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Eulogy for my Grandma, Pat Heinz

(January 15, 2016)

One finds difficulty putting words to an entire life. It’s like trying to describe the smell of the beach air at the Jersey Shore, where we learned to fish, or to capture the cabiney smell of Mountain Springs Lake, where we would catch turtles and race them, or to explain the tantalizing smell of Pat’s brownies and then the sight of brownie blocks crisply wrapped in tin foil—the assurance you were being given a very special gift for the road, and not just a special gift, but also a deep trust—these weren’t just any brownies; these were Pat’s brownies.

Well my grandma wasn’t just any grandma, she was Patricia Heinz, and I loved her very much. Thank you for the opportunity to present this eulogy, which I consider an honor bestowed in deep trust.

Okay, here goes. When I think of Pat, I think of three words.

First, clever.

Pat was hearing impaired from birth. For most of her life, she wore two hearing aids. But instead of treating her hearing loss as a disadvantage, Pat improvised to her advantage. When communicating with humans became challenging, she reached out to the animal kingdom, and found fast and furry friends in canines. Pat’s love for dogs is famous.

When we would visit Pat at Juniper Village, we would sometimes bring Buddy. On the days we didn’t bring him, there would be a strong admonition to bring him next time, as in, “if you don’t bring Buddy, don’t bother coming.” As in, “I don’t care if you bring your kids, just bring the dog.”

And speaking of furry friends, how about living with Jack? Can you imagine being married to Jack for 63 years? The tomfoolery this prankster could pull was legendary. On the last visit I had with Jack when he was still Jack, he was lying in a hospital bed with the door open. An elderly man walked by, very rotund and wearing a slick and shiny jogging suit. Jack burst out, “Well look at you, Sporto!” The man galumphed away. Jack was a character. 63 years of marriage? Pat had to be clever.

And that’s not all, imagine being the mother to this fine set of smart alecks. Two lawyers who bike, or is it two bikers who lawyer, I can’t remember, one CEO who thinks he’s Bob Newhart, and one drama queen trying to win away attention from her brothers. What were family dinners like? What were family vacations like? Who could get a word in? Through all this, Pat was probably the cleverest of all. She used the word marvelous in the most marvelous ways.

But should the buffoonery get to be too much, Pat had a little trick called an off switch. Just turn off the hearing aids and she could day dream of dogs all day long—ahh, dogs running, dogs leaping, dogs wagging their tails, dogs bow wowing all in unison. It was glorious, it was her “Calgan take me away” moment.

Pat was also clever in prolonging your visit at the nursing home. Let’s say you hadn’t left your dog at home, so Pat wanted you to stay longer. After you’d said goodbye and kissed her, she’d pull out a strategic question, one that couldn’t be answered with a quick yes or no, one that required a longer answer, an essay let’s say. I became attuned to her tricky tactics, and just as I was leaving, I would try to shield myself from her sticky questions, swat away her sleek inquisitions, but alas she was just too good with them, and I would stay longer. Clever grandma.

A second word I’d use to describe Pat is thoughtful.

Pat was particularly thoughtful of others. I remember hand-written birthday cards with cash in them and cards written to me at summer camp. Whichever dog she happened to be dog-sitting also happened to sign. Some of the best doggie handwriting came out during their time with Pat. She just knew how to pull the best penmanship out of them.

She and Jack made the trip out to Michigan for my college graduation and to Colorado for my wedding. She helped to unpack our boxes when Colette and I moved into our first house. Pat also learned to Skype, and living at Shannondell, she would Skype with our daughter Asia. Thoughtful.

Well, it has been said you can surmise what’s important to someone by looking at her schedule. So what was important to Pat? I have in my hands Pat’s daytimer from 2011. Counselor, let the evidence show that Pat was a very thoughtful woman. Here in her daytimer from 2011, she has noted birthdays of every family member, and some friends. And usually a few days before, there’s a reminder to buy a card.

But it’s not only human birthdays here, there are birthdays for Honey, Troll, Tobe, and Khouri as well. You guessed it—these are dog birthdays. Sorry Buddy, you weren’t born yet. Now if you look closely, you’ll notice that Pat did get Colette’s birthday wrong, but hey, she got the ones that really matter right—the dogs.

Pat also kept track of anniversaries and adoptions and operations and divorces and job changes. She noted when Kristina moved to San Diego on March 27, 2009; when Tony went to Mexico on March 26, 2011; when Peter “left” Betz on August 8, 2002; and when Enron bought OmniComp on December 17, 1996.

So if you paged through Pat’s daytimer like a flipbook, you would see days brimming with life, and always a check mark on the day, as in, “Did it, this day is done.”

There are records of dinners and brunches and lunches. And swim times and football games and family visits. Professor Tony gave Pat an iPad lesson on February 19. Steve visited on April 3. And Peter and Kristina visited on March 19. Such devoted children. But you can tell who Pat’s favorites were. On March 17, written two days before Peter and Kris’ visit is this—“Make brownies.” You lucky ducks.

It’s an absolutely marvelous revelation that my hearing-impaired grandmother living in a retirement home had days that were filled with activities and people and lists.

But should you page through Pat’s daytimer like a flipbook, you’ll eventually get to a very bare patch, a patch with nothing written, and on some days, not even a check mark noting the day was done. You will wonder what ever happened on those blank days in October when life seemed to stop. Well it did, that was when Pat lost her Jack. When we all lost our Jack. When a check mark would acknowledge the irreplaceable loss, as if avoiding the check mark would return Jack to us.

But it didn’t. Eventually Pat started using check marks again, and had people over, and sent birthday cards, and yes, the day before Steve and Kay visited on November 19, she made brownies. I would call Pat thoughtful.

And third, I would call Pat extraordinary.

But not in the sense of, “she’s passed on now, so let’s make her a saint and name the Super Bowl after her” kind of extraordinary. I think she’s extraordinary in a different way. Let me explain.

When Pat moved to State College, she moved into her own apartment. She was fairly independent—she had a kitchen and a car and a newspaper subscription—which is more than most people in the world will ever have. But then Pat fell and broke her hip, which required surgery.

Surgery was serious business. My other grandma had had a similar operation and she never recovered from it. So we were very concerned about Pat. I went with my mom and Colette to the hospital to see Pat before her surgery. We wanted to support her, little grandma preparing for this big ‘ole surgery. We didn’t want her to feel alone.

So I read some of the Bible to Pat, where Jesus says, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). I explained what this verse meant, that God had provided a way to get to him through His Son Jesus Christ, which means we never have to be alone.

Now what happened next is a bit inexplicable, but I’ll try my best to describe it. I had expected some argument or maybe withdrawal from Pat because of what I shared, but instead an unpredictable, surpassing peace came over the room. It was so palpable that my mom, Colette, and I looked at each other and acknowledged the rolling in of this present tide.

Pat closed her eyes and took deep breaths. She almost looked like a little girl who was processing some really good news, like she was just promised a new puppy or two. Now Pat had been around church at different parts of her life—one of her jobs was a church secretary—but this present news seemed to surprise her and satisfy her at the same time. Pat opened her mouth and told God, her Heavenly Father, that she believed Jesus was the Way, the Truth and the Life and she didn’t want anything to be between them.

This is what makes Pat extraordinary. She changed course after eighty-some years and did what Jesus says in John 14:1: “Trust in God; trust also in me.”

So Pat started moving in a Jesus-ward direction. In the last few years of her life, it was important to Pat to attend church, either Calvary or a service at the nursing home. She asked for prayers when we visited her. She welcomed Bible reading. She talked about being baptized. We saw a change in her.

This change may have been difficult to see at times because of the dementia that eventually set in, but if one stands back and looks at the panoramic view, one will see the course change. I call that extraordinary.

Now I close.

Pat’s family and friends, we start a new day without her. The book has been filled, the check marks have been checked, the day has been done. So what now?

I say we do what Pat and Jack both did in the twilight of their days—trust in God, but also trust in Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I say we walk the uncommon path, change our course, be extraordinary. Wouldn’t that be marvelous?

Now that we still have today, while our book is still open, while our check marks have not all been checked, we can live in the fullness of the Father while still on this earth, and enjoy the fellowship of Jesus while still on this soil. We don’t have to wait for our twilight years to trust in God; but also trust in Jesus.

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