Monday, November 16, 2009


My grandmother, Bernadine "Bunny" Thielen died four years ago today. The following is a copy of the eulogy I had the privilege of delivering at her funeral. I miss you Grandma.
1924 - 2005

On Tuesday, November 15, my grandmother, Bunny, woke up to tell her daughters and her nurse that she’d had a dream about my grandfather. “We have a date tomorrow night,” she told them. The next day, shortly before noon, surrounded by her children, she left here. She had to go get ready for her date.

I don’t know if it is appropriate to start a eulogy by saying that she kept a clean house. But she did.

She was a good cook.

She was a meticulous seamstress.

She ran a frugal household, but was still a generous hostess.

In this day and age, these may not sound like compliments, but they are. She took great pride in them. Homemaker, wife, mother -- that was her career, though I am sure she never thought of it in those terms. To her, it was just her life, and she lived it.

As a girl in Nebraska, she was a cheerleader who dreamed of becoming a nurse. After high school, she moved, with her parents and brothers and sisters, out here to California. She planned to go to City College, but World War II changed her plans.

Aged 16

Grandma always talked about the war like it was fun. And, I suppose for her it was. The town was crawling with boys in uniform. She liked those boys, mostly because she loved to dance. She didn’t have a favorite or a steady boy. She told me she didn’t see the point in dating just one boy until she was engaged. If she stuck with only one guy, she’d have to sit too many out.

The war also brought her a husband. My grandfather, Ray, was an eighteen year old Army lieutenant from Waukegan. They met on a Saturday morning in December of 1942. She told me she remembers thinking he was obnoxious, and he didn’t dance. But somehow, he had talked her into going to lunch with him that day…and then dinner later that night. By Wednesday night, a mere five days later, he had proposed. She says she still thought he was obnoxious, and he never would be much of a dancer, but three weeks later, on her nineteenth birthday, she married him anyway. It sounds crazy, but they were crazy about each other, and they made it work, for over 57 years. The right partner was more important than the dancing.

Wedding Day, 1943 (They are on the left)

They spent the next twenty years in the Army. I say “they” were in the Army, because that is how they thought about it. They were a team. One day he came home early from work to tell her he had new orders. He had to leave immediately. That meant she had to pack up the house, the four kids, the dog—their whole lives—and move. She had to do this by herself. And she had to do it in three days. Years later when she retold the story, there was no sense of self pity. Bunny never had time for self pity. She was simply proud of her contribution.

The Army also provided this small town girl from Nebraska the chance to travel. She lived on Army posts in Germany, Okinawa, and six different states. Of course there were three separate postings to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, so it wasn’t all glamorous.

While stationed in Germany

After the Army, Bunny went to work so Ray could go to law school. They did that as a team too.

Later, when her kids were older, she golfed, and traveled. She spoiled her grandkids. Then her great-grandkids.

She always loved a party. Holidays, weddings, picnics, family over for a visit and a swim, you name it. She was a fun-loving and gracious hostess.

In 2000, 57 ½ years to the day after their wedding, her husband passed away. She was saddened, but not destroyed. They had a good life together. She had no regrets.

Her own health had started to deteriorate even before my grandfather died, yet she remained as social as ever. Her house was still a hub of activity. And it wasn’t just because she had a pool.

I spent a lot of time with her in the last year. She had good days and bad days. But she handled her illness with grace and courage. She thoroughly enjoyed all her visitors, to the end.

If you had asked Bunny who she was, she would have told you, in her own way, that she was the wife of one man, the mother of five children, the grandmother of nine, the great-grandmother of nine more, the sister to ten siblings, and Aunt Bunny to everybody else. I can add that she was friend to pretty much everyone who ever met her. Don’t be too put off by the fact that her life seems so defined by the lives of others. She wouldn’t be. She was all of those things, but still very much, Bunny.

Bunny and her "immediate" family. I'm not kidding.

I have one more thing to pass on before I close.

Her one regret. She told me that if she could have done anything differently in her life, she would have cleaned less and played more, while her children were young. They were only young once. That is true of all of us.

Every single one of us is younger right this minute than we ever will be again. We’re also probably thinner, better looking, and have more hair. So, go have a good time.

And in the next few days and weeks and years, when you think of her and you miss her, do something Bunny would do.

  • Get your hair done, with the back combing and everything.
  • Squeeze every last bit a toothpaste out of that tube, even if you have to use your rolling pin to do it.
  • Make apricot jam.
  • Dust something that no one can see.
  • Sew something. Then rip it out and sew it again.
  • Make an in-law feel like family.
  • Give to charity.
  • Invite and unexpected visitor to dinner.
  • Be the life of the party.
  • Play with your kids.
  • Dance.

But don’t worry about Bunny. She made it to her date on time. Wearing her dancing shoes. Because, in heaven, even my grandpa can jitterbug.


  1. That's beautiful. I think that it perhaps even surpasses the best author's because it's clearly about someone you love. Its not only well written, it is also entertaining and inspiring. Kind of gives me hope that maybe one day, there will be someone to tell my life and make it beautiful, almost like a fairy tale. She's obviously someone who you aspire to be similar to. I think that's really neat. You're so lucky to have had such an amazing grandma. =)

  2. That was really lovely. I enjoyed every word. I saw your comment on Milkmoon and that you are a new blogger, as am I.

  3. Nice work Tracey. Cleaning less and playing more is something that I have down pretty good:) I will try to be more like Bunny except I will not sew something, rip it out and sew it again. I'd be lucky if I can get it right the first time.

    You should write for a newspaper column or something.