Two Saturdays ago we had the chance to honor two very special people in my life. Grandma Anja & Grandpa John. Grandpa actually passed away November 20, 2012 but we didn't have any kind of funeral or memorial service. Grandma died on July 1st peacefully at home, with my mom there with her. Each of her children had been able to visit recently and I hope my grandma knew how much I loved her even though we hadn't been able to visit since almost an entire year ago. My grandparents were very simple people that did not like attention. My mom has said Grandma wouldn't have liked us to have any kind of service for her either, but they were too special not to celebrate. It was a great chance to remember the wonderful, special place they hold in our hearts. I was asked to speak on behalf of the grandchildren so I've had many thoughts and feelings that I wanted to record in this "journal" of mine. I'm the oldest grandchild, which gave me the fondly spoken title of "number one." My grandma would always refer to me as her number one, especially when she'd hug me. It was a special thing we shared, since she didn't call anyone else by the order they came into the family. As I prepared to speak at the funeral, I was never really overcome with emotion... Grandma had been sick for a while and it was a great relief and blessing for her to be done with that trial. I had actually wished for a while that she could be relieved of those struggles. The emotion all came out when I stood up to speak at the funeral though. All I had to do was tell everyone I was her "number one" as I introduced myself and I was quickly reduced to tears. In front of all those people is when it hit me that I would really miss her in my life. And to honor Grandpa in the same service really solidified the fact that two of my three grandparents I grew up knowing were gone from this life. I know they are happier in heaven and that I will see them again someday when I join them in the next life. It's still hard though...
I love these two sweet grandparents.
There are not a lot of words to say about my Grandpa... he was just sweet, and warm, and friendly, and great! He really saw the best in people and I grateful for his love and example. He believed in spoiling us and always bought ice cream when we would come to visit. His favorite was butter pecan and I sometimes buy it when I miss him. He could talk and talk and talk, and as the fabulous Texan he was he was kind of larger than life. Cooking was one of his greatest loves. We were always fed so well when we would visit. If he heard we liked something he'd make a ton of it and we would have to eat until we were sick so we didn't get him in trouble from Grandma for making too much. He bought me a subscription to Taste of Home magazine for so many years so we could share that love of cooking with each other. He also loved to garden, mostly peppers, tomatoes, and English cucumbers. He was so good to ask us about our lives and then share whatever he felt most proud of us for. I loved that about him. He had funny little sayings that he would say, like "nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs." He had a love for frogs and there was a funny little motion activated frog in their family room that we all loved. Especially the little kids.
He was actually our step-grandpa, but the only one we ever knew. It didn't matter that my grandma's kids were not his own. He loved them all. He even loved the extended family that really wasn't his. I'll explain that more in a minute...
And he loved us grand kids so so much.
He suffered from dementia and alzheimer's in the last years of his life and he endured it so patiently. It was hard to watch his mind go while his body was still so strong and vibrant. I ended up missing my Grandpa long before he actually passed away. It's nice to know our bodies are whole again once we leave this life.
My grandma came from a very unique background that blessed us immensely. She immigrated from Finland when she was 18. Finland was at war with Russia and it was a dangerous place to live. Her mom was actually killed in a bombing which left her dad widowed and nervous for his daughter's future. She never had much family after that, so family was very important to her. There's a Finnish word, sisu, that means determination, bravery and resilience. Sisu is about taking action against the odds and displaying courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity. My grandma lived with sisu in her heart and taught that characteristic to her family by her great example. She had a neat accent that I was never really able to identify. A friend of mine once told me how much she loved my grandma's cool accent, and I was taken aback by the comment. I had never thought about my Grandma having an accent. I knew English was her second language and that an accent was likely... but that was just Grandma. She didn't sound different to me at all. Even as an adult I would listen to her, trying to identify her accent, and still struggle to clearly hear it.
Below on the left she was on a ship on the ocean, perhaps when she moved to America. On the right is her as a baby. The caption in the photo album said she was tasting her first cheesecake.
My grandma had a very quirky sense of humor that was very apparent in the photo albums we found the night before her funeral. She had a kind of childish, sometimes imaginative, sense of humor in her captions. It was a funny thing to find because we remember many moments of her sarcasm and humor that seemed a bit juvenile.
We loved when she would tease us about our "boring grades" since we often achieved all A's. Even though she acted so bored about it all, we always knew how proud of us she was. We also all remember fondly the funny antics she had. There were words that would trigger random silly comments. If you said the word juice, she would pipe up with "juicy fruit!" out of nowhere.
In addition to her silly side, she was very intelligent and an extremely hard worker. She supported her family after being divorced and she provided a good life to them. My mom and aunt and uncles had many great memories of the sacrifices and blessings they watched their mom live through during those years.
One of the things that stand out the most in my mind is how she remained close to her ex-husband's family. They were divorced when my mom was a teenager and he passed away when my mom was serving her mission. He had remarried and had a son, and when my mom returned from her mission she recalls feeling so strange coming into a room where her mom, step-father, her step-mom and half-brother were all eating at the same table. (We don't use titles like "step" in our family. It's just not the way people are considered. We're all family.) In fact, all of the family gatherings I remember were with my mom's father's family and my Grandma was always invited. She had a big heart that was able to love all of those people even though the typical trend in society would be to shun the "ex-family." Even with the smaller family gatherings of just my Grandma's children (like Christmas, Thanksgiving dinner and birthday parties) my Uncle Norman was always there... he was orphaned as a teenager. Grandma had the space in her heart to love and include her ex-husband's new son. It's a powerful example to me to love everyone and focus on the good you have in life.
My grandma was amazing.
Another thing that came from her love of family was the way she would reach out to those around her that had no one and needed somebody. She cared for and helped so many of her elderly neighbors as they needed companionship and help with various daily tasks. She had such a servant heart and that example was great for all of us.
She wasn't a warm and fuzzy grandma. She didn't get down on the floor and play with us kids, but we always felt loved. She loved hugs and I could really feel her love for me when she hugged me. She grew up in the depression so she saved lots of "things" that could one day be useful, but she didn't just keep "stuff." So her house had a few fun toys for us kids, but not really much. We spent most of our time at her house admiring her doll collection from her travels around the world, playing around in her yard making up games and songs, and snooping through her things in the bathroom or extra bedroom. I was the worst snoop in her house. My cousin Rachel remembers snooping too, but when we were going through everything before the funeral I learned my two younger siblings had never snooped through her drawers and cabinets and I was surprised! I was probably such a nuisance!
One other part of her legacy that I believe all of us inherited was her love of traveling. She saw so much of the world and exploring was important to her. I remember when I was a young teenager, she and Grandpa John took a trip around the world. I thought it was neat to have such adventurous grandparents because that is not something you hear of every day. Most of her posterity enjoys traveling and the occasional change of scenery. I know that came from her. I had a unique experience the summer before 9th grade when I travelled to Finland as a foreign exchange student. She knew of a family with a teenage daughter that wanted to send her to America for the summer to improve her English, and as a thank you they hosted me the following summer. It was such an adventure. Many people spoke English there, so I was able to communicate with people fairly well. The father of the family I stayed with did not speak English, however, which created some funny moments as we would struggle to communicate. I was able to see my Grandma's homeland and get a taste of the culture that made her who she was. It was a great opportunity that I am so grateful I was able to have.
The day we celebrated their lives was beautiful. Only two members of the family were missing; my brother who is serving a mission in Mexico and my cousin that is studying and teaching in Korea. Beautiful tributes were shared about each of them. We felt much love from everyone and enjoyed having the family together.
The younger kids spent a lot of time playing outside the church and had fun together. (My kids are the same age as my youngest cousins... Macy being the only girl in the bunch.) We've talked about taking another vacation to California and the boys have even requested to go play at the church again. Haha. It's nice to know they have such fond memories of the funeral. After snapping a family picture we took some photos of the boys being boys. What a great time!