I’m the only daughter to my grandmother’s only son. My dad died far too young, at age 41,  and I became like a child to my grandmother. I affectionately called her "Ganny," a name born from my toddler babble after many efforts to get me to call her “Grandy." The name stuck and I got away with it. That was the theme of so much of our relationship. I jokingly accused her of cheating at cards, begged her to make me fresh baked cookies and did her hair in pigtails. Her friends, family, and colleagues always remarked at the playful and lighthearted relationship we had, despite her being widely known as very serious and proper. 

Ganny was an entrepreneur. She ran a business well into her 90s creating couture fashion for people like Marilyn Monroe and Sandra Day O’Connor. She taught herself Italian and French, traveled solo around the Middle East in her 80s and hosted a weekly classical radio show. 

When my grandmother died in the winter of 2018, I was the first to arrive at her senior care facility. We immediately dove into the exceptionally long list of to-dos, leaving very little time to grieve or even begin to absorb she was actually gone. My mom played a huge role in planning Ganny’s memorial service. We decided to wait a few months in order to give family and friends time to plan, and for us to put together something she would’ve loved to attend herself. The experience was entirely different from my dad’s funeral. It felt easier to celebrate her life as one fully lived. 

We hosted the event at her favorite restaurant, surrounded by beautiful photos and mementos from her life. We placed coral geraniums in the terracotta pot on each table. It was an odd choice for a restaurant but not for my grandmother. She loved to garden and always had flowers from her yard as the centerpiece. We gave pots of flowers to guests to take home. Since Ganny was a radio DJ for a classical music station, we played a collection of her favorite music, mostly Italian, while we ate some of her favorite foods. We asked those closest to her to come up and share a funny or heartfelt story. It truly felt like she was in the room. 

Two things about this experience really stood out to me:

If you can, don’t have the funeral right away. There are many reasons a funeral or memorial service needs to happen quickly, but in cases where it isn’t necessary, I would highly recommend giving yourself the time to plan and allowing attendees time to book travel arrangements. This decision allowed us to consider many small but meaningful details and allowed everyone in attendance to arrive without the stress of speedy travel planning. 

Personal details (even the smallest gestures) mean a lot to everyone attending. From the music and food to the flowers, photos, and readings, everything was quintessentially her. We all felt so connected to her and to each other through our love for her. If you have the time and energy to do so, the little details really do make a huge difference. 

Soon after Ganny’s death, I began a professional journey to improve the end-of-life and death planning experience online. It truly felt like a full circle moment. My grandmother, the entrepreneur, is now inspiring me to start a business based on our experience together. Her photo lives on on our company website and I channel her creativity, spirit, and drive every day. Now, I’m able to share my learnings (and the learnings of many others!) with the mission of ensuring every person is supported through end-of-life and gifted the space to grieve.