July 28th is a special day in my life….So many birthdays in my family.
My BFF Lance. My cousin Evan. My quasi-cousin Jennifer. And it was supposed to be the day my first born came into the world. But he had his own ideas, and arrived two weeks early.
But most notably, today is my Granny’s birthday.
My Granny—Neva Lee Knight Gough— would have been 87 years old today. But instead, she died ten years ago, and left a hole in my heart that will never heal. All of my grandparents are gone now, and of course, I loved them all.
But my Granny and I had a special bond.
She used to hold my hands in hers—my hands were always very hot—and tell me that I had healer’s hands, that my hands were hot because I had healing energy that passed through them, and that it was a special gift. I didn’t really understand at the time what she meant, but I grew to understand as I got older.
She wasn’t talking hocus pocus kind of stuff. I wasn’t going to touch someone and have their cancer go away. Although, if you have muscle aches and pains, my hands are always hot enough to soothe them. Like little heaters they are.
But I think what she meant was this: at the essence of me was a nurturer, like herself. Like she before me, I thrive on touch, and caring, and wanting to make everyone better. Whether through holding and rocking a sick child, nursing an injured person or animal back to health, or preparing a pot of soup for a sick friend, our hands stay busy at the command of a servant’s heart. I am forever rescuing or saving someone or something, in little or big ways, just because it’s how I do.
Since her passing, I still feel her presence sometimes in the kitchen. It’s sometimes so strong, I actually think I feel her hand on my shoulder, and hear her whisper my name. Maybe it’s just because she died ten years ago, and left a hole in my heart that will never heal. Before you think me crazy, let me tell you that a few years ago, others heard it too.
It was Christmas day, and I was preparing the family Christmas meal—the thing my Granny had done every year up until she was too ill to do so. I was in my mom’s kitchen, by myself, cooking away. At that time of year, I always feel her presence more—like she wants to make sure I get it right, and this year was no exception.
My mom’s kitchen is galley style—long and narrow, with an entrance at either end. My sister and her husband were sitting at the far end, just inside the dining room. I turned to walk out the other end, to go do something….as I turned the corner out of the kitchen, I heard a very firm, deep whisper “Chris”, over my left shoulder. Feeling certain that my sister or brother-in-law had just called me, I turned back in to the kitchen going toward them….just as my sister was coming my way saying “what was that?” “I just heard someone say your name…”
I almost lost it then and there, and it makes me cry like a baby, because I fully believe that in that moment, my connection with my granny was so strong, that someone else actually witnessed it.
I think that sometimes, when our loved ones pass, a part of them stays behind for those that need them the most.
When she died ten years ago, and left a hole in my heart, I did her eulogy. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I had to do it. I thought the best way I could honor her today on her birthday, was to share with you the words I shared on the day we said goodbye to her. The hole will never heal.
I didn’t save it—it wasn’t even written down. But I had been preparing it for a few years, from the day I knew I would lose her sooner than later, so it’s never really left me….
Just before I stood to ascend the steps to the pulpit, I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it after all—I wouldn’t be able to speak any intelligible words through my grief. But then something weird happened—they wheeled in her casket, draped in a silk cloth, and placed it at the front of the church.
I want to thank all of you for coming to honor my Granny. I also want to ask that those of you that have been friends with my Granny and Pop for so many years, please don’t forget my Pop now. He’ll need your company more than ever.
For those who don’t know me, I am Chrissy..the oldest grandchild.
When my Granny started getting sick a few years ago, I knew this day would come. And I knew that when it did, I would have to stand up and speak about her, because no other person had as much impact on who I am today than my Granny.
Yet a few minutes ago, I didn’t think I could do it….didn’t think I could face you all and utter words that you could understand, rather than sob. But then they brought her in, and the instant I saw she was in here, it was like a burst of the Holy Spirit filled me, and I knew it would be okay. It is so like my Granny to do that—to make something so palatable.
Anyone that knew my Granny knows she was always in the kitchen, showing her love in one way or another with food. Ninety-eight percent of my memories of her, were in the kitchen—any kitchen—doing for others. I learned from Granny to show love for others through food.
Many of you in this room were annual recipients of a big plate full of fudge, and divinity, and fruitcake. Starting in November, her house would come alive with the smell of cloves, and cinnamon and ginger, and the sounds of mixing and chopping and stirring and pouring. We grandkids always got to lick the bowls.
If you were sick, many of you received homemade vegetable or chicken noodle soup. If you were lucky, a loaf of homemade whole wheat bread to go with it. Of course there was always extra for her grandkids, served warm with generous lashings of butter.
All of the Incarnate Word Sisters in here benefited from her cooking skills year after year, at your Pounding Party, and Christmas Party, and many other events at or benefiting the convent. I always remember her making eggnog—-real eggnog with bourbon in it—and stirring in the whipped cream. I marveled at it, but could never drink it.
For her kids and grandkids, we got our favorite meals for our birthdays..Chicken a la King for me, Mexican Spaghetti for my Pop. Chop-Chop for my dad. Good report cards and other achievements were similarly recognized.
My grandparents were not wealthy, but she gave so much of her heart to others. I never remember seeing her cross, or angry, and she had this laugh that would make everyone in a 100 foot radius laugh out loud. It was loud, like a Mexican mariachi yelling “aye, aye, aye”, and it was filled with unabashed joy.
The Native Americans have a saying that goes:
When you are born, you are crying,
And the people around you are laughing.
You should live your life so that when you die
The people around you are crying, and
You are laughing
And my Granny did that. Every single day of her life.
So I know that today, she is sitting at supper with Jesus, and knowing her, she probably prepared it.
So that was it…Those were the words I said about her, when she died ten years ago, and left a hole in my heart that will never heal.
When I want to feel even closer to her, I make one of her dishes….Here are some I have shared with you before. (Click the picture to be taken to the recipe)