An ode to a multi-generational woman
I remember standing up here for my grandpa’s eulogy, and all I could think of was “I just need to make nana laugh today”. It’s now 10 years later and all I can think is “What can I say to really remember Nana for who she was, how do I honor the relationships she had with each of the people in this church?” As we’ve all shared memories over the last few days, the common thread seems to be how generous Marie was with her love. It’s clear that some people leave this earth with much still left to give, but not marie, she gave it all to us.
My siblings, cousins and myself have a lot of memories of our grandma, or nana as we’ve always called her. We were lucky to have just a few miles between her house and ours. So from early on, Nana was a very central figure in our lives. Church on Sundays, her house for Christmas couplettis, milkshakes and popcorn before bedtime, quiet support from the sidelines of the soccer field, and dancing in the kitchen together; we were so lucky to have her close by. I don’t know too many 22-year-olds who head to their Nana’s after the bar for some eggs and bacon.
Before she became our Nana, she was a Mother; my dad and uncles remember their mom as the woman who, despite throwing her shoes at her often misbehaved children, still drove the boys on their early morning paper routes when it rained. This abundant love for her kids surely didn’t recede after her children grew up: the only thing that stopped her from bringing lunch every day to her 60-something-year-old boys was a few thousand miles from Florida to Michigan.
Thinking back, beyond the woman that was my Nana, and my dad’s Mom, I began to consider Marie as a young woman looking for love, or letting love look for her. She told me often, of how she met my grandfather: She and Papa were both in a wedding, as maid of honor and the best man. As the dancing got started, Nana saw him across the room, surrounded by ladies. She rolled her eyes and sighed “oof, look at that Romeo over there…”. Little did she know she’d eventually marry that man. Years after the wedding, seeing my grandfather’s lifelong business pursuits, it’s clear that my Papa’s success was equally attributable to my grandmother. For she not only helped run the Mill Street, but became an enormously supportive partner — a woman who stitched together a family bond that has lasted generations.
And so while nearly all of us know her has nana, mom, or auntie marie… as I grew older I began to know her not just as ours, but as a woman all her own. I know Marie’s lifelong dream was to be surrounded by a huge family, but that didn’t preclude her from establishing her own fierce independence, most, prominently at the bookends of her life. Before meeting Papa, Marie spent her early twenties as a nurse, living in Brooklyn, attending Frank Sinatra concerts in Time Square and experiencing New York City. And then, as her children have grown, and her grandchildren were no longer babies, Nana once again ventured out of her comfort zone. Sometimes it was time spent with her girlfriends playing cards, or even learning to use an iPad at the age of 90. In the last year, we watched as Nana refused to let her physical condition slow her down — often finding a few extra miles racked up on her car from an unauthorized trip to the grocery store. She was never quite ready to stop doing whatever the heck she wanted. It’s the combination of her strong matriarchal caretaking and her own fierce independence that created the wonderful woman that we celebrate today. And it is this dichotomy that I’d like us to cherish, maybe even taking a piece of her spirit with us as we leave here today — a nudge to live a little bigger, love a little fiercer, and give everything we have while we’re together.
We often see wrinkles and white hair and assume that a person has lived long, when in reality most haven’t lived long, they’ve simply existed long. To actually live a long life requires a certain degree of purpose, love, independence and courage to make the most of everyday. And so by this definition my nana, our Marie, certainly lived a long life. I’m proud to have known and loved her for 30 short years.