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The Anniversary Party

By Shelah Miner

Last year at this time, I was in a frenzy. My dad’s parents were a month away from celebrating their sixtieth anniversary, and my grandma wanted to have a big party. A really BIG party. She decided it would be fun to have the shindig at a little place about an hour down the road from her house called Walt Disney World, and she told the whole family that if they could get themselves down to Florida for the weekend, she’d show them a good time. Since she was over eighty and going through cancer treatments, she needed someone to organize that good time. One of my cousins suggested that I’d be the perfect party organizer. As a result, last August I was up to my elbows in arrival and departure spreadsheets, matching t-shirts, menus from Epcot Center, pictures of centerpieces and tablecloths, and emails from my eleven cousins and my dad’s three brothers.

I’ll admit it. I grumbled a lot about planning the weekend. I was nervous about working with Grandma. She has always liked to talk. A lot. So much that it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. Also, even though she had always been financially generous with all of her grandchildren, it also made me nervous to be spending her money, especially at a place like Disney World, which may be the happiest place on earth but certainly isn’t the cheapest. Finally, even though we usually made an annual pilgrimage from Connecticut to Florida when I was a kid, I felt like I didn’t really know Grandma all that well. We’d go to her house, eat breakfast with her in the mornings, and escape to the beach, returning in the late afternoons so she could take us to the early-bird special at the local barbecue joint or pizza parlor and we could sit at the table in a sun-induced stupor and nod at appropriate intervals as she chatted happily to whoever looked like they were listening.

Every time I thought something about the Disney weekend would be easy, it turned out to be hard. People kept changing their minds about how many days they wanted to stay at the park. I got yelled at several times by various family members. Whenever I called Grandma to ask her a question, she’d talk for 20 minutes about other things and then seemed too tired to focus once I finally got to ask her the question I’d been calling about. I ended up making a lot of decisions on my own and praying that Grandma wouldn’t hate them and could pay for them.

The weekend itself, at least from my perspective, wasn’t any easier than the planning leading up to it. I flew with the four kids by myself and took several modes of Disney transport to get to the park. There were constant phone calls about the dinner, a kid who threw up hot dogs all over our hotel room, a husband with a migraine and a lifelong aversion to all things Disney, relatives who showed up for the dinner an hour early and pestered the staff, and probably a bunch of other stuff that I’ve blocked out of my memory.

On Saturday night, we all gathered for the big anniversary dinner. Grandpa already seemed tired from the weekend’s festivities. A few of my cousins started raiding the dessert table before the servers found the meals for the little kids and managed to get them to the table. Then Grandma stood up. For the next forty-five minutes, she was in her element, delivering what she must have realized was her own personal Last Lecture. All forty of the people in the room, her descendants by blood and marriage, listened to her reminisce about her courtship, her marriage, her four boys and her grandkids.

My family met again in Florida this weekend, this time to lay Grandma to rest. I was traveling home from vacation at the time and missed the service, so I’ve been taking a private account of our relationship. I’m not as sad as I thought I would be, although I feel like I could have been a better granddaughter. Some of my cousins emailed her daily in the last few months of her life. I thought about sending lots of emails, but forgot most of the time once I sat down at the computer. But because of the party I feel that I got to know Grandma better, and even though I thought at the time that I was organizing the party for her, this week it feels more like I got a lot more out of it than a free trip to Disney World.

Saying goodbye to a loved one isn’t easy, but reading Shearing by Allyson Smith and Too Late to Say Goodbye by Dalene Rowley in Segullah’s spring issue have helped me gain a better understanding of both saying goodbye and adult relationships with our grandparents. For those of you who have lost loved ones, what surprised you about how you felt about the experience? What helped you through it?

About Shelah Miner

(Co-Editor-in-Chief) teaches English at BYU and French at a Salt Lake City middle school. She has an addiction to her Audible account, hates making dinner, and embraces the chaos of life with a husband, six kids, a dog, a lizard and four rabbits.

8 thoughts on “The Anniversary Party”

  1. I was/am surprised at how much the death (and life) of those that I've lost have stayed with me. Not as a daily reminder of pain or sadness or joy or love, but as a nagging/endearing part of myself. Something that I take with me always.

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  2. I have only gotten to say goodbye to one of my passing grandparents and great aunts. Most of their deaths were a bit of a surprise. The most recent, my favorite relative, I think I was in denial and hoped she'd last another week so dh and I could go on our planned anniversary celebration and say goodbye the next week. She died while we were on our vacation, and had we gone to see her instead, we would've been part of one of her most lucid, peaceful moments the night before she died. It took me a long time to grieve that. I think, for all of them, the biggest thing for me is feeling guilty for not doing more to stay in touch with them while they were alive. Most didn't have their own children, and we were the only grand nieces and nephews. They gave so much to us, but I feel bad about being so negligent.

    As far as what helped me through it, sensing their presence and talking to them when our son was very young was the most healing thing of all. Talking to my sister about them has helped a great deal, as well as in my prayers, asking Heavenly Father to give them my love. I don't know if that's dumb or not, but I suppose that's the best way to get a message to them, so that's what I do.

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  3. I've always loved the little town in North Carolina where my Grandma lived. Growing up it was the happiest, most wonderful place I could ever imagine. My grandmother died about ten years ago, and for some reason I scheduled my flight to leave North Carolina several days after the funeral, staying much longer than all the other relatives. I thought I would love being in her little town and enjoying it one last time. but once she wasn't there, I felt no connection to it all. It just seemed like any other town in America. i was really stunned by this. I didn't realize that it wasn't the town at all that meant something. it was just a symbol of my grandma.

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  4. Since I've been an adult, I haven't lost anyone close to me. But my first husband lost both his parents the year we were dating. It was absolutely devastating for him. After marrying him, I sought out the people who knew his mother. Even though he wouldn't talk about his mom much, I was able to piece together the kind of person she is and it made me very sad that I never got to know her. We're no longer married, but I believe that the day I meet my former MIL will be a happy day.

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  5. My uncle and my grandpa's funerals were the same week. At my uncle's funeral I came away amazed at the great man he was and how little I knew him. It was a sorrowful occasion as he died far too young.
    With Grandpa it was bittersweet. As they say it's always hardest for those left behind and that is truly what my tears were for. I knew Grandpa was joyful to be removed from pain and loneliness that his illness caused. It always seemed trite to say before, but I know it with him.

    Being with family helped me through it. That is why I will always do everything I can to be at a funeral. Not necessarily to say goodbye, because they are already gone, but to join with those I love in remembering and rejoicing.

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  6. Shelah, I am sorry about your grandma. I love what you say at the end of your post, that you got more out of organizing the party than you realized at the time. That is how it is for me, too, when I've done things for people who die later. The service I've given helps me with… closure, with feeling like I'm okay that they are gone. I spent the months before my mother-in-law died cooking special dialysis meals for her three times a week, and when she passed I felt so … satisfied with our relationship, like I was at peace with her because of how I had helped her. That quiet satisfaction has blessed me many times since.

    I loved "Shearing" and "Too Late to Say Good-bye." Thanks for a great post.

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  7. Shelah, thank you for this beautiful post. I have not been old enough to know my grandparents who have passed away, but your post made me think about the connection I have to my progenitors. I do not know them. I haven't done any family history and I know very little. But, on two different occasions, my husband has given me priesthood blessings in which he has talked of them and their care and concern for me, to the effect that they are deeply invested in my success here as a mother. And he referred to ancestors recent and far flung in the ages.

    I really need to record this and more in a journal instead/in addition to posting it on Segullah!

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  8. What surprised me most when my FIL died? The immense peace I had. I mean of course I was sad, devestated actually. But I just had such internal peace and knew I'd see him again and that it was his time. I remember him by talking of him A LOT. Showing my kids pictures of him(we didn't have any kids when he died). But even the days when it hits me that he's gone(been 7yrs) I don't stay sad long, I still have a peace that helps me so much.

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