01 December 2013

Requiem for a Grandmother

My maternal grandmother - my last living grandparent - passed away peacefully on Wednesday.  I returned to Boston a day earlier than I expected on Friday and will return to Jersey on Monday for the viewing and funeral mass.  If you would, please keep my family in your prayers in the coming days.  

Here is my grandmother's obituary: 

Jennie "Jean" (nee Biss), 90, of Carlstadt for 60 years, passed away at home on November 27, 2013. Mrs. Zimmerer was born in Jersey City. She was a homemaker and a parishioner of St. Joseph's R.C. Church. Before her beloved Frank passed, Jean and Frank loved to golf and spend time at their summer home at Lake Wallenpaupack with family and friends. After his sudden passing, Jean would travel by bus to volunteer at the American Cancer Society in Hackensack, became a member of the Carlstadt Senior Friendship Club and enjoyed going to Atlantic City to play the slots. She also devoted her time to her family and growing number of grandchildren, baking her cookies for every family occasion. She recently celebrated her 90th birthday in June with her family and friends. Beloved wife of the late Frank D. Zimmerer. Loving mother of Frank T. Zimmerer and his wife Debbie, Nancy Janeczko and her husband Mark and Robert Zimmerer and his wife Rosemarie. Cherished grandmother of Frank and Dana Zimmerer, Matthew, OFM Cap, Luke and John Janeczko and Eric Zimmerer. Predeceased by five siblings, including her sister and best friend Helen F. Stroz. Also survived by niece and nephew, Susan and Richard Stroz. Funeral from the Kimak Funeral Home, 425 Broad Street, Carlstadt on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 9:00 AM and from St. Joseph's R.C. Church, East Rutherford at 9:30 AM. Interment Hillside Cemetery, Lyndhurst. Visitation Monday 4-8 PM. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to either Province of St. Mary, Capuchin Mission and Development Office, 210 West 31st St., New York, N.Y. 10001 or St. Joseph's Church, Restoration Fund, 120 Hoboken Rd., East Rutherford, N.J. 07073.

And, in case you were wondering, my homily for Tuesday:

The day before my grandmother passed away, my Uncle Bob and I were visiting with her.  He turned to me and asked, “Isn’t there anything you can do?”  I responded, “I have a call in to the Lord, but they keep telling me to hold the line.”  Little did we know at the time that I was wrong: it was my grandmother telling holding the line.  Until the very end, my grandmother, your mother, your friend, was going to do it her way.  She had fought so long to remain at home, she wasn’t going to pass on until she was good and ready and at home!
 And so, on behalf of my entire family, thank you for your prayers and support, thank you for joining together with us in prayer today before Almighty God as we pray not only in thanksgiving for the life of my grandmother, but also pray with anticipation for the resurrection for which we all hope.
 Today’s Gospel is a sort of basic instruction about “What It Means To Be a Christian.”  In speaking with my mom, it became clear to me that this is the Gospel ought to be proclaimed as we lay our mother, grandmother and friend, Jeannie, to rest.
 We hear today, 
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
As many of you know, my grandmother lost her husband, my grandpa, Frank in 1988.  For over twenty-five years, my grandmother has mourned the love of her life, in a quiet inimitable way.  She would make jokes all the time, of course, at every family gathering, “This may be the last time I am here.”  But this wasn’t the mourning I’m talking about.  No, you should have seen her eyes glow every single time her husband was mentioned.  She would cock her head to the side, smile gently and say, “Remember when Father did this, or Father said that…” One of my favorite memories with my grandma took place just a few months ago.  For some reason, I got to telling stories about my grandpa – the few things a three-year old can remember, and you should have seen the way she glowed.  She glowed, I think, precisely because his memory was so present to her, precisely because in her mourning she sought to preserve his memory.  Despite the sadness at losing her husband earlier than she would have ever thought, my grandmother never let it control her.  No, whether it was taking the bus to volunteer at the American Cancer society or spending time with her grandchildren, she found comfort in the gifts that God had given her – grandchildren and a ferocious will to live - gifts that allowed her to comfort others.
 We hear, 
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God. 
We pray today, of course, that God looks upon the purity of my grandmother’s heart and welcomes her into His Kingdom.  And when he looks, he will indeed see purity: most especially God will be able to see purity of heart that comes from having raised three children – and passing away knowing all three continue to grow in faith – that all three are present here today and have, throughout their lives, passed on their faith to her grandchildren.  God will indeed see a heart colored by charity: charity toward her grandkids, always wanting to “slip them something green” – no matter what an odd amount - $27 for instance.
We also hear, 
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 
My grandmother was a peacemaker.  Or, maybe, it’s more accurate to say, a peace-builder.  One of the extraordinary things about her life was her ability to bring people together.  This didn’t strike me until just last week, when, gathered around the Thanksgiving table, we told story after story of family and friends who had met each other and broke bread with each other because of my grandma.  I cannot believe all of the people that I have met because of my grandmother, her caretaker for the past five years, Rose, among them – thank you for all you’ve done, Rose.  Indeed, peacemakers are children of God, not because they make peace appear in violence, but rather because they build communities where we have the opportunity to meet and greet each other as children of God!
 We gather here together to mourn that which we have lost: a grandmother, mother and friend.  But at the same time, we consider what my grandmother has gained by her faith: gladness and salvation given to her freely by God, a happiness that was set aside for her through baptism in a church in Jersey City so long ago.
 In a lot of ways, the mountain that described in the first reading today fits my grandmother’s time on Lake Wallenpaupack, even if Coors Light and golf at the Hotel Ellendale aren’t mentioned.  Though the red house in Indian Rocks contained such great memories for my grandmother – and Rutland, Vermont before that – these places only foreshadowed the great mountain that my grandmother would climb in her final days.  And yet, on this final climb, on the final trip home, she ever kept faith that the day would come when, just we heard in our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah the “Lord God [would] wipe away the tears from all faces.”
 And so, on this day of sadness, let us be consoled not only in the memories in our hearts of grandma, but also that the promise extended to her is also extended to us: Blessed are those who mourn, those who are pure of heart, those who are peacemakers, for in the days to come, as the Gospel teaches us, the Kingdom of God shall be ours.


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