25 August 2012

A Musical Pick-Me-Up


On the Beautiful Blue Danube, Op. 314

Eulogy for Lillian (Hulst) Vis

Lillian (Hulst) Vis, aged 85, died Friday, 24 August 2012. She was preceded in death by her husband, Gerrit, and a daughter, Erma Vis. She is survived by 3 sons, a daughter, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, me amongst them.

My grandmother was a devoted mother, grandmother, and Christian. She will be missed by all of us, but most of all by Myrt, her sister and constant companion.

I've had a hard time coming up with words for how I feel about her and her passing. I left the West side of Michigan almost a decade ago, having left the first time almost 15 years ago. Almost half my life has been spent away from the area I grew up in or in the company of my family. My paternal grandmother was a large part of my early childhood, but less in my adolescent and adult years for reasons I can't quite place. She loved me, but I fear was fundamentally disappointed in my life path.

Grandma lived on her own until she was nearly 75, driving on her own and living on her own. She was fiercely independent and strong, traits she learned raising 5 children in the strict, petty surrounds of Protestant, rural Michigan. She was the essence of what I perceived to be Dutch as a child: certain, decisive, frugal, faithful, and resourceful. As I reflect now as an adult, I see the effort she put forth to make all of us comfortable and provided for, while she herself toiled in kitchens, gardens, and factories.

Conjuring up my childhood around her brings flashes of memories: baked goods, punishments, moments of solidarity, shotguns, snapping turtles, Christmas, farm equipment I'd no business operating. A closet full of toys that were old when we were born, yet were always in use. Lessons in how to make a kitchen work. How to care for kittens. How to pray.

Grandma was, in many ways, the matriarch of my nuclear family. She commanded respect and attention, at the end when it was more than some were able to provide. She instructed, corrected, and disciplined me, my brother, and my cousins as a parent, rarely slipping into cliched, grandmotherly permissiveness. She was fair, she was honest, and she never once lied to her grandchildren as a kindness.

She spent her last years in assisted care, loosing first her leg then her war with her heart and kidneys. At 85, she gave Death a good run for its money, however, never proffering her dignity for more time--a feat in her nursing-home-surroundings that, while serviceable and all, suffered from all the typical nursing home smells, characters, and disease. She deserved a better experience, something I will regret for a long time.

On our last visit to see her, she didn't know we were in the room. My father told me she expressed that she was ready to die and Hospice was kind enough to make sure her last days were not filled with pain. It's difficult for those of us left behind to reconcile the person we see lying in an adjustable bed, ravaged by time, drugs, and mental deprivation. My memories of her were and will be of a recent retiree scolding me as I "weeded" her annuals  instead of actual weeds. My memories of her will be of the family matriarch holding court over the adults' table at Thanksgiving. Of the grandmother who came to my college graduation, beaming. Of the forced smile when I told her I was leaving West Michigan again (for good), wishing me luck.

Rest in Peace, Grandma. You are already missed.