It is one of the greatest honors of my life to stand before you, Grandma, and deliver your eulogy. There is no way to sum up your entire life’s work in three pages; I can only highlight the big things, and hope people understand the scope of what you accomplished.
First, though, a bit about my Grandma. Delia Neylan was born in 1925, just 4 years before the great stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. She was raised along with her brother Danny and her sisters Nancy and Mary in the First Ward, children of Irish immigrants from Miltown Malbay, County Clare. She grew up like most Irish did at that time, in relative poverty, with a strong backbone in the Catholic faith. She met my grandfather John R. Schmitt, and together they raised 6 children, Cathy, Debbie, Helen, Annie, Mary, and John.
She lived through 5 major wars, the first one being of special significance. The second World War produced the Great Generation, a special group of people in our nation’s history that greatly advanced us as a society and fought the good fight…and won. Grandma was very active in the war effort, supporting it from the home front like so many women did, while her husband-to-be fought in Africa and then Italy. Upon returning home, she met my grandpa and raised their family in the First Ward. She worked at St. Monica’s Parish while her children attended parochial school there, and is highly respected by the other families in the area, to
She famously tended bar at the 1134 club off of Clinton Street well into her 70s. She famously wore stiletto heels even later than that. She famously wrote a Christmas song that I have allegedly refused to record, because of fear of copyright infringement. She famously wrote a poem for several of our last Presidents, each
poem sounding strangely identical.
She famously cooked the most delicious food, her triumph of course being the Irish soda bread. I would be lying if I said that my heart doesn’t break today knowing I’ll never know what a piping hot piece of that bread toasted, with butter, will taste like again. Because no one has ever made it like grandma.
And then there was the soup. And the Homemade noodles! And the Dumplings! And her pierogi’s, famously made better by Grandma than by any Polish person I’ve ever met. So successful, in fact, that she would take orders, and plan for weeks when she was going to “do the pierogis”.
She famously boasted and told everyone about me, and my supposed accomplishments. I would like to take the opportunity to dispel a few myths:
First, I do not walk on water.
Second, I cannot heal the sick, or bring world peace.
Third, neither I nor AJ ever paid Grandma a cent to say the things she said; there were no bribes and no back door deals.
You know, when the world loses an Irish woman, everyone feels like they’ve lost a dear friend, no matter your relationship to her. An Irish woman can go drink-for-drink, joke-for-joke, and still have some energy left over to cook you the most delicious meal, and say something encouraging capped off with a big hug.
The Irish are honest, they are humble, they are steadfast, they are resilient. They meet sadness with humor, and have the uncanny ability to feel deeper and wider than other people. They have unquestioned loyalty and nationalism, and cherish simple things in life. They both celebrate and grieve with song, with drink, and
Grandma….was….a…..true…..Irish…..woman. To her very core. She was honest, humble, steadfast, and resilient. She sang like a bird, and she learned from her father, who she said “used to sing in da pubs.” Nobody fought harder than Dee Dee at the end of her life, and nobody lived a life full of adversity met with triumph as she did. She never stood for fighting between family, and these past few years has shown her to always have been right: family is love, family is home, and so was Grandma.
She would want us all to eat, drink, and be merry today, and tomorrow, and the next. She would want us to know that she absolutely resides in heaven, after having been given last rites and lived a good life, and be comforted in knowing that she is one in Jesus. She would want us to know just how wonderful that feels, and that would only make her pray that much harder that each of us will one day experience it.
But the reality is that we lost a real, real good one in Dee Dee. We lost the matriarch, the great gatherer of people, the best storyteller, the best cook, the best cheerleader, a great mother, and a great woman. We lost our link to the old country, whose Green ran through her veins, who’s spirit now resides over in Clare.
We lost our friend.
And so we will cry. We will feel deep sadness. We will gather, and we will hold each other. But Grandma would want us to use this as an opportunity to come together, and move forward together, as a family, and live by her example. And we will.
We feel today the same way you feel as the curtain falls on an incredible performance: moved, sad, longing, and joyful. We are moved by the sum total of everything we saw, all the effort so clearly put in, and how wonderfully it played out; sadness because we are sad to see it end; longing because we wish there was
more; joy in having witnessed it for ourselves.
You lived life without hesitation, Grandma; with boundless love and unquestionable loyalty. You made something out of nothing, and the sum of your tremendous efforts, your family, stand before you today. You were a star, Grandma, and this is your great encore. Take a bow, Dee Dee, because you brought the house down.
We love you, now and forever.