The Pain and Beauty of Saying Goodbye

January 31, 2013 | 42 comments

So, it turns out that Eunice Lee was mortal after all.

I did wonder. Which sounds so silly. I know that.

I mean, Grandma Lee made it 99 trips around the sun, and a part of you knew that every time that you visited her, it might be the last time. There’s a science to that sort of thing.

But another part of you just figured that she’d always be here, quoting the latest stock prices, asking you about the book you’re writing, or the farm you’re tending, or the children you’re raising. She’d offer you a glass of wine from the cardboard box in the fridge, and invite you to put a few pieces of her 1,000-piece puzzle together. There was always a half-read novel sitting, spine-up, on the end-table. And she’d go on and on about what she’d read in the local paper.

She smelled like Oil of Olay. She had a pink toilet.

I’m using past tense. She’s gone now. No more “is” for Grandma. Not in the earthly sense anyhow. We said goodbye this week.

Grandma Eunice was one those inimitable, larger-than-life people who you can’t ever imagine being gone from Earth. It was like she held the whole planet together — or at least your own little Iowa family, like she had somehow woven you all together with her crochet needles in the basket next to the upholstered recliner.

But we got the call the night before last.

And we knew.

We knew when the phone rang. We had known that the end was near. We hung our heads, and we prayed, and we cried, and we all reminded ourselves about the rooms promised for us all in Heaven.

We believe those rooms exist, with every stitch of our little beings. And we also believe that Grandma Eunice’s room will have a pink toilet and some boxed Franzia.


If someone made a movie about Grandma Eunice, we know who’d play the starring role. It would be Maggie Smith — now of Downton Abbey fame. Like the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Grandma Lee was fiercely loyal and utterly proud of her family. She also had an impeccable sense of fashion, even into her later years.

She also wore great lipstick.

But Grandma Lee was not an aristocrat. She was, like I am, a farmer’s wife.

Every time I look out my kitchen window toward these Lee family farm fields, I remember that I’m not the first Lee woman looking for a Lee farmer. I’m not the first Lee woman to quietly remind her children, as she tucks them in, to pray for their Daddy when storm-clouds roll in. I’m not the first Lee woman to link hands with her favorite farmer at this wooden table, to offer praise and Thanksgiving for the bounty when it comes–and to give thanks when it doesn’t.

Maybe that’s why she and I loved each other so. We knew what the other knew.

My favorite farmer and I visited her the night before she died. We stood on either side of her bed. One month earlier, we’d been in that very same spot, and I snapped a photo of Grandma Eunice and her great-granddaughters, Lydia and Anna. A cross and a picture of Jesus hung on the wall right behind them.

And now here we were, the current Lee farmer and his wife, standing under that same picture of Jesus, beside this courageous, incomparable woman. Grandma’s eyes were closed, and she was near the end. Her farmer-grandson reminded her of the picture on the wall. He choked out the words, and I hope he doesn’t mind if I tell you that I saw the tears:  “He’s right here, Grandma. Jesus is … right … here.”

Scott and I held her hands and prayed for her. When it was my turn, I closed my eyes, and though I was praying to the good Lord above, I said my words loud enough that she might hear them, too. I told the Lord how thankful I was that He made such a remarkable woman. I squeezed her hand when I spoke:

“God, thank you for the gift of Grandma Eunice. Thank you for her years of following You, for her years as a wife, and a mother, and a grandmother, and a school librarian, and a farmer’s wife.”

Then, this “young” farmer’s wife, who will turn 41 tomorrow, squeezed the hand of another farmer’s wife, 99.

And Scott and I said the Amen.

We walked out the door, out past the half-read novels, the wooden cross on the wall, the bowl of dark chocolate candies, and past an aerial framed photograph of the farm. And I thought, just then, how that farm will look to her, from above, if she might look down time and again. And I’ll look out the kitchen window and I will remember her, I will. I’ll remember.

And really, who could forget anyway.

God, I’m gonna miss her.


by | January 31, 2013 | 42 comments


  1. Sharon O

    Wonderful story she looks like a beautiful sweet ‘someone you would want to get to know’… I know you will miss her always.

  2. Patricia Spreng

    Oh sweetie… such joy, such sorrow. My heart feels for yours tonight … and gives thanks. What a beautiful gift she was/is to you. How precious. I see that Lydia has her eyes… such a blessing!

  3. Lynn Morrissey

    Oh, Jennifer, I’m so very sorry at the loss of Grandma Eunice. I can’t imagine how much you will miss her. What a beautiful woman she is, inside and out. She looks just like your daughter Lydia (but she looks like you too, which puzzles me a little, b/c I’m thinking she is your husband’s grandmother). Maybe we grow to look like those we love. I surely think your heart looks just like hers. You bear the her same traits.
    How I loved my precious grandmothers *and* grandfathers. I also so miss my great aunts and uncles.From your description of Grandma Eunice, she reminds me a lot of my Great Aunt Francie (whom we called “My Fair Lady,” because she was born in St. Louis in 1904, the year of our world’s fair). We also called her the General, because she ruled the roost in her home (in a loving way!) with her colonel husband. Like Grandma Eunice, she loved the Lord, was well-read, could talk politics till the cows came home, was generous to a fault, and yes, she had a pink toilet!! I don’t mean to talk about my family, but your exquisite tribute is so real, so poignant, I couldn’t help but think of those whom I loved so dearly, too, who are now gone from me (including a beloved girlfriend, whom we will bury tomorrow). Death is so difficult no matter what the age… is so hard to say good-bye. And it wasn’t meant to be this way. But you will keep her memory alive with your beautiful writing and with your family remembrances and in the way you live, which emulates her, and you will also remember that she lives right now, fully radiant, fully overjoyed in Jesus’ presence. Oh my goodness! We cannot begin to fathom what she now experiences.
    I am so sorry for your loss, and pray God’s precious comfort for you all and for His palpable presence and for the sure hope of heaven to sustain.

  4. Marty

    What a lovely and feisty lady she looked to be! Heaven is all the richer for her presence. May the God of all comfort hold your family close as you rejoice over her homecoming and celebrate her life.

  5. Sandra Heska King

    Oh, friend. This is such a beautiful tribute. I could hardly read it through my tears. You’ve brought her to life here, and she just oozes Jesus, like you do–you can see Him in these photos. And now I’m inspired to find a great lipstick. I’ve kind of given it up for the most part these days.

    Love, much love, to you.

  6. Jill Jungersen Linden

    What a great tribute to an amazing woman! She will be missed. The Chattersew Club is complete now; they were just waiting on Eunice to arrive! They’ll be having their luncheon on class plates with matching coffee cups and then playing a few cards while they catch up with each other! Eunice and my Mom, Abbie Jungersen, were good friends for so many years. You will find a picture of them together on a beach somewhere in a photo album…they will also be “neighbors” out at the cemetery. That made me smile when we buried my parents–it gave new meaning to the phrase lifelong friends!

  7. Cindee Snider Re

    Oh, Jennifer…so deeply, incredibly, achingly beautiful! God bless you and your precious family. What a legacy you are living, breathing, writing for your daughters. Thank you for sharing your life with so many. God’s love pours through every word.

  8. ro elliott

    Jennifer…I love the twinkle one can see in her eyes in each picture…eyes full of light and joy. blessings to your dear family as you find peace in knowing she is in her mansion…and I do bet she loves her toilet 🙂

  9. cas

    Life and death just keep happening, no matter what else is going on, don’t they. I’m glad to read that you got to say goodbye so well. Much love to you friend.

  10. Sharon Leavitt

    What a gift you had for a time. This is a beautiful tribute to someone I can’t wait to meet in heaven.
    thanks for sharing this.

  11. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    Aw, Jennifer, I’m sorry. What a beautiful, personal tribute you’ve shared. Thank you.

    May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.

  12. dougspurling

    “she had somehow woven you all together with her crochet needles in the basket next to the upholstered recliner…” reminds me of my Grandma Mary. It’s so great to know that they know before they go, so you never have to say good bye – just see ya later.
    Thanks for sharing, but one question? pink toilet? in heaven? what’ll she do with it?

  13. Julie

    Oh Jennifer,
    What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful lady. Your words had me in tears this morning in my office cubicle. Praying that God wraps himself around you all as you grieve your loss.


  14. Colleen

    Oh Jennifer-I am so sorry. Praying for you guys. I know it is so hard, even though you know she is having a party in heaven right now and that our time here is really so quick-before we know it we will see our loved ones again. But I understand-losing someone who holds the planet together-that sums up so well what I felt about my grandpa too. Tears for your family, and for all those who have lost someone who has been a part of them.

  15. deby

    Beautiful words – inspiring me to be this type of woman that my family will see – a true woman of His. God so blesses.

  16. HisFireFly

    tears streaming, joining with you in the hard hallelujah, wanting to run out and buy just that shade of lipstick.

    Happy birthday, dear one, beloved of the Lord, of the land, of the farmer who carries her blood…

  17. Nancy Franson

    Oh my goodness, Jennifer! I just sent you a post via Facebook, then clicked over to read this beautiful tribute. These are the kinds of stories I most love to read and write. They just shout that every life, every story matters!

    Thank you, thank you for honoring the life of this dear saint here in this place. I am just undone by the glimpse of the aerial photo of the farm. I have goosebumps just thinking about those who have gone on before us and see from on high–and see how all things have come out well.

  18. glenda vermeer

    Jennifer Lee …. you are one gifted woman! Thank you for letting us peek into the window of your heart once again! For putting into perfect words an experience many of us have had, but were unable to express! Love you my dear friend!

  19. Michelle DeRusha

    Oh Lord, thank you for Grandma Eunice, for all the gifts she bestowed so loving on the Lee family. They are going to miss her a whole lot down here on Earth, but they know she’s laughing hard and wearing that pretty lipstick up in Heaven. And we are all glad for that. Amen.

    {So, so beautiful, Jennifer. I’m crying a little bit you know…and that doesn’t happen very often. Hugs to you…}

  20. Lyli@3dLessons4Life

    What a legacy! Thank you for sharing her story. I love the picture of her with your girls — beautiful. Praying for God’s comfort to surround all those you love.

  21. Sara De Smet

    Wonderful story Jennifer! My heartfelt sympathy goes out to you and the Lee family! She was one of the nicest ladies!!

  22. Megan Willome

    Jennifer, I’m so sorry. You should’ve said something when we talked!

    And, believe it or not, my grandmother is turning 99 next Saturday, and my February column is comparing her to the Dowager Countess!

  23. Ray Blank

    Jennifer, and the rest of the Lee family, sorry to hear of this loss. She was a godly woman, and will be missed. Know that you have some prayers from a friend in Oregon. God Bless

  24. Diane W. Bailey

    FAther, thank you for Grandma Eunice. Thank you for the spunk and fire from her life that she has imparted to Jennifer and her girls. May the fire of her faith be ever present in the ones she leaves behind…for now.

    Love you Jennifer. Tell your girls to give you a hug, from me.

  25. Diane W. Bailey

    FAther, thank you for Grandma Eunice. Thank you for the spunk and fire from her life that she has imparted to Jennifer and her girls. May the fire of her faith be ever present in the ones she leaves behind…for now. I look forward to her showing us around when we get there!

    Love you Jennifer. Tell your girls to give you a hug, from me.

  26. Karleen Stephens

    Such a wonderful tribute to a life well-lived. Your Grandma Eunice’s legacy will continue to live long into the future in the hearts of her wonderful family.

  27. Diana Trautwein

    Thank you so much for this lovely tribute, these fine words of love and celebration. I rejoice with you in her long and good life. And at the same time, I weep because neither of our mothers, my children’s grandmothers, will pass from this life to the next with their personalities intact, at least on this side of the veil. We miss them already, you see. How I hope we will receive the gift of a time of good-bye which they can receive! But between now and then, we will love them and remember who they have been in our lives. And we will say thank you, again and again. Love you, Jen.

  28. Kimberly

    You write of her with such tenderness. Women like Grandma Eunice make me want to be a better woman, mother, and follower of Christ. Thank you so much for sharing a small piece of her with us.

  29. Leah Adams

    Starting my morning with tears. What a precious post about a woman who knew what leaving a godly legacy was all about. Your words brought a flood of memories from the day we said good bye to my sweet Daddy. A life well lived. Thank you for giving us a glimpse of Grandma Eunice Lee. Blessings and peace to your family as you walk on down this dusty earthen road without her and look ahead to the time you will meet her again.


    thank you for sharing this piece of your life. my grandmothers and my mom were just like that and they have gone home. when we see them again it will be with a joy that no one will be able to take away from us-forever. that is my consolation because you will always miss them terribly. what great role models they were. love your blog btw.

  31. Kris

    Oh Jennifer. My sweet friend–such a beautiful remembrance here, of a beautiful spirit. Praying grace and joy in this time for your family, for your heart. Im and holding you up to Him, our greatest comfort in times of grief. Love you (((hugs)))

  32. Jillie

    Dear Jennifer…My deepest sympathies in your loss of Gramma Eunice Lee. What a beautiful tribute to one so precious to you all. I especially feel for your girls, who will go on remembering their Gramma, and missing her often. I still miss my Gramma Jessie, even after 30+ years. Thanking God for the blessed influence she has been on your girls…things they will never forget about her.
    Also wishing you a wonderful Birthday, even amongst such sadness.

  33. Amy

    Jennifer and Scott and family~
    So very sorry – we’re never really ready to let go, but this earthly goodbye – thankfully – is not forever! May you feel God’s special presence in very real way as you treasure the memories that Grandma Eunice left….a true legacy…
    love and prayers….

  34. Pam

    Such a tender and lovely tribute, Jennifer. I pray all your memories are like a shawl of His Love around you until you meet again. Isn’t it wondrous to try and think of our loved ones on the other side, what they are now doing and feeling, right there in the midst of nothing but joy? God bless you and your family beyond words.

  35. Lisa Auter

    I see so much of your girls in her face, especially Anna. May God comfort you all as the Heavens rejoice of their newest daughter come home. Xoxoxo

  36. Cindy Hamilton

    What a blessing to have this remarkable woman in your life for 99 years! The pictures are precious. Now, she is that beautiful young woman looking down on you and your family. But, I know that there will be a empty place in your heart.

  37. Kim

    I am so sorry for your loss. These goodbyes are so bitter-sweet. Treasure the memories and life lessons you have from this Dear One. I hope your birthday was filled with SONshine! Birthday Blessings to you.

  38. Donna Blum

    Jennifer, I am so sorry for your loss. I want to send a big hug your way. I know Eunice will be deeply missed by you and your family, but I pray it comforts you to know that she is in paradise now…she has gone home. This is not “goodbye”. It more like “see you soon”. I will pray for God’s peace and comfort during this time. Here is a quote that I love and a couple of Bible verses:

    Quote: Death. It is the most misunderstood part of life. It is not a great sleep, but a great awakening. It is that moment when we awake, rub our eyes, and see things at last the way God has seen them all along.

    Philippians 1:21
    For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (NIV)

    Revelation 14:13
    And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!” (NLT)

    Psalm 116:15
    Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. (NIV)

    Romans 14:8
    If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (NIV)

    Philippians 3:20-21
    But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (NIV)

  39. Donna Blum

    Hi Jennifer.

    Me again. I just read this poem and wanted to share. Oh, and happy belated b-day. My birthday is this month also…I’ll be 44 on the 20th.

    Her Journey’s Just Begun

    Don’t think of her as gone away –
    Her journey has just begun
    Life holds many facets
    The Earth is only one
    Just think of her as resting
    From the sorrows and the tears
    In a place of warmth and comfort
    Where there are no days and years
    Think how she must be wishing
    That we could know today
    How nothing but our sadness
    can really pass away
    And think of her as living
    In the hearts of those she touched
    For nothing loved is ever lost-
    And she was loved so much.

    ~ Ellen Brenneman

  40. Deb Weaver (@DebWordWeaver)

    This lovely piece of your life brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of being with my Mom as she journeyed to Heaven in 2011. Thank you for sharing slices of your life that remind us our ours. They also remind us of the One who gifts us with this life.

    Deb Weaver

  41. Lelia Chealey

    I love all the detail God had you notice. The cross, Jesus, the aerial view. Only God. Only our Chief Shepherd. I’m so sorry for your loss. That’s a bridge I dread crossing, but know one day I will. Hugs and love to you my friend.

  42. Karrilee Aggett

    So now… here I sit… in tears. Honored that you would share her with us… that her legacy lives on and just keeps growing deeper and taller and reaches further than she could know on this side of heaven.

    I love the photo’s and oh my goodness if she didn’t remind me of my own Grandma Elsie in some ways… the joy in her eyes… the shining from the inside… I see that in you and in your girlies… oh yes… her legacy lives on, my friend!

    Blessings to you and your family!
    Counting down the days to hug you proper!


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