Thursday, February 5, 2009

In loving memory...2 February 2009

"We are each of us a flower that fades from this Earth,

Only to bloom again in Heaven's garden..."

- my beloved grandmother,

Adrienne (Renne) Celestine Pytlak Ziemba

April 6, 1934 - January 24th, 2009

Well, I'm back in (snowy!) Dublin again after a brief return to Buffalo to pay my last respects to a wonderful woman and to be there for my family in these difficult times. One of the most remarkable things about her funeral (besides the beautiful flowers and the company) was the lack of openly displayed grief. Not that the grief wasn't there, simmering just under the surface, but rather that we were all gathered over those few days, in spite of the treacherous snowy weather, to celebrate the life of a beautiful woman who had touched upon so many other lives. In this manner, her funeral ceremony proved to be just the way she would have wanted it: an occasion to remember all the shared love and joy, and sorrow too, now forever mingled, before memory grows dim.

We knew that she lived for others quietly and with so much grace, just by being her kind and thoughtful self with the family (her husband, children and grandchildren were the centre of her world), but I think we were all somewhat shocked and moved by the great outpouring of love and sympathy that came from so many quarters. I guess we never realised that she was loved as much outside of the family as she was within it. We always knew she was a remarkable person, but I think we also felt, somewhat selfishly, that we alone were the objects of the love & laughter she showered upon us. But as it turns out, she had the same effect upon everyone who has ever known her. Grandma Renne had such a big heart that her love could not be contained by family alone and so she gave of it freely to other things of beauty she met in this world: to her friends, her neighbors, her patients, her pets, to the flowers and fruits of her garden, to the simple joy of living and to the odd fortunate stranger whose path just happened to cross hers. Once I was lucky enough to be that stranger, since she lived down the street from my aunt, but luck became a priceless treasure on the day she and Stan welcomed me into the family with open arms. I don't remember much from those early years, but I remember this as clearly as if it happened yesterday-she walked up to the table where I sat at their remarkable daughter's wedding to my father and bade me call her and Stan, 'Grandma' and 'Grandpa', giving me to know that I was to be their 'bonus grandchild', just as she reminded me again this Christmas before she passed away. I don't think I ever got the chance to tell her just how much that meant to a small boy who had never known his maternal grandmother, and who had been devastated by the recent loss of a grandfather who also happened to be his best friend. In spite of a tentative early start (I used to be afraid of her- she had a reputation in the neighborhood as a witch...if only on Halloween!), I came to love Grandma Renne and Grandpa Stan as my own grandparents. Hearing stories after her death and looking back, I now realise that the love had always been there, if sometimes without knowledge on my part. From the very first meeting when I was a small child, that love grew with the passing years, as surely as an acorn grows to a mighty oak. The oak still stands now and will continue to grow even though the life that nourished it early on has passed away. I only wish that we could have held such a celebration of her life while she was still with us, so that she would know, if she did not already know, just how much she was loved.... if only by me.

God saw you getting tired
When a cure was not meant to be.
So He put His arms around you
And whispered “Come to me.”

In tears we saw you sinking
We watched you fade away
Our hearts were almost broken
You fought so hard to stay.

But when we saw you sleeping
So peacefully free from pain,
We could not wish you back
To suffer so again.

A golden heart stopped beating,
Hard working hands were laid to rest.
God broke our hearts to prove to us
That He only takes the best.

So keep your arms around her, Lord
And give her special care,
Make up for all that she suffered
And all that seemed unfair....

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