When my grandmother died two weeks ago, I was asked to share a short eulogy at the memorial service. For the past 10 years, Grandma suffered from dementia and memory loss… so I was tempted to rewind the clock and talk about how she “really” was in her earlier years. But then I realized that would be exactly the wrong approach. Here’s a transcript of what I said instead.
For those of you who don’t know me, my given name is Robert Harold Thune… or Bobby, as my grandmother called me for my entire life. I am the oldest of Harold and Pat Thune’s 13 grandchildren, and it is a privilege for me to represent them today by offering a few reflections on Pat’s life.
When I was first asked to share a few words in honor of my grandmother, I was tempted to wind back the clock about ten years. As many of you know, for the last ten years or so, Grandma has suffered from dementia and memory loss, such that in her latter days she was a shadow of her former self. The good memories, the meaningful memories that we have of Pat are of her younger, more vivacious years.
But then I realized that winding back the clock would be exactly the wrong thing to do on a day like this. Because while the most meaningful memories of Grandma are those from days long past, the most accurate memories – the ones that most clearly reveal her true character – are the most recent ones.
Here’s what I mean: dementia reveals the true essence of a person. It strips away the layers of etiquette and social pretense that most of us have learned to operate with. What you see is what you get. There’s no filter. Who Grandma was in her final years is who she really was. And there are three things that stand out to me as part of her enduring legacy.
1. Cheerfulness. “A cheerful heart has a continual feast” (Proverbs 15:15). If you ask my four kids about their memory of Grandma, they’ll likely talk about Thanksgiving 2 years ago. We were all sitting around the table and Grandma kept breaking into song – the same song – over and over again. Grandpa would say: “Grandma, no singing at the table.” And then it would happen again. My kids found this hilarious; Grandma couldn’t remember to stop singing. But to me, that was a great picture of who Grandma actually was. She was perpetually cheerful, joyful, and sunny. The glass was always half full. As she put it: she was an optimist, while Harold was more of a “realist.”
I’m more like my grandfather. I would even say there’s such a thing as naïve optimism. But I’m fairly sure Grandma Pat would disagree.
2. Pride. I mean the good kind – a sanctified pride in her family. Grandma never heard my dad preach a mediocre sermon; she never watched a ball game in which her kids or grandkids weren’t the most valuable player; and she never understood why John didn’t get 100% of the vote in every election. In her mind, Thunes were great at everything – and everybody ought to acknowledge it. Growing up as a kid with that kind of a grandmother had a way of bestowing confidence, self-worth, and a sense of rootedness. We always knew we weren’t as great as Grandma thought we were; but we hoped we were kinda close.
3. Love for Christ. Grandma’s love for the Lord Jesus was never personal or private, as many in our modern liberal culture would like to keep it. She was always and forever an influencer. I can’t remember a single time I was around her when she wasn’t encouraging, exhorting, or urging me and others toward faith and obedience to Christ. The words of the Bible rolled off her tongue with ease. She prayed relentlessly for her kids and grandkids and for the people of Murdo. And many of us here today are the fruit of those prayers. Grandma’s faith was never religious, dutiful, or pious. It was vibrant and living and worshipful. And in her later years, when the more complex aspects of her personality had faded, her joyful faith in Jesus remained.
Two years ago, Harold and Pat came to my church for the first time ever. Grandma was pretty frail by then and I wasn’t sure she even knew who I was. Her usual way of greeting me these past few years has been to look at Harold and say, “Well, look at this handsome young man – is he one of us?” That morning after church, Grandma looked at me and said, “You keep preaching the word, young man.” I’m still not sure if she knew who I was… but she knew who Jesus was, and she recognized his Word when she heard it.
And so on this day, as we honor Pat Thune’s life and legacy, I find myself thankful for – and challenged by – her cheerful optimism, her sanctified pride, and her genuine love for Christ.
I hope I can be kinda like her when I grow up.