My grandmother, Anne Carter Webster, passed away at home on Tuesday December 15th. She’d been diagnosed with terminal leukemia a week prior to her death. She was 75 years old.
My mom asked if I’d write something to read for the funeral last Tuesday, the 22nd. The following is what I wrote, and subsequently read.
A note before I begin: Anne Carter was our “Gammy,” so feel free to substitute “Gammy” with “Anne” throughout, if you’d like.
Mary Oliver writes a poem that goes: “To live in this world/ you must be able/ to do three things/ to love what is mortal;/to hold it/ against your bones knowing/ your own life depends on it;/ and, when the time comes to let it go,/ to let it go.” At some point in life, we all struggle with any of these: how to have the courage to love the transient things and beings we come to know in this world, and how to cope with loss, once death has taken away those we’ve loved. Not to mention how we struggle with our own mortality, our impending, inevitable, mysterious departure from this earth. Mary Oliver calls for us to let go when the time comes, a response that’s imbued with such trust– trust in God, in God’s plan for our lives, and the wisdom of knowing that, sometimes, fighting circumstance accomplishes no more than furthering suffering.
God guided Gammy through a beautiful life, and she knew God would guide her, through death, to a heaven of unimaginable beauty. So then, how do we tackle this paradox- to love Gammy, but to let her go? To cherish her life and memory while accepting her death? This is one of life’s great big beautiful mysteries, isn’t it?- to accept all truths- not just accept, but to let it all in; to let them “violently sweep your house/ empty of its furniture,” as the poet Rumi says– even when they tear at our understanding of justice, or love, or the fundamental laws of the universe.
The great writer Wendell Berry says, “Be joyful/ though you have considered all the facts.” So here are the facts: Gammy had terminal leukemia, and it ended her life. She also lived that life, 75 years of it, among and with us, and she loved us as she trusted God’s plan for her, and for her to be with and love each one of us.
I am reminded of the last conversation I had with Gammy. It was over the phone this past Thanksgiving. I’d just euthanized my dog, Abraham, after a month-long struggle with illness, and she said two things to me. The first, after expressing her sorrow, was, “Aren’t dogs just wonderful?” The second, “You need to get another one.”
What a terrific way to live- to get to say, “that was wonderful,” and, “let’s do it again.” So, if Gammy was your friend, bask in the beauty of that friendship. If she was family, continue to cherish your family now. Because, in the shadow of loss, and sadness, isn’t life still wonderful? Because, by now, I know you’ve considered all the facts- so let us now be joyful, and hold that joy against our bones as if our very lives depended on it because, in a way, they do.