This is the text of my eulogy for my grandmother, Irene Roberts, who died on Jan. 12, 2015.
One of the gifts of being a parent is that you get to see how your children react to things that, to them, are totally new. Even if you’ve seen something a hundred times before, watching a child see it for the first time is a delight. Most of us lose that sense of wonderment as we age, and it gets harder for the world to surprise us.
That didn’t happen to our grandmother.
Each time one of us would tell her about an adventure we had, or show her some new gadget, astonishment would grip her face and she would say, “I don’t believe it!” She did this quite a bit during the last 20 years, as the world changed so rapidly around her. It became almost a running joke among us, but she was genuinely amazed by things, and that’s such an wonderful character trait.
That she was the same person I knew as a child is a testament to life lived steadily, with determination and purpose. Our grandmother worked, and she worked hard. She did not go in for cutting corners, and she did not see why she should not have to work, even when technically retired.
All of you know of her dedication to her family, to her work, to her church. All of you have seen or felt her generosity and kindness. I’d like to tell you two stories about our grandmother. They represent how, in ways that Grandma might not have believed, she made a huge difference in my life.
When I attended school at Jefferson Elementary in Emmaus, many Tuesday afternoons I would walk to the public library after school and wait for Grandma to pick me up when she was done at Rodale’s. We would drive to her house, where Pappy would be waiting for dinner.We would eat, I would hopefully finish my homework, and I would stay overnight before she dropped me off at school the next morning. It sounds pretty routine. But I remember those Tuesday nights, even when most everything else I did during that time has slipped from my mind. I remember them because they were, for me, a refuge, a place where nothing troubled me.
I was of an age when young boys can, if they choose, create problems for themselves and others around them. When I could have made the wrong choices, our grandmother was there to help show me the right ones, to wrap me in love. It might seem ordinary, but don’t you believe it.
The other story is the time I made our grandmother cry.It feels like the bargain between grandparents and grandchildren clearly says that unconditional love should be repaid by behavior that causes no grief. To my great regret, I did not hold up my end of the deal.One night not too far removed from our Tuesdays, I spoke to my grandmother on the phone from my father’s house. I told her that we wouldn’t be doing those nights anymore, and worse. She didn’t understand, and I could not offer her any words that would help her to.
But our grandmother, like our mom, did not waver. She did not stop loving me, or supporting me, and she never once expressed to me any disappointment about my decision. Her love and forgiveness were an example to me that family bonds may stretch, even further than seems possible, but they do not break. Even now, it’s hard to believe.
Our grandmother saw unbelievable things during her life. But she did unbelievable things, too, although she’d never want me to say that. We who remain know, we should be amazed and we should not forget.
Grandma’s faith was steadfast, and I know that the woman who taught me the 23rd Psalm had no doubt that she would see her God and be reunited with her family and friends. With her parents. With her brother and sister. With our grandfather.
And I know this, too: on that morning when Irene Ida Backenstoe Roberts woke up to sleep no more, she looked around, and even as the wonderment spread across her face, she finally got to say: “I believe it!”