My great-aunt Max died of Alzheimer's a little over a week ago. Months ago, I said I would give her eulogy, because I wanted it done right, by someone who knew her, and Max was pretty much a family-only person. I wanted to post the eulogy for my family members, and I figured I'd better give a key as well for those of my readers who aren't part of the family. Max is the great-aunt, my grandmother's older sister who never married. At some point when my mom was a kid, she moved to the city and lived with my grandparents, and after their divorce, with Gran. Gran is, somewhat obviously, my grandmother. McGregor was Max's dog for the first 14 years of my life. Dan is my cousin, now almost 15. Adam is the youngest of my cousins...now 4. So here's what I had to say:
How do you say goodbye to someone you’ve loved forever?
Max taught me so many things--how to knit, 3 different games of solitaire, how to do puzzles, crosswords, word searches. Some of my earliest memories have Max at least in the background. When I was little, and stayed with Gran nearly every Friday night, I slept in Max’s bed, with her and usually with McGregor. And every time, she would tell me bedtime stories. She was the recorder, the witness, the historian of this family for so long, that her stories were better than books, because I knew almost all the people in them. Even when I didn’t know the characters, I was still connected to them.
Max didn’t have it easy. She told Dan once, “I don’t know how to play, like most kids do.” She was in charge of her siblings, and I get the impression they were a handful. By the time I knew her, she was relatively quiet (at least for this bunch), and patient with us kids, even if she could be pretty imperious with the adults at times. She looked out for us, all the way down to little Adam. Living with Max can’t have always been easy. I know she got in the middle of things, and she said what she thought whether it was politic or not. But I think she meant it for the best. I think she wanted to protect us kids from having to grow up too soon. She wanted to make sure we were able to play and be kids in all those ways she didn’t know how.
I won’t talk about what the Alzheimer’s did to her, because today is not supposed to be about grief. Today is a celebration of victory over the enemy--over death. The night Max died, I emailed my bosses and my pastor to let them know what had happened. But I just can’t send an email without a subject line, and I probably spent as long on that as I did the entire message. I finally settled on “A Christian goes home.” For today is a memory of a life that touched ours all too briefly, and a celebration of her homecoming to the Lord.
And so I close with the words Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonika:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, NRSV)