Good morning. First off, I would like to thank all of you who cared for Lena in these final weeks. Your service is the stuff of sainthood, and I thank you all: family, friends, social and hospice workers, nurses, all of you. Thank you. Second, I am honored, truly honored, to speak here about Lena. Thank you again.
Lena's obituary (thank you Barbara) had one sentence fragment in it that said so much: "she gave more than she received". Indeed. And that, in a nutshell, is why this is all so hard.
She was known by many names: Lee, Lena, to many; Grandma, Nana to some; Mom, to a select few.
To me, she was Grandma. Lena was my grandma, and she personified that title like no other. She was doting, pinching, loving, proud, and always happy to see you. And this is, after all, what Grandmas do. But when you look back across her life, at all the people, all the kids, the grandkids, the husband (oh, the husband!), the friends, the strangers, all the people she touched, you get a picture of a woman who, as it's been said, gave more than she received.
And this was Lena.
1969 McGraw Avenue. I would walk off the Otis elevator on the seventh floor and press the mechanical doorbell. On the other side was Grandma. The door would open and she would welcome you in with open arms and a big smile as if you had just returned from war. And she would have whatever food she thought you might eat.
She was always trying to get me to eat, to eat something (anything!). As a kid I was thin as a rail and it bothered Lee to see me in such a state. Clearly, this wouldn't do. And on one fine day, while visiting Lee & Otto, I voluntarily ate a banana from the bowl of fruit Grandma had out on the table. I couldn't have been more than eight years old at the time. Grandma noted this event and was prepared for my next visit, because the next time we paid a visit to that apartment in Parkchester, we rang the doorbell, the door flew open, and Grandma exclaimed (rather loudly): "I"ve got bananas for my Robbie!" She wasn"t kidding, either; there was an entire bushel of bananas spilling out of that bowl.
This was, what, over thirty years ago? I'll never, ever forget this.
And that was Lena. She wanted to know what you liked so she could make you happy. You could see the joy on her face when she would serve you something, and especially when you ate it. Better yet, you asked for seconds, but you generally didn't have to ask.
But it's not just about the food.
Lena had an infectious smile, and a laugh, and a belch that could fill a room. She was, belching aside, a classy woman. And she had heart.
There's the old saying, "when life hands you lemons, make lemonade". And so we talk about making lemonade out of lemons, well Lena was drowning in the stuff. Anyone else would say "marone, I'm drowning here", but Lena would say "let me fix you a nice glass of lemonade".
She had a good run; 86 years is a long time with Saint Peter much less Saint Otto, and she played her hand on this earth with style and grace and humor and humility.
That we all could do it so well.
Good night, sweet Lena. Rest easy; we love you lots.