As I mentioned in this post, we were blessed with a wonderful celebration of my grandmother’s life this past weekend. Letting go of the woman whose hand I had held less than a week prior was sad, but knowing I never have to let go of her memory — and will always have her smiling down from her place in Heaven — replaces tears with smiles.
I was honored to share some of my own memories of Grammy in her eulogy at the funeral Mass:
The second to last time I saw Mary Lombardo, my grammy, she looked at me with a glow and said, “He smiles at me.” The way she said it made me wonder if she was talking about Jack, my youngest, who was lying next to her, or if she had been seeing God smiling down at her. I think it was both. And, I know for certain God smiles down on each of us here today. Why? Because we all share the gift of knowing Mary Lombardo as we did.
Mary, like countless women of her generation, didn’t complete high school. Yet, she possessed more knowledge and skills than many college graduates seem to today. Life experience, trust in God, love for family and an appetite for the daily newspaper acted as her advanced curriculum and shaped her into a woman whose education far surpassed anything teachers and texts could offer. Grammy embodied a whole-hearted education – one that inspires me and makes me grateful to continue living the legacy of love, learning and life appreciation that she has left behind.
From my earliest years, I remember Grammy “knowing stuff”, practical stuff that amazes a child: how to knit beautiful and warm winter mittens; how to turn Grampy’s strawberries and other produce into delicious homemade jams and jellies; how to reduce, reuse and recycle (even before it was trendy to do so) in order to make any manner of necessities and playthings. Indeed, though some may say Grammy lived in “want” for many years, I don’t see it that way. Money may have been tight. Things may have been few. But, ingenuity, trust and hard work multiplied whatever was there in order to fulfill needs… and wants, too. I know I always wanted to dive into Grammy’s homemade Christmas presents each year! And, I continue to be amazed at how Grammy managed to pull off huge family gatherings in a tiny home, ensuring we were all well fed and relaxed. She certainly had her home arts and handiwork mastered!
She also had an uncanny ability to adjust to the challenges and celebrations of life. Through many hard knocks – including the death of a child, the loss of a husband and a successful battle against cancer – Grammy remained steadfast in her faith. Through celebrations, like the weddings of grandchildren and the births of great-grandchildren, she modeled true joy and love. When she encountered someone, she didn’t just see goodness, but brought it out. She was known to say things such as, “We have such a big family … so full of love. Even with all the people in our family, no one has real problems.” Now, I know some of us here might beg to differ. We probably could name a problem or ten. But, with Grammy’s vision we can also see that in the long run, all problems are simply stumbling blocks and lessons. Grammy acknowledged this and she knew, especially later in life, that the quickest way to navigate challenges and to learn from them is to pray.
Certainly, Grammy prayed often. More than once over the years, when I walked in to visit Grammy, I found her eyes closed, lips moving, rosary in hand. And often times as I went to say goodbye, Grammy shared thanks for our family.
So much is learned, shared and habitualized through family relationships. And, with Grammy at the helm, all such things were underscored with wisdom and love. Indeed, Grammy beamed when she talked about the “population explosion” she and Grampy began and how it is so “full of love”. She’s right. And she was the catalyst. Grammy had a beautiful way of sharing simple words at just the right moments. No big speeches. No judgment. Just understanding, a snippet of time-tested wisdom… and love. That’s what ties our bonds so strongly.
Strong, like Grammy herself. As I’ve said, she was strong about life, faith, family – and right to the end, she had strong mind, too. For years, that woman would sit during quiet moments with glasses perched at the end of her nose, pouring over the daily newspaper. And, when we’d visit, she’d often have clippings of interest, chosen and underlined specifically to share with us, stuffed into old cereal boxes. And, Grammy had an astounding vocabulary. Anyone who played Upwords with her knew that! You had to break out a dictionary just to make sure she wasn’t making up words. Yet, she was never boastful, even for all her brilliance.
“Little Grammy”, as many of us called Mary Lombardo, was small in stature but huge in impact. She lived as a respected steward of time, talent and treasures. Even in her final years, when age and illness reframed her sense of time and erased many of her former talents, Grammy adapted by embracing all her body and mind allowed her to do – to pray and to share smiles and stories with whoever visited her.
During this time, when asked, “How are you?”, she took to replying, “As usual. No better. No worse.” But this wasn’t said as a complaint. Rather, it was a fact, which she shared with a smile of acceptance. Grammy once said, “Life is a gift and I am going to accept it as long as God offers it.” She did that. With grace. With gratitude. With a manner I have seen few do. Grammy lived in practical way, day to day.
Today, as we remember Grammy, I can’t help but to be sad that she will no longer be around to be my mentor in living a simple, faithful, yet rich life. But, I am so confident that that she now looks down from her company with the angels and saints, cheering each of us on and encouraging us to live her legacy well, that I am more happy than sad. I’m grateful for each special moment shared with Grammy throughout the years. I am equally thankful that my children, though gifted with far less time with their GG, were literally touched by her love.
Love directed and defined Mary Lombardo. A woman trained up with a happy heart. A woman who lived long and well before she passed on with peace, having accepted her learning here and prepared herself for the hereafter. Great-great grandmother. GG. Little Grammy. Mum. Child of God. With love and pride, may her legacy live on…