The first great friend I lost was my grandmother. By the time she died, we had gone on so many long drives, sat down for so many lunches, and hung out together so much that we were as much old friends as family. Of all my relatives, she had the easiest time adjusting to me as an adult from me as a child, seamlessly replacing Johnny with John when we spoke. We laughed in similar bursts, easy to provoke and loud enough to be heard down the hall.
At her funeral, I gave the eulogy. Compressing 92 years into a five minute speech is hard. I wanted stories that illustrated her love of life and laughter. One that I used was from long before I knew her, and even before my father or grandfather knew her. She was a young teacher, not much past college in 1938. She and her mother were visiting Grammy’s older sister who had just moved to the Territory of Hawaii to be with her husband, an officer in the army. The round trip from Grammy’s home in New Jersey and back again took two months and included a boat from New York to Miami, another through the Panama Canal to San Francisco, a third to Hawaii, a cruise liner from there to Alaska, and then a train ride back to New York City by way of Canada.
To Grammy, the best part of the trip was that her father didn’t come. He would not have approved of her social calendar, although her mother kindly turned a blind eye. Every night, my grandmother stayed up almost till dawn dancing with the various young men who courted her on the ships. Grammy always ended that story by giggling a little and saying “I was quite a catch.” When I wrote this part of the eulogy I used a line that had thin humor, but that always made me smile: “Grammy got game.” It wasn’t a great line, to be sure, but the silly and modern alliteration amused me to no end.
I needed that humor as I sobbed my way through her eulogy. I know that 92 years is a long and full life, but I missed my friend. The palpable realization that we wouldn’t share any more stories or bursts of laughter caught me off guard when I got up to speak, and the pain of my loss was so awful that I couldn’t make it through the second sentence without crying. But I kept reading, and eventually came to “Grammy got game.” Despite my grief, I had to smile. In that moment, I came to believe that humor makes the awful bearable. I was still incredibly sad, but the weak joke in that alliteration made me feel a little better. Before I sat down after finishing the eulogy, I thanked my grandmother, whose life had so much laughter, for giving me a little more humor when I needed it.
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