Tuesday, February 1, 2011

We'll miss you, Gert

YIP 80, originally uploaded by sparklypia.

As many of you know, I've been in New Hampshire spending my Grandmother's last days with her and then celebrating her life in the traditional Catholic fashion.
Gram was a truly special woman to me and many others and I had the honor of giving the eulogy at her funeral today. I'm sharing my notes (this isn't perfect, but a good outline of what I said) simply because so many of you have been so supportive the last few weeks, it seems only fitting.

Grandma and Grandpa came to live with us in New Hampshire when I was 12. It wasn’t easy for them to uproot their lives here in Cambridge; my grandmother had spent close to 75 years living on the SAME street, just blocks from here surrounded by both family and friends. As the years went by New Hampshire became home for Grandma and, if there was nothing else I could count on, I always knew that Gert would be at the dinner table every night with her quick wit and reassuring words. You wouldn’t know it from looking at a woman who always appeared a bit frail, but she truly was my rock.

Gert lived a simple life. She wasn’t out to save the world, wasn’t rich and wasn’t looking to be famous. She did, however affect every person who met her. She had a wicked sense of humor, a good dose of Yankee spunk and a strong Catholic faith that kept her going through times when others may have called it quits.

While our immediate family was small, she adored all of her extended family and lit up when she talked about her various nieces, nephews, great and great-grand nieces and nephews. Summers at the Lake were her favorite times when she was able to see so much of the extended family.

As anyone who descends from this part of the Finnegan bloodline (or has married into the family!) knows, Newfound Lake is a special place for all of us. I would spend weeks at a time up at the Lake with my grandparents when I was young. Grandma and I would spend hours on the porch each reading our own books and then talking Grandpa into taking us for ice cream. As anyone who knew Gert was well aware, my Grandmother always had an extreme weakness for coffee ice cream.

She constantly surprised me, and everyone around her with what she decided to do or what would come out of her mouth. She had only been on a plane once or twice prior the 1990’s and then one day decided it was time to become an air traveler so she would stop missing out on family events. She traveled to Disney World several times, well into her 70’s and flew to Georgia and South Carolina for family weddings, loving every adventure as it came, whether it was a family meet-up in the Magic Kingdom or racing along in her wheelchair trying to make a connection in the Charlotte airport with the rest of us in tow.

Gert kept on continuing to surprise us. Just a few years ago I came home with a new tattoo across my shoulders and my dad, not overly thrilled with my newest artwork, threatened, “Just wait ‘til your grandmother sees that!!!” Later that day, while visiting with grandma, I turned around and showed her what I had done, and heard her suck in her breath. As I braced myself for an onslaught of reprimands, Grandma just said “That IS beautiful!!”

For someone who was not well educated, she was extremely well read and always wanted to know all about what I was studying in school. One time, when home from college for the weekend, I was telling Gram about a class I was taking and how the paper I was writing focused on the Women’s Suffrage Movement. To this day, I will never forget how nonchalantly Gert looked at me and said, “Oh, I remember when Nana (her mother) went to vote for the first time…I was what…7 or 8? So, don’t forget to vote, sweetie”. The fact that my grandmother had such a memory of women being granted the right to vote in the US and was able to share that with me always amazed me and gave me pause for how much she saw during her lifetime.

As far as I’m concerned, Gram wasn’t the best cook, she didn’t drive (being my dad’s only failure when it comes to teaching someone to drive), was a chronic worrier and she had a body that always seemed to be failing on her… but, she was truly one of the funniest, sweetest and strongest people I knew. She had an intense will to live, constantly looking toward the next milestone. Gert regularly challenged the norms of what one thinks a Grandmother should be and I adored her for this.

When we lost my Mom, Gert made it her mission to ensure that she was at my high school graduation, then my college graduation and while she wasn’t up for coming to our wedding, she was thrilled when Aaron and I went straight to see her after our wedding reception. I like to think that she stayed with us until she knew I would be okay without her and this past week I was able to visit with her, telling her that not only would I be okay, but she had done her job in taking care of all of us.
It’s hard to believe my grandmother turned ninety-seven this past July and selfish of me to have wanted more time with her. From family to near strangers everyone that crossed paths with my Grandmother loved her from the first meeting. It was impossible not to.


  1. oh Pia, what a lovely eulogy. Gert sounds like an amazing woman - thank you for sharing this with us! Sending lots of healing thoughts to your family. xoxo.

  2. Yes, that is lovely. Your grandmother's character really shines through. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. That's really beautiful, Pia. Some of the words you used to describe her remind me of you too.

  4. Truly Beautiful! A wonderful tribute to a Lady who helped us become what we are today. You have been truly blessed.