This will be a long post.
This will be a sad post.
I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, about the experience of eulogizing a beloved family member. And first and foremost, I’d like to thank my Uncle Kenny for not only allowing me to speak at my aunt’s funeral service but also for giving the okay for this blog post.
My dad called at 7:15 on Friday morning November 21, 2014. It’s not completely unusual for my parents to call early–they know that with two young children that I’m up and caffeinated. But the way he said my name when I answered told me something terrible had happened. I can’t remember the exact phrase he used but it was a wild understatement. Something like “we had a little problem last night.” And his tone of voice and failure to find the right words for that first sentence told me that “little problem” probably meant something unfathomably tragic.
I wished I was wrong. I still do.
My dad barely got through telling me that Arzie was gone and the little information about her passing. My mother, Arzie’s best friend for over 50 years, couldn’t even speak. I spent the rest of the day in a quiet panic. As I waited for information, I went to a meeting at Jackson’s future elementary school (albeit in a daze and absurdly disliking everyone there) and then I put up our Christmas tree. All the while, I was writing her eulogy in my head–before I even realized I would ask for the honor of speaking at Arzie’s services.
I wrote the first draft that night. Don’t even ask where I got the energy. I finished the second draft on Saturday afternoon…at my hair appointment. Ridiculous, I know. I think of Arzie now, probably shaking her fists at how I wrote a remembrance of her on the Google docs app on my iPhone then texted it out to her family all while getting my roots dyed. By Sunday, I was on a plane to NY. And my husband and babies were all packed up for their trek from Austin to Jackson, MS for Thanksgiving. And by Sunday, my mother and my uncle Kenny had read the initial text of the eulogy and thankfully, my uncle said I could speak.
The time from Sunday evening to the Tuesday morning service passed in a slow, surreal way. It’s the mixture of shock and sadness and busyness of funeral preparations. I snuck in little moments to reread the eulogy on my phone, change a phrase here or there. I made my sister, my mother, and my father listen to the speech. I thought the more I practiced, the less I would cry the day of. The last thing I wanted to do was blubber through the whole thing on the altar.
My husband called Monday night from Jackson. Darcy had croup and would have to go to the emergency room. I can remember texting with him late that night and then taking out my iPad to read the eulogy again. And the whole time, it just felt like we were in Connecticut visiting the Milio family and Arzie was working or away on one of her Choral Society cruises. She wasn’t there. But the permanence of her death hadn’t hit yet, for me at least.
I sat through the beautiful services feeling much the same way. I was clutching my iPad and every time I looked over at my mother weeping, my sister would gently remind me, “Don’t look at Mom right now.” As the time drew nearer, I prayed that God give me the strength to address the hundreds of people who filled the sanctuary. I prayed for the grace only God can bestow. I wanted to offer some solace to the people who Arzie left behind and memorialize someone who deserved a much better eulogy, a much better speaker. If you knew Arzie, you’d understand that my last statement is not just fishing for reassurance. Arzie was truly the best of us.
I firmly believe that it was through God’s intercession that I didn’t sob until the very end of the eulogy. And even then, I found the strength to speak the last few sentences through tears and shakes. There were even a few laughs–Arzie was a funny person; she wouldn’t have wanted all bleakness at her memorial.
During the recessional and throughout the repast, people would come up and introduce themselves and hug me. Most of them I’d never met before. However, every time someone hugged me I cried and had to really pull myself together. Now that the eulogy was over, I guess I could let go. Surreality became the crushing reality of Arzie’s loss.
One of Arzie’s good friends even told me that until I spoke, the service was beautiful but so tense. “I think it was perfect. We all started to heal,” she said through tears that were almost a little hopeful. I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am for her words. Every compliment or thank you I got was both uplifting and intensely humbling at the same time. Being a part of the formal goodbye to such an incredible human will forever be something I cherish. Giving that eulogy will forever be a formative event in my adult life.
I put the actual text of my eulogy below. Some of Arzie’s friends asked for a copy of it and I thought that since I’ve been talking about giving the eulogy, you might want to read what I said.
For those of you that don’t know me, I’m Arzie’s “niece” Kristin. I use the air quotes because I’m not her blood relation. She’s my mother’s best friend. I’m Marian & Curt’s daughter. I asked Uncle Kenny if I could speak today and I’m so grateful that he’s allowed me to speak about Arzie–a woman who was very much my aunt.
Arzie. That nickname says it all. She was the perfect hostess. But not in a Martha Stewart kind of way–although I think she’d claim to have better cookie recipes. What made her the perfect hostess, the embodiment of Irish hospitality in fact–was how fun she was.
That’s what I’ll miss. That’s why I was so excited to be around her. It was the fun–carefree fun. She was fun in the truest, most infectious way. I started thinking about why Arzie was such an irresistible presence. She could make you laugh. And not giggle. Belly laugh. Pee your pants laugh. The type of laughter where you tell someone to stop because your ribs are hurting, because you can’t catch your breath. You knew whatever story she was telling was embellished, but you forgave the fabrication. Because it was probably the best laugh you’d had in a long time.
She was a relentless buster and fiercely competitive. Arzie threatened to bring a kazoo to my wedding for a solid year. Said she would get a golden kazoo and hide it under the toilet at the wedding venue like Michael Corleone in the Godfather.
Then when I taught her how to make cosmos (that’s right I taught her and my mom the recipe although both deny it), Arz changed the recipe slightly and claimed that she made the world’s best cosmos. I remember one time at my moms when she asked me to remind her how to make her cosmos. “How do I make my cosmos?”
“How many cosmos have you had so far?”
“Shut up, Krissy. And don’t tell Kenny.”
Of course You forgave her incessant teasing because it was never bitter or malicious and because in the blink of an eye, the teasing would be self-deprecation. She would constantly joke about her weight—”Well, Krissy you’re not as skinny as me so you can’t really wear those jeans”. In these ways, her humor was quintessentially Irish—borne out of nostalgia, and good drink, and good old-fashioned self-criticism.
That good humor extended to her hospitality. And it extended to how much she loved her family and friends and how far she would go for them. I’m sure you all have a story about Arzie doing some favor or going out of her way for you. I have countless stories like that. Many of them have high calorie treats involved. One of my favorites is when she drove down from CT to Long island to help with my mom’s 50th surprise party. She was going to make her famous seven layer taco dip (again, the best dip according to her). But instead she came in like a hurricane–actually she called ahead to make sure that my dad had a Coors Light on ice for her. So she comes in and immediately sends my dad to the store for cherry tomatoes. Apparently the tomatoes had all tumbled out her car’s back window on the way from CT to Long Island. “Well, I could retrace my steps and rescue each one. But then I’d be back in Connecticut, Curtie,” she laughed. The way she relayed the story about the fate of these cherry tomatoes was enough to make me and Dad (who were in the throes of party stress) stop and laugh and appreciate her friendship.
She loved her friends. Arz and my mom were friends since elementary school–apparently the friendship was started because Arz’s first choice playmate was sick that day. So my mom filled in. But Arzie was the type of person who made you feel so special, that even if you were second fiddle, it was enough to be in the band. And she loved her husband, my Uncle Kenny. And she loved all her boys–three sons with her same light, her same infectious humor. They are three of my favorite people. Arzie loved Bryan’s wife Maryellen, more daughter than daugther-in-law. And I think that family for Arzie was forever changed for the better with the arrival of little Caroline in the world–her little Care Bear. In Caroline’s story of survival and perseverance we can see Arzie’s light there too.
I know it’s cliché but she could light up a room. And she could make you feel like you were the only person in the world who mattered. Not everyone has this special gift. Not everyone I know is as fun to be around as Arzie. And I’ll think of her fondly every time I fix myself a Cosmo.
My husband lost his father this summer and so my four-year-old Jackson has become prematurely well acquainted with loss. We explained to him that we are all God’s creation, on this earth for a certain amount of time, taking up a certain amount of space, and then we go back to God, our Eternal Father. We are His and His alone. I truly believe that and want my son to believe it. “Why are you so sad, mommy?,” he asked guilelessly. Because we are human and to be human is to be selfish. I will miss Arzie. Everyone who knew Arzie will miss her. If you knew Arzie for even a week, you would miss her. She was indeed a special gift from God, a light from heaven returned home. And if there is any solace in this tragic loss, it’s that a mother is reunited with a beautiful angel that God called away too soon.
Now I miss her more each day. I think this is the opposite of what people feel when they grieve. I don’t know. At least I’ve heard/read that for the first days, weeks, months, every object reminds you of the deceased. And then that sinking feeling subsides slowly over the first year. That was not my experience. I felt a level of acceptance of this tragic loss in the beginning but not so much now. Perhaps the eulogy delayed the stages of grief. Perhaps it’s that my Uncle Kenny is visiting Austin in a few weeks with my parents and I want Arzie to come too. I want to see her sitting my couch with a pillow on her lap, playing Words with Friends on her iPad, calling me “Krissy” and making fun of the uber-Modern chair we just got from Restoration Hardware. (Her house was an impeccably decorated country-style colonial. Decor was always something we agreed to disagree on.)
But I guess I’ll keep praying about it. I’ll lay it at God’s feet. I know he’s listening…that is when Arzie doesn’t have His ear as she redecorates Heaven. After all, God needed a best friend too.