My grandmother passed from this life on February 7, 2011 at the grand age of 84. She was one of those people that loved everyone, and everyone loved her. Like all of us, she could have her moments, and at the age 84 she was allowed. But you never walked away from her doubting that she loved you, cared about you, wished you only the best in life.
Sadly her funeral did not pay homage to her wonderful life. We spent an hour listening to her fundamentalist pastor preach on hell, suffering, and her sinful grandchildren. Since she only has two grandchildren, and I’m the gay one, it wasn’t too hard to figure out who the sinner was. Seven times (and yes, Greg and I counted) he told of how much she prayed for her sinful grandchildren, how Satan had hardened their hearts, and how she longed for them to find Christ. It took every ounce of will power I had to not get up and walk out, but out of respect for my aunt and others, I stayed and kept my mouth shut. I will address it though, in my own time and way.
The worst part of the whole experience is not the things he said, but the things he didn’t say. The poor bigot had one hour to eulogize the life of a wonderful person, but instead focused on what he perceived as the bad things in her life. Out of love and respect for my grandmother, and in spite of him, I’ve written my own eulogy:
Jenny Jeanette (Dunn) Potts was born September 17, 1926, and passed from this life on February 7, 2011. She was affectionately known as Mama, Granny, and Ms. Potts. She had one love in her life, Howard Potts, whom she married when she was 14. He preceded her in death, and she was buried the day before what would have been their 70th wedding anniversary. She had three daughters: Rebecca (who only lived a few hours), Patricia (my mother who passed in 2009), and Deborah (my aunt but more like my sister). She had two grandsons, Roy and Stacy, and four great-grandchildren, Stephanie, Jessi, Shane, and Gavin.
Jeanette was born at home, and although her birthday was celebrated on September 17 for as long as I can remember, we recently learned her birth certificate shows September 16. She lived most of her life poor, and worked as a share cropper in her younger years. She eventually went to work as an aide in the kitchen of a local hospital, and worked there until she retired to take care of my ailing grandfather. He built their first house himself, a one-room building that still stands, although barely, on the property behind her house. They later built another house on the same property that burned in 1968. They lost most of their belongings in that fire. They built again on the same property, and she lived in that house until she died. The house is not fancy or large, and is in very bad shape by today’s standards, but it was her home and she loved it. In recent years a few commercial ventures tried to buy the property and the house for development, and she wouldn’t consider selling. She divided the property several years ago, giving tracks to her daughters and grandsons.
Her daughter Rebecca was born in 1942, and only lived 23 hours. Granny always said she died of pneumonia. They held the funeral at home, and the table that was used for the service still sits on her back porch today. As I understand the story, my grandmother did not attend the burial. They had no money for a grave marker, and over time my grandfather forgot where her grave was. All records at the cemetery were lost in a fire a few years later, so to this day no one knows where Rebecca is buried. That is one regret in my grandmother’s life.
My grandmother was a poet. She wrote thousands of poems in her lifetime. She would wake up every morning at 3:00 and begin writing. She always gave God the credit for her poems, saying he gave them to her and she was just an instrument. She often said she didn’t know what some of the words in her poems meant, and would have to look them up in the dictionary. I asked her several times over the years to put her favorite poems together, and let me try to publish them, but she never acted on it. I don’t think she felt worthy of having her work published. On birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, you could always depend on receiving a card from my grandmother, with a poem enclosed written for you on that day. I pray that some day I receive at least some of her creative ability as a writer.
My grandmother loved God more than anyone I’ve ever known, and she shared that love with everyone she met. Although we disagreed on on the true meaning of Christianity, I respected her truth. She had a judgmental view at times when it came to religion and “sin”, but she was never condemning.
The biggest tribute I can give to my grandmother was to share that she was always a refuge from a bad day. Every time I would go visit my grandmother, her eyes would light up and big smile would fill her face when she saw me at the door. She was the same with anyone who came to visit her, but especially with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I can remember her holding her great-grandchildren when they were babies, and how proud she looked. She would laugh as she hugged them, and held them like God had put pure love in her hands.
This is the woman that I knew, loved, and was proud to call Granny. I will continue to find refuge in her smile, and never doubt that she loved me. These words will never truly describe the woman that she was, or honor her the way she deserves, but I offer them in respect and love. May she rest in peace, and receive the afterlife she prayed for.
NOTE: Some of these stories came from different people at different times, so every detail may not be exact, but you still get a good picture of who my grandmother was.