On eulogizing

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Last year on this day I flipped my planner open to a new week and was overcome with an unexpected wave of sadness. I had put Nana’s photo sticker on her birthday immediately after receiving the planner for Christmas, not realizing she wouldn’t live to see her 92nd birthday. In fact, she died little more than a week after I placed that sticker there.

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My last hug goodbye from Nana, Christmas Day a week before she died.

Her death marked the end of a generation on my mom’s side. After her funeral, I visited the house she and my grandfather had shared for 57 years—the house my mom grew up in and I spent much of my childhood at—and just walked the rooms and cried.

That part of my life now feels like another era, encased in gold and far away from the world I live in now. It’s an emotional moment to realize a huge, unchanging part of your life is now a closed chapter, never to be visited again.

That’s not to say losing her wasn’t a great loss on its own. She was a special woman, the kindest person I’ve ever known. I miss her dearly.

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I had the privilege of giving her eulogy. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but I knew I could and I should, so I did.

I was a ball of nerves writing it (fact-checking, trying to sharpen fuzzy memories) and wasn’t sure how I would manage to deliver it coherently. But I’m glad I stretched myself and went through with it. Preparing for the eulogy helped me grieve by reminding me of all the joy Nana and I shared and what a full and happy life she led. It actually gave me a great sense of comfort during that sad time.

One thing that helped was that for her 90th birthday I had written Nana a letter recalling fond memories and sharing how much I loved her. I had already told her how special she was; now I just had to share those thoughts with everyone else.

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A drawing from a sketchbook I had as a kid: Nana surrounded by things I associated with her (the bottom left is a jar of Flinstones vitamins, ha!)

So two takeaways here: if you’re in a position to give a eulogy for someone you love, you’ll have to push through the discomfort and the feeling that your words will be inadequate (they will be, but that’s OK). It will be worth it, and may even be good for your grief.

Second, don’t wait for the eulogy to express your love and share your fond memories. Your loved ones would love to hear that from you today!

So on what would have been Claire Fredenburg’s 93rd birthday, here are a few photos of the sweet, affectionate, creative, fun woman I was blessed to call Nana.

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With her mom (Mary) and sister, Eve (right).

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Love this photo and wish I could ask her about it!

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Nana loved to write rhyming poems for any occasion (she even put clever rhyming captions  on an entire family photo album). This one was published in a Carson Pirie Scott employee book of some sort (she retired from there after a lengthy career).

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Dancing during the “who’s been married the longest” dance at our wedding.

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Killing the dance floor with me at my sister’s wedding, exactly four years ago tomorrow.

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Pa.

When I think of Pa, I think of him laughing.

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He laughed a lot, and made us laugh even more. His laugh is what sticks in my mind now as I look back on years of memories that sadly will no longer be made after today.

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I’ve known this day was coming my entire life. My mom even used to warn us when we were being brats and didn’t want to call or go over to our grandparents’ house: “They won’t be around forever.” I’ve dreaded this day my entire life, and I knew it had to come, yet part of me thought it never would. Pa was 92. He was sharp, quick-witted and funny till the very end.

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He told great stories, even if they were sometimes exaggerated, or made up altogether. In elementary school I interviewed him about his time in the service during WWII. He told me elaborate tales of him as a fighter pilot. I found out later from my mom that he never actually was in combat. But that was after I had turned in a really interesting report.

He was a drummer. Charlie Dell. He traveled the country playing music as a career until shortly after my uncle was born, when he looked at the men around him, old and drunk and doing the same thing night after night, and realized this was no way to raise a family.

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Then he was a salesman until he retired. It was after retirement that he started – mainly as a hobby, out of his garage – the business that would grow into the thriving company that has put food (and much more) on the table for my family almost my entire life.

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He married my grandma in 1945 and last year they celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary.

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It’s a wonder they have any photos at all from their wedding day. Their photographer, Pa’s uncle, who was giddy about his fancy pants borrowed camera, snapped away the entire day and realized at the end he hadn’t loaded any film into the camera.

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This was from their 63rd anniversary:

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On my wedding day, they were the last couple on the dance floor during the married couples dance. Pa faked a heart attack when the DJ announced how many years they had been married.

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He and my grandma were and are good friends with my other grandparents, so many family gatherings included all four of them.

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What a blessing to have both sides of the family like family to one another. In fact, the four of them would often get together on their own to play cards or go out to eat.

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Pa and Nana have lived in the same house for 56 years. This is the house my mom grew up in, and I practically grew up in. It’s filled with so many memories.

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This was taken last month, during our last visit with him before this past weekend. It was a sweet, sweet afternoon.

Pa was an artist who made silly ceramic toothpick holders and quirky copper garden sculptures. He learned old English and wrote sonnets inspired by a Shakespeare poetry book I gave him years ago. He wrote long letters filled with advice and short, nonsensical, yet somehow profound emails. One of the last things he said to me this past weekend – with much effort and little clarity as he struggled to speak – was that he wants me to read his file of “before and after thoughts.” I cried and cried, and haven’t seen them yet, but knowing Pa I have a good idea of what those musings will be like: introspective with a good dose of goofy.

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He was a magician and a mini-magician’s teacher (me being the mini-magician as a child).

He almost always had a trick up his sleeve – the most epic and memorable being an Easter egg hunt riddled with twists, turns and challenges along the way, which resulted in my little brother winning $50 in a surprise ending.

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This was from a later-year’s Easter egg hunt, which was much less elaborate than the one Pa planned when we were kids.

He was the founder of FredonteQ, a club he created for his five grandkids.

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Now he has two great-grandsons, who he could always make smile.

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London Dell, born October 2010.

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Corban James, born December 2011.

He was the leader of the annual Christmas Eve family band.

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He was perhaps the only octogenarian to play Call of Duty on his computer.

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He was the self-proclaimed “Merrymaker Guy,” and that’s how I’ll always remember Pa.