be, in the mountains of southern California, a llama named Millie – named after the woman we’re all here to celebrate.
I normally don’t use the word ‘miracle’ too often, but I can’t think of a more fitting word to describe how tremendously lucky all of us were to have had my grandmother in our lives as long as we did. She spent 89 active, wonderful years with us, and never sitting idly by – she was a presence, with a vivacious, independent spirit that made the tough times easier, and the good times even better. She could find humor in any situation, and had more strength, courage, and ambition than you’d ever think her 5 foot frame could hold.
This is the woman who, at the age of 87, ripped up the linoleum floor in her basement by herself, not telling anyone until she was finished.
This is the woman who, when she was robbed at the dry cleaners she used to own, decided, despite having a gun pointed at her, to only give the hoodlum some of the money in the till.
This is the woman who was always there to listen, always offered her shoulder to cry on, always supported and encouraged her children, always gave everything she could – everything – to keep the ones she loved smiling and happy.
I called her “abuelita,” which translates as a more affectionate version of ‘grandma’, and she called me “guapo,” which means ‘handsome.’
My abuelita was born in 1921 in northern Spain, the second of eight children, and from an early age, helped to run the household, doing whatever was needed, from fetching water to minding after her younger siblings. The Spanish Civil War broke out when grandma was about 15, and she was given the responsibility, should the need ever arise, of rounding up the younger kids and getting them to the shelter their father had built into the hillside; thankfully, the fighting never came that close to home. Money was tight, but it was a happy household, and the bonds that grandma created with her sisters were as strong at the end of her life as they were decades earlier.
She came to America in 1947, not knowing the language, with just twenty dollars in her pocket and her 3-year-old son, my father, in tow. They met up with her husband, who had come a few months prior, in Detroit, where they settled. Their family grew to include a daughter and another son. In total, Millie’s marriage would last over 6 decades, until his passing in 2004, and together, they built a remarkable life for themselves. They enjoyed yearly trips back to Spain, and kept the traditions of their Spanish heritage in the foreground throughout their lives.
There’s no place grandma liked to gather her growing family more than around her dining room table. She loved, more than anything, to cook and assemble the family over a meal, and she’d spend all day in the kitchen preparing. A regular Sunday dinner might include paella, a Spanish dish she made with rice, seafood, chicken, and sausage, a second main course, like pork chops or steaks, two types of vegetables, croquettas, bread, and two desserts. On holidays, she’d practically double the menu! We’d sit around her table, where every square inch was covered in platters and bowls and plates of food, and then she’d say, ‘Oh, I forgot the fish!’ and return with yet another tray that had been warming in the oven. We couldn’t get away with just sampling anything, either – we had to eat. She wouldn’t wait for our plates to be clean before insisting we take more. Meals were her way of bringing her family together, to share stories and news and gossip and laughter.
I learned many things from my grandma. I learned how to make croquettas, and everyone in the family can make her paella. The most important thing I learned is that to love someone is to take care of them. There’s simply no greater way to show your family your affection and devotion than to make sure they are looked after.
My grandmother worked throughout her life as a seamstress, loved following fashion trends, and always took exceptional care about how she looked and was dressed when she was out of the house. Even in her final few months, when she had regular appointments at hospitals and with doctors, she never walked out the door without doing her hair and picking out her best outfit. It was important that her family looked good too, and she loved making clothes for her children, their spouses, and the grandchildren, and dressing everyone up for special events. She had a knowledge and appreciation for fine fabrics, and knew in an instant which textures and colors would best flatter you. My mother remembers, in the early 70s, teaching herself how to sew, and making a burgundy blazer that she was excited to show grandma. Grandma took the blazer, and looked it over – tracing the seams with her fingers; examining the lining and the shoulder pads. “You did a really nice job,” she told her daughter-in-law as she set the blazer down, “except that you made it out of polyester!”
Grandma really took to gardening in her later years, and loved keeping her yard and flower beds immaculate. She loved pointing out to me, while we walked the 40 feet from the driveway to her front door, which flowers were new, which were thriving, which needed trimming, which would soon bloom. The house she and my grandpa kept in Spain for many years was surrounded by one of her favorite flowers, hydrangeas, that grew on bushes that eventually towered over my grandma, these giant orbs of pink flowers cascading along the perimeter of their house, overflowing from every pot on their porch.
I’m sad that my grandma passed during the winter, but it won’t stay cold forever. This white blanket of snow will melt, and the ground will thaw, and in a few months, new life will poke through. At first, maybe only one or two flower buds may unfurl, reaching towards the sun, but there’s always that day when you wake up, and it’s clear that spring has really arrived – it’s when your lungs overflow with all the fresh warm air, and the trees unveil their thick new coats of leaves. The quiet of the winter is gone, replaced by the sounds of birds, and there’s color, so much color to take in, that it simply overwhelms you. When that day comes, you’ll be reminded that life is a miracle. That there are miracles all around you. Milagros, my abuelita, was a miracle in my life, in all of our lives, and our memories of her, like the spring, will always return, no matter how dark our days, to invigorate us, widen our smiles, and warm our hearts.