Angels in Shipwrecks - Kaitlin Murphy-Knudsen

Eulogy for Margaret

By Kaitlin Murphy, delivered Friday, August 12, 2011 at St. Ambrose Church in Buffalo, New York

Author's Grandmother, MargaretThank you for being here today to honor and celebrate Margaret’s, my Nanny’s—life.

Anyone who knows Nanny well knows that worrying, for her, was a sport. Sometimes we joked with her or teased her about it, and sometimes it made us sad to witness the worries that plagued her, especially in later years and months. She worried about the lawn. She worried her house wasn’t clean enough. The woman could see a one-inch sized dust ball two rooms away despite eye problems and in dim lighting. Things had to be proper, in good taste.

She worried about cobwebs, not just in hallways but in relationships that needed mending and in lives that were lonely.

On Monday night, while waiting for a room at Mercy Hospital after the 911 call, I joked that I’d had no idea she could fit so many good looking firemen and EMTs in her living room all at once.

[Photo: Brooke Mayo Photography]

“I know,” she said. “I hope they didn’t make a mess. We just cleaned!”

But today, I am not sure how much lip service Nan’s worries should get.  By now she has shaken them off as dust--dust I sure hope God doesn’t let into Heaven. Now the weight of all her worries is gracing a trash bin somewhere, next to the tight, anti-swelling leg stockings she hated and had to wear for her injury, and which I slung happily in the trash the day after she died.

But the main reason I won’t remember her for her worries is because they are not who she is. We may remember Nan’s high standards, but underneath those standards for her home was a tremendous respect for a warm welcome, conversation, time with visitors and a wish to make them happy.

And to maintain high standards for life, behavior and propriety as she did, you first have to have the hope and belief that people can change and learn, and be softened by the forgiveness she easily delivered when you asked.

For me, she gave patience at unexpected times and when I needed it most.

As some of you know, I’ve lived with Nanny recently as she recovered from an injury, and I made a good share of mistakes as I tried to learn the balance of what she needed in these last months.

I’d known long before June that my grandmother was fiercely independent, brave and determined. Many people commented on how tiny she was, but that was only on the outside. In recent years and months, I have learned the real size of her spirit, determination, independence, and strength to get through the loops and losses that she has encountered, over a number of decades that is not to be named out loud.

You have all seen these qualities in different moments, but when a person has to learn how to depend on others after a full life of independence, she really shows what she is made of.

When it was time to give up the privacy of the personal routine of a shower to me, though I was no nurse, I figured I was competent to assist. I had a college degree and a graduate degree after all. Plus, I have taken many showers in my life. Surely I could help another person to do it.

But I had some things to learn. When I turned the water on to warm it while she sat still clothed in her bathrobe, I forgot to redirect the water to the handheld showerhead, and the cold water shot full blast into her face, drenching her and her robe.

She said, “Oh!”

I apologized profusely.

“That’s ok, Katie,” she said with a small sigh.

Each time I attempted to give her control by giving her the showerhead to hold, she squirted me full blast in the face with water. Despite all attempts to keep the curtain closed, the floor and walls were drenched when we were done.

We were exhausted after the long shower and changing the dressing on her wound. We sat and rested. What a disaster, I thought.

In her small voice, she said, “You did a good job.”

I knew she was frustrated by having to do all this. But in the face of the knowledge that life is trying its hardest to pull your independence from you, how many more of us would respond with the patience she showed to me in those moments?


Nanny was also a master of the art of “the visit.” Whether visiting on the phone or in person, she was a champion listener. She loved hearing our stories and was fully invested in the twists and turns of people’s lives. I used to tease that she was nosy until I figured out how much she genuinely cared for other people’s happiness--not just for family and friends as almost everyone does, but for the strangers who passed by on the street. Nanny actually called the people who walked McKinley Parkway her “friends from the street” until she noticed that people gave her strange looks when they heard her use the phrase.

She once noticed that a walker who went by daily had stopped coming for almost a week. Somehow she tracked her down, concerned that something had happened to her. She found out that the woman was being treated for cancer and had stopped walking during her chemo. The woman later contacted Nanny to tell her how much she appreciated being missed.

Finally, there are a few things I’d like to pass along from Nanny that she said in the last moments of her life, as I don’t know who needs to hear this, or maybe all of us do in one way or another. On Tuesday, when she knew she was going to die, one of the things she said to her son Jim was, “If there is anyone who feels they owe me anything, tell them they don’t. It is all forgiven.” I’ll leave that with anyone who needs those words, and will take them for myself too, for my own places where I’ve fallen short.

I’d also like to share the last sentence of a letter from Nanny to her children that outlined her wishes. “Don’t forget me,” she said. I don’t think there is any danger of that happening.

But I think we can go one step further to honor her wish. I’m not sure if there is any such thing as an interactive eulogy, but we’re going to do one now in closing.

Please take a few seconds to choose one memory you have of my grandmother that makes you want to grin ear to ear. There may be millions to choose from, cultivated over decades of love and loss and humor and friendship with her. Or you may have just a few. Don’t worry, I will not ask you to share it right now. Please do this silently now.

In the spirit of Nanny’s love for stories and her wish to be remembered, I invite you to share your memory, your story about her, with someone else today. If it is a memory you want to keep private, write it on your mass card or somewhere you will see it in a moment you need a smile at any time in your life.

Remember how she showed love or friendship in the way that was just for you, how she listened to you with her whole body, leaning forward with anticipation in her bright eyes, clasping her hands as she did when she was excited to see you or hear your story--making you see how much you mattered.