The last night of Grandma’s life, I leaned over the rail of her hospice bed holding her hand.
I needed desperately to fall asleep yet did not want to sleep, afraid I would miss her leaving me.
I watched her chest rise and fall as her breathing shifted. My lips whispered, “You have done a wonderful job with this family and we will be OK, Grandma. You can let go.” My mind fought back, “No! It is not OK! I am not ready to let go!”
My heart raced at what I knew was inevitable. I cried quietly. I prayed silently. I lay my head on the arm of the recliner and drifted to that place between wakefulness and sleep. A voice rose up within me and said, “Be strong; there is nothing to be afraid of. Not now. Not ever.”
I quickly opened my eyes, thinking I was dreaming. I closed them again and slept fitfully the rest of the night.
I recalled these words the next morning and scribbled them in my journal. I wasn’t sure what they meant, but they had carried me through one of the most difficult nights of my life.
Later that day, I left to pick up my son from school. The sun glared on my windshield, and precious memories flashed like slides in an old projector. I gripped the steering wheel and winced. “There’s just so much to remember.” I begged, “please…I just…don’t…want…to forget.”
I tried to burn each image into my mind as it clicked by, but my brain felt too broken to archive them. Just when I thought I might crack, that familiar voice came again.
It asked, “Beyond the memories, what will you take with you? What is the one thing you learned from Grandma that has become a part of who you are?”
And I knew the answer was “strength.” Her strength carried me through her death and gave me the courage to write about her life.
As I prepared her eulogy, I wondered, “What will they say about me?”
The question was too heavy to hold that day and slipped below my awareness until I was visiting my husband’s family farm in Mississippi. I sat alone in his childhood home missing both of his parents desperately. I thought about the legacies they’d left. I reflected on giving both of their eulogies as well. I questioned my own life again: “What will I leave behind?”
In that moment I realized that I don’t have to wait. I can write my own eulogy now and decide where my life is going, rather than look over the speaker’s shoulder at where it went.
So I did it. I wrote my own eulogy. It was one of the most difficult and powerful exercises ever in sorting out who I am and why I’m here.
I wanted to inspire others to write theirs too, so I sent it to Elephant Journal. My heart raced at being so transparent about my inner world. I wanted to reach into cyberspace and take it back.
I took a deep breath, and recalled Brené Brown: “There is another way… to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen.”
I took comfort in her words and turned my thoughts to other people who might benefit from this brave and vulnerable way of eulogizing. I stood at my white board and wrote down some of the questions we most need to answer-
- What brings us joy and makes us laugh?
- What special skills do we bring to the world?
- How does our spirituality soar?
- What hurt do we most want to help heal while we’re here?
- What are we most afraid of and what does it keep us from?
- What are the biggest obstacles we have overcome and what have we learned that we will share with others?
- What do we most want our families, friends, teammates, and strangers to remember about us?
I began to reformat the questions so they would be more manageable to answer. And as I did so, I realized a eulogy could be generated from each person’s unique answers. I got busy making a template and put it online.
What started out as suffering has evolved into a courageous way to find personal meaning and direction. My Grandmother’s moxie lives on.
Author: Amy Crumpton
Editor: David Lewis
Photo: courtesy of the author