Today was my grandfather’s funeral and for it, I wrote a speech. Just like I did for my grandmother‘s and brother‘s funerals. In 18 months, I’ve written three speeches for three family members’ funerals. I’m proud of all three speeches, proud I was strong enough to stand up and say words to honor my family members.
So, I decided to share my speeches here, in chronological order:
For Eunice Jack “Gramma” Fleming:
My grandmother and I didn’t always see eye to eye, yet she was always there for me full of love and pride. It was with that love that she first took my cousin Jack and I to Oregon to see the waterfalls and forests that inspired my eventual move to the state. And it was with that pride that she returned, 20 years to the month later, to watch me graduate from law school.
Gramma believed that you come into this world having picked how significant life events will unfold, and that these events are there to help teach you and your loved ones valuable lessons for your soul. With this belief, she taught herself and her family to see even the worst situations as opportunities.
On the morning of my graduation, Gramma suffered the stroke that sent her to the hospital where she spent the last twelve days of her life overlooking green forests and roaring rivers. There, in a beautiful hospital that looked like a ski chalet, Gramma gathered her family, away from all other distractions, to tell stories and celebrate the wonderful ways in which she touched our lives.
We talked of Christmas prime rib, trips around the globe and simply sitting on her and Poppo’s back porch watching the sunset. I learned every story my dad, his brother and sisters had to tell about their wonderful childhood on third street, even the mischievous ones. I personally told stories of stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey with Gramma every year and of going with her to visit her mother, Mano, as a child and playing in Mano’s vintage hat collection. Hats that all of Gramma’s grand-daughters are wearing today.
As a family, we sang her Que Sera Sera and Hush Little Baby, the lullabies she sang to me as a child. Following her lead, our family saw this as an opportunity to share, cherish and love each other. We forgot our differences and only remembered our extremely strong family bond. I will never forget those wonderful days spent with my family and I will forever be grateful to Gramma for giving me the night she, my dad and I spent together in her hospital room, her last night here on earth, and one of the most precious nights of my life.
In the same way that Gramma miraculously woke up to say hello each time a new family member arrived in town, she instinctively knew when her family needed to leave Eugene, Oregon and head back to their families. As a few of us were preparing to go, Gramma began to stop breathing. Her family rushed to her side and held her as she took her last breaths, reminding her that we loved her for all that she gave us and that we would be ok because of the lessons she taught us.
Earlier that week when we decided to take Gramma off of the machines, the hospital sent a harpist to comfort all of us. Because Gramma always was a wonderful planner, that harpist and a friend happened to decide to come play for us at the exact moment of Gramma’s passing. So it was there, sunlight shining over the forest and into her room, two harpists playing and family surrounding her, that Gramma had the most beautiful, peaceful passing one could possibly orchestrate.
In honor of that moment, we brought a harpist here to play one of the songs played that day, Amazing Grace. Today, as with the day of Gramma’s passing, the harpist will play one verse, then the family will sing verses 1 and 4 with the harpist and then the harpist will play another verse on her own. If you know the words, you are welcome to join in and sing with the family.
For Andrew Joseph Fleming:
The night before I left for college, Andrew and I drove around the country and listened to the whole Best of Billy Idol CD. And while we sang every word, we said nothing to each other because nothing had to be said. He was my brother, I was his sister, and we loved each other, that was a given.
Many of the moments I had with Andrew centered around music. I took him and his friends to multiple concerts, bought him CDs for his birthdays and drove many miles singing along to our favorite tunes together. Andrew was four years younger than I, yet always seemed to be ahead in the music scene. He introduced me to the best new bands and played for me songs months before I’d hear them on the radio.
This week, hearing from all his friends, it’s apparent I’m not the only one Andrew touched through his love of a good tune. So many of our memories of Andrew seem to rotate around dancing, singing and celebrating, not only music but life. Andrew wasn’t one to get sentimental and express his feelings, he just let the music do that for him. For Andrew, sharing a song was sharing his love.
The musical Les Miserable was especially important to Andrew. He loved a good power ballad and Les Mis is full of wonderfully strong, emotional power ballads. When we were searching for a song to play at his services, we immediately thought of all the ones that sent Andrew marching back time and time again to see his favorite play, and settled on the very appropriate Drink With Me.
For those unfamiliar with Les Miserable, it’s a story of love and struggle during the French Revolution. The second half of the play focuses on Marius, a college revolutionary in love with a girl named Cosette. Drink With Me takes place between battles, as all of Marius’s friends gather to salute life and reminisce about their shared pasts.
They say people come into life with a purpose and leave with intention, and watching Andrew these last few months makes me believe this is true. Like Marius, Andrew knew his chances of surviving this battle were slim, yet he did not let that stop him from reveling with friends, falling in love and living his life as fully as possible. Andrew had a wonderful 25 years and I ask you all to remember his love for life as you raise your imaginary glasses now – and real glasses later – and have a drink with me in honor of my strong-willed, fighter brother.
Closing, said at the very end of all the speeches: In my grandfather’s studio there’s a note that says: “Three things … people need: Someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to.”
Thanks to Megan, Andrew had all three. With her, he had love, a kind of love that people wait their whole lives to experience. With her, he had something to do between doctors appointments and hospital visits; a fellow adventurer to rush away and hike all day, a companion to hold his hand at night and take away the pain. And with Megan, Andrew had something to look forward to. The last text he sent spoke to her of hope and a future together full of cats, dogs and kids.
Megan gave Andrew something no one else could, something all of us need: someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to. For that, my family will always hold Megan in the closest regions of our hearts. For that, we honor Andrew and Megan’s love by ending this service with their song, Romeo and Juliet, an appropriate song that speaks of true love with bad timing.
For Jack Julian “Poppo” Fleming:
I was born on Poppo’s 62nd birthday and for the next 30 years, not a December 1 went by without us singing “You Say It’s Your Birthday” to each other. Whether you believe in astrology or not, there’s something to be said about sharing a date of birth and the similar interests you acquire. I was born with an innate love of dancing, singing and drinking gin on the rocks with two olives. But most profoundly, we enjoyed the love of painting.
As you can tell by looking around this room, Poppo was an amazing artist. With a combination of natural talent and hard work, he produced a prolific portfolio ranging from modern to realistic, impressionistic to cubistic, all of which he signed with his old cattle brand, the same brand displayed here on the wall of the Stockmen’s Club, a wall he viewed during many nights eating prime rib and drinking Beefeater on the rocks with two olives.
All of us cousins loved spending the night at our grandparents’ house, being sung Que Sera Sera by Gramma as we fell asleep, waking up to one-eye Egyptian egg sandwiches and painting with Poppo. We’d put on one of his white undershirts and have at it, always supported in our artistic license to create what was art to us on that particular day. When they were old enough to hold a brush, his great-grandchildren were lucky to participate in this ritual as well.
Poppo spent his retirement traveling and painting. He would spend his days in his studio, working on canvasses for himself and others, including portraits of most of the members of our family. But no matter where he was on his project, at 5pm every day, he cleaned up and joined Gramma for a drink and the news before dinner.
When it was apparent that Gramma was not going to survive her stroke, Poppo and I sat by her bed holding hands and he cried, asking how he was going to keep living without the love of his life, how he was going to paint without his muse. I promised him I’d help him find his way and in keeping that promise spent the two weeks after Gramma’s funeral with him painting in his studio, singing along to our favorite songs, talking, laughing and occasionally crying. At 5pm every night, we’d stop our projects and have a drink, Poppo his usual gin and me a vodka with a cocktail onion in honor of Gramma’s favorite drink.
It was during that time that I decided to paint the portrait of Poppo that you all saw in the entranceway as you came in, deciding that he had done a painting of all of us, it was time for him to have his own portrait. After that, I made an accompanying one of Gramma to go next to him and together they hung over Gramma’s old piano in their living room until the day he died.
Poppo’s studio was a safe haven for both of us over the hellish couple years this family has had. After Andrew died, it was one of the only places where I could quiet my mind and simply be still, except for my hand moving paint over canvass and my throat humming the familiar tunes of the Andrew Sisters and Glenn Miller. I spent the last week of Poppo’s life singing those same songs to him and he sang along, tapping his toes to the rhythm all the way to the end.
Poppo died at 4:20pm surrounded by his loving family. At 5pm that night, we all stopped what we were doing and had a drink. Now it’s not 5pm, but I’d like you all to still raise your glass – which let’s pretend are all Beefeaters on the rocks with two olives and a cocktail onion for Gramma – and toast to the wonderful father, grandfather and painter that was Jack Julian Fleming, also known as Poppo.