As I type now, it's been exactly a week - about 3 pm last Monday - since my phone rang and my dad, calm as could be, told me his mother had passed. People have asked me all week how I'm doing and I want to take this space to quickly say "thank you." I've got some pretty amazing friends who have kept me occupied and checked in on me throughout the week, and I certainly don't take that for granted. With that said, starting with that phone call from my dad, I've largely been okay and after a weekend with my family I realize why.
That's just who we are. We're an absurd bunch who doesn't like to waste time being sad, mad or upset. Look at me. You think this happened by accident? We like to have fun and my grandmother was certainly the matriarch of the Hoffman clan. I don't know how common a graveside service filled with laughter is, but we had one and we had one because that's what she would have wanted. She just would have wanted it in warmer weather.
This is the fourth time I've sat down to write this week. The first time was immediately following that phone call. It was cathartic. It was emotional. The same words I broke down writing last Monday eventually turned me into an absolute mess Friday as we said goodbye. The second time was Wednesday in preparation for my dad delivering a speech on my behalf at her memorial service in Florida.
A quick note on that service - there were 250 people there. No more than 20 of them knew her before she moved to Florida. She moved to Florida when she was 70 in 2001. Any questions how my sister became a social butterfly?
The third time I wrote was late Thursday night. It was the speech I gave the next day at her funeral and it came back to the same ending I had when I wrote on Monday. I cried again. I'm giving you fair warning that I'm ending what's below with it as well, and there's a good chance you will too. Friday's speech was a shaping of the thoughts I originally wrote Monday as well as some things that had stuck with me throughout the week. The following is a conglomeration of all three, in memoriam of my grandmother, Ann Hoffman, who lived one hell of a life, defined by love.
Writing comes easy to me. "Your paper was a joy to read" was a comment I got on papers throughout my academic career, even if the second part of the phrase was "but you're missing half the information" written next to a giant C. I've written a lot. Meaningful things. Funny things. Entertaining things. Informative things. I can never remember struggling so mightily with writing something as what I would say Friday. How on earth do you sum up what a woman who lived an incredibly full life and was someone you loved dearly in an even moderately concise manner?
This may sound dumb but my biggest struggle was what to actually write about. At this point grandma would tell me "you're not dumb!" Thanks grandma. Although at times I'm pretty sure I qualify.
The more and more I thought about it the more and more I thought the best thing to do is pass along some of the lessons she taught me because they are some of the most important lessons I've learned in my life. When you think about a grandmother teaching her grandson you think of a small child sitting on her lap receiving wisdom straight out of a movie scene. That wasn’t how I learned. It was merely by following her example, even if I didn’t realize I was doing it.
It's really a miracle I got to learn anything from her though. It's a true miracle she made it this long. It's somewhat a miracle I made it this long because I'm pretty sure we almost died simultaneously, not in a car wreck or some tragic accident. No, instead when less than one year old me was sitting atop 6'1" father's shoulders and decided to grab his glasses. Of course his reaction was to grab them too, which meant he was no longer holding me. So I fell. Head first. I'll pause as you all simultaneously say, "that explains a lot." She witnessed the whole thing. She showed a lot of resilience that day not having a heart attack on the spot and since she didn't, not beating her son to a pulp. Guess I know where I get my resilience from. Some non-inherited lessons:
Grandma taught me to learn. She learned something new every day. Sometimes I was lucky enough to teach her. It was often about technology, making the irony of me reading her funeral speech off an iPad incredible because there is a zero percent chance she could use one. In fact I think I showed her mine when she came to Dallas recently and it was the first time instead of "teach me," I heard “oh okay” when she asked what it was. She was always thirsty for knowledge. She wanted to learn, but more importantly she wanted to understand. So many of us float through life without asking why. I can still hear Grandpa saying, “why’d you do dat?!” and Grandma certainly wasn’t afraid to ask why either.
Grandma taught me to experience the world. To the detriment of my bank account, I certainly shared her passion to travel, but going somewhere isn’t enough. You have to experience it. When I’d ask about her trips, it wasn’t merely “we went to Venice.” She’d describe the sites and the sounds and the smells and of course the tastes. That’s how you do it, whether you’re going across the street or across the world. Soak it in. I was so lucky to get to experience some of the world with her and see the joy she took in it.
But most of all, Grandma taught me to love. Every iteration of what I wrote in the past week revolved around one word: love. That’s what she was about. She loved you and was proud of you and let you know to the point where in your head you were going: “Holy crap! I’m not THAT awesome!”
The other thing I kept coming back to was the speech I’ve often gone to more often than anything else for inspiration. Jim Valvano was fighting cancer as he stood at the podium of the 1993 ESPY awards and left not a dry eye in the room. As he wrapped up he spoke of the disease that was ravaging his body and said, “Cancer can take away my physical abilities, but it cannot touch my mind. It cannot touch my heart. It cannot touch my soul.” Jimmy V’s battle was with a horrid disease that ended up taking his life, but the quote applies to so much more. We all have our struggles, but we are in control of what goes on in our minds, our hearts and our souls.
I thought of how this quote applied to my relationship with grandma. Mind. Heart. Soul. Age had certainly begun to take away her physical abilities and quite frankly mentally she wasn't quite as consistently quick as she always was in recent years, but man when she pulled a fastball it still came in at 100 miles per hour. Age certainly had not touched her heart. It still loved like no one I've ever known, but she confided in me more than once that it still ached for grandpa. Forget dying, that love hadn't even diminished. Not one bit. The thought that they could be back together gives me great peace. That leaves her soul which even death cannot touch. Because if we are smart and if we at all care about making the world a better place to live like she did every single day, her soul will live on in all of us. Of that we should always be conscious and for that, we should forever be grateful.
I don’t know if there was a turning point; perhaps I had heard a story somewhere or read one or whatever it was, but I’ve never been afraid to say those three little words: I love you. It’s such a simple thing to me. If you mean it, say it and I make it a point to with those closest to me.
It’s never a throw away, but if you mean it, then why not tell someone and part of the reason why is some irrational fear that if that’s the last time you talk to them, what’s the last thing you would’ve told them? I talked to grandma last weekend and the conversation was our typical catch-up. We talked about what I was up to and how work was going and my upcoming trip to New York. I tried to be really good in our weekly chats about asking what she was up to, but this time we talked about some current events - concussions in football in fact, something she wanted to ask me about (for the record she was very happy I never played!) But I forgot to ask her what she was up to with her insane social calendar, but I sure as hell didn't forget to say “I love you" before we hung up the phone. That was the last thing I said to her. I love you. And now as we say goodbye again for now, that’s really all I wanted to say through all of this thinking and writing all along - Grandma, I'll miss you. Thank you for being exactly who you were. I love you, and I always will.