Last week, I wrote an essay that I never wanted to write – some words which were spoken at my grandmother’s funeral. I’m putting this on the internet now, simply because I want as many people as possible to know what a phenomenal person she was, and what she has meant to me.
For the past couple of years, on my birthday, I’d get a text from my Mom-Mom saying something along these lines: “Happy Birthday Alyssa! I still remember the day you were born, it was one of the happiest days of my life.” There’s no doubt in my mind that she’d say something similar about all of her grandkids’ birthdays, but I suspect that mine was particularly special. Being the oldest grandchild, the day I was born was the day that Claire Mullan became a grandmother. Anyone who has interacted with her for even a few moments in the past 24 years knows that this role was perhaps especially designed for her.
She doted upon her grandchildren with a remarkable amount of care and attention. Sometimes I wonder how long she could go without thinking of one of us – it couldn’t have been very long. Our interests became her interests, and she seemed to want nothing more than to spend time with us, converse with us, and hear about the things going on in our little lives. Her passion for us meant hours and hours spent at plays, recitals, games, and practices. That same passion took us everywhere from Avalon, to Disney World, to Charleston, to Bermuda.
And oh, how she spoiled us! Throughout my childhood and the summers I spent living in Avalon, I was reminded daily – no, hourly – that “there’s ice cream in the freezer.” When there wasn’t, we’d go into town and get some. There were times, as children, when we’d fight over toys. Rather than teaching us things like conflict resolution or how to share (that’s a job for parents and teachers, not grandparents), Mom-Mom would take us to the toy store so we could each have our own.
She also cared for us by teaching us to work. We’d earn pocket money by pulling weeds, planting flowers, washing the cars, and organizing yard sales. When we were old enough, she taught us to craft, sew, and cook. Under her guidance, we’d scramble eggs and fry bacon for the household in the summers, and mash potatoes and make bread pudding at Thanksgiving. It’s no small task overseeing a kitchen full of children, but in those priceless moments she just wanted to spend time with us, while simultaneously passing on recipes and cultivating valuable skills.
I’m tempted to say that I strive to live my life in a way that would make her proud, but I honestly don’t think that I or any of the other grandkids could do anything to disappoint her. Mom-Mom thought the world of us, and wanted us to dream big. One summer night in 2008, then-senator Barack Obama was giving a speech on TV. My brother and I were in the room, but goofing around. “Pay attention,” she said. “That could be you someday.” We laughed it off, telling her that we didn’t want his job. But she genuinely believed (in a way that only a grandmother does) that all of us could, and maybe even should, be president.
I can’t stop thinking about her now – not because of the incredible void that she’s left, but because I see her everywhere. She’s in sunsets and flowers, she’s in the quilts she made and the towels she monogrammed. She’s in kitchens and around tables. She’s in the gifts she lavished upon us, and the trinkets she collected along the way. She’s in Scrabble tiles and black jellybeans. Most importantly, she’s in the son and four daughters that she cultivated here, and her four sons-in-law, all of whom are caring and generous, and strong leaders in their communities. And she’s in us, the 14 grandchildren, who will in our own ways, serve and change this world.