Reflections on a good woman

I had two grandmothers die recently.  I was allowed the opportunity to give the eulogy at the funeral of my paternal grandmother.  Here it is:

I’m sure if we gave a piece of paper to everyone who entered into these doors with the instructions that you were to write down one adjective to describe Betty Ross, based off of your own experiences with her, (or stories you may have heard)I would receive about as many different responses as we have people.  Whether you refer to her as Betty, Miss Betty, Aunt Betty, Mrs. Ross, cousin, memaw, or mom, it doesn’t matter; we all have at least one Betty Ross story.  The reason why you have a Betty Ross story is that Betty Ross treated you not just as an individual but as a person.  The two concepts of the individual and the person seem similar but can be divided.  When she treated you as an individual she didn’t lump you into one particular group of people like Hispanics, or whites, or Muslims, or Baptists.  She knew that people had their own context and their own stories that shaped who they were as people.  I believe she knew that because she had her own stories and her own context, which shaped her.  When she treated you as a person, she believed you had basic human rights that were laid down by God, and even though it might’ve seemed like she didn’t like you, she most certainly loved you and she cared about your human rights and your health.  And she didn’t give you the benefit of the doubt because you were a Baptist or a Democrat, either. 

I’m not here to portray her as a saint or a deity; on the contrary, I’m here to portray her as a real woman.  Actually, when I began thinking about this eulogy I thought I might like to compare memaw to the great matriarchs of the bible.  I thought it might be really nice to point out that Betty Ross, as the matriarch of my family, was much like Sarah of the bible and how all that I know spawned from her.  Or it would be cool to draw parallels between Ruth and memaw and point out how God rewards people for faithfulness, kindness, and charity.  But I have neither the theological training, nor the time to carry this out, and I resolved myself to let Preston handle that, so… Preston, you’re welcome. 

            The truth is that through the numerous experiences and theological conversations I’ve had with her, I’ve realized that Betty Ross has lived like the entire body of scripture thrown together.  She was complex and layered, loving and thoughtful, sharp and surely frustrating.  I relate memaw to Genesis, chapter 32 when Jacob wrestles with God.  Bear with me because it will make sense in a moment.  It’s not my goal to take the scripture out of context but I’ve heard it said that when Jacob wrestles with God, that is like you and I wrestling with scripture.  God doesn’t necessarily beat Jacob (or vice versa) while wrestling but God does hurt Jacob’s hip AND blesses him, all at the same time.  Even though Jacob walks away with a limp he does not abandon God and it is very important to know that God does not abandon Jacob.  (Now I must tell you that if memaw heard me saying what I’m saying she would surely pop-up and tell me to quit talking, I’m being sacrilegious).  Memaw was a lot like that; you could wrestle with her about anything; philosophy, religion, politics, education, child rearing or just life and she would say some things to you which would be so odd or cross you come away limping, emotionally, some of us still walk with our limps and some limps are more pronounced than others.  But we should also know that we were blessed in that wrestling match.  Whether we were blessed with the ability to question her, the establishment, ourselves, our faith, or whether we come away knowing that she just loves us and she tried to express it in the best way she knew how… we were blessed. 

A very minute example is that in the summer of 2003 I went with memaw and the Kappa Kappa Iota teaching sorority to Cleveland and Canada.  The first night we were in Cleveland, she was resting in a chair in the hotel room with the TV on, obviously tired from the day’s activities.  I say to her “Memaw, where’s the remote at?”  Not breaking from her position, she responds, “Right behind the AT.”  Frustrated I ask her to repeat what she said and she broke from her rest and said, “Behind the AT!  AT is a preposition and you can’t end the sentence with a preposition.”

I call my dad that night and I told him the story and I said, “Do you know what memaw said to me when I asked her ‘Where the remote was at?’” He said, “What, right behind the at?”

“Yes, how did you know.” 

“Well son, it’s a preposition and you can’t end your sentence with a preposition.  I’ve been hearing that stuff my whole life.”

            That’s a small limp that I got from that trip, and it is a small limp, but I can guarantee you that I do not end my sentences, when I write, with prepositions.  That’s the blessing.  The biggest blessing she would bestow upon all of us, at every wrestling match, is that we would come away, knowing ourselves better and better.

Much like the scriptures themselves, she was a woman of many, seemingly paradoxical traits:

a.       She was a woman of great pride while displaying incredible humility

b.      She could be the source of great frustration and be a wonderful calming presence

c.       She displayed a strong-will while being completely self-deprecating

d.      She had a strong sense of self yet was so incredibly selfless

e.       She had a sharp tongue as well as a soothing one

f.        She was a woman who seemed to be of “the establishment” but to acquaintances, she was quietly subversive, while to friends and family, she was a revolutionary.

She was passionate, a moderate, a lover of mankind, loyal, a humanist, worldly and other worldly. 

These are the traits of, maybe not godlikeness, but definitely godliness; and, whether or not she meant to be, these factors made her very Christ-like.

She might not agree with everything that I’ve said here today and that’s okay.  I’m sure we’ll argue about it on the other side some day.

While I was writing this eulogy I couldn’t come up with a really concrete ending.  I was actually sitting at the Panera Bread on NW expressway, which was the place where we met together the day I went to Waco, TX to attend Grad school (that she was helping pay for).  As I reflected upon the somewhat emotional departure towards Waco and the things she said to me, it occurred to me that the only thing I could do is try and leave with you, the legacy of a beautiful old woman:


      Read, educate yourself, enjoy the arts, get involved with life, do not accept the status quo, question everything (including her), learn an instrument, learn a foreign language, look out for the little guy, know what you believe (know why you believe it), appreciate other cultures, don’t forget your roots, travel the world, but don’t forget to call home from time to time. 

Dear lord, we thank you for the gift and Blessings that you gave us in the form of Betty Ross.  We know we don’t get to wrestle with Betty in person anymore, and we’re wrestling with that, but we also know that we can look forward to many unforeseen blessings headed our way.  I pray that we can live out the legacy that she has left for us and we can follow on the road of righteousness that she has paved.  We ask that you guide and protect us and receive memaw into your kingdom, In Jesus’ precious name we pray.  Amen.


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