This past week, I said my goodbyes to my grandmother Betty W. Grice. I have learned that goodbyes are hard at any age, even at 91. Betty was biologically my grandmother, but in life she was so much more than a grandmother to me. I called her Mama, because that is the major role she played in my life.
Mama told me once that God knew I was going to be more than one Mom could handle so he gave me two. I thank God for two wonderful mothers, one biological and one who chose to be my Mom.
The past few weeks have been a roller-coaster of emotions for me. The waves of grief hit me hard and at unexpected times. At 56, in her eyes, I was just a boy working everyday to make my mom proud. There are days I feel that I succeeded and others that I knew I could have done more.
Betty was the first person in my life who believed in me, more than I believed in myself. She taught me so much and when her husband Herschel Grice, whom I am the namesake, died 18 years ago her role in my life, her children, grandchildren, great and great grand’s lives increased dramatically.
Herschel, Papa to me, was a larger than life man. He was a highly respected businessman, community and church leader. People from all walks of life sought out his advice.
I worked hard the majority of my life to repay both of them for choosing me. They made sacrifices for me that even I find difficult to understand. It was through them that I discovered the power of unconditional love that only a parent can have for a child.
Because of the difference the two of them made in my life, not because they had to, but because they chose to, I remain driven to “pay it forward”. I feel burdened to work every day to make a difference in every life I touch. I work hard to be the person who believes in others more than they believe in themselves. Just like they did for me.
Incredible generosity and kindness
I have also forgotten how wonderfully generous this community is when you have a significant loss. The texts, calls, messages, cards, flowers, donations and the food. Oh my the food!
Hundreds of you came to the visitation and attended the service in person or online. With this you have all blanketed us with love in unimaginable ways. I had forgotten how much this helps soothe a broken heart. Knowing that so many of you thought so much of her and our family, to reach out to us in your own special way, continues to be very healing.
The words “Thank You” do not seem adequate. Nor does the advice, “cherish every moment with your parents”. Call them, write them, visit them often. Let them know the difference they made in your life.
A planner to the end
Mama was a saver and a planner. The greatest gift she gave us was in completing her funeral plan and paying for it fully. It was so wonderful, reading the plan in her own handwriting, how she wanted her final celebration of life to go. Even at her age, and with the time we have had to think through her death, when you are in this moment the flurry of decisions that have to be made so quickly is overwhelming. Then having to second guess each decision as it being exactly what she wanted. She removed all of that stress from us. It allowed us to be reassured that the last act of love our family did for her was exactly how she wanted it.
I had the honor of representing the family in her funeral service in sharing how tremendously special she was to all of us through my eulogy. Many of you knew Mama, some of you are just meeting her. For all of you here is my tribute:
Betty W. Grice Eulogy
Betty’s journey to heaven was just 15 days long. 12 of which she spent in hospice, 10 of those she knew us all.
I joined Betty for breakfast each morning for her last 13 days. During this special time we ate her favorite, Frosted Flakes cereal, dry at first, then a little milk. One piece of toast and a piece of bacon, coffee with two sugars and French Vanilla creamer. The best part of breakfast wasn’t the food, but the time Mama and I had traveling down memory lane.
It all began with a love story that was so incredible that Nicholas Sparks would be blown away. It was built on a foundation of unshakable faith. Betty was 16 years old and a sharecropper’s daughter when she met Herschel. Four children and 57 years later she sent Herschel to heaven and missed him every single day for the next 18 years. A few days ago, Lori applied some chapstick to her lips and told her it was red lipstick. I asked if Herschel loved her red lipstick. She perked up and opened her eyes wide and said, “OH YES”! It was a moment of clarity that validated the remarkable power of their love story.
Betty shared many stories with me, but none she enjoyed more than the story of how she was chopping cotton when she first met Herschel. He took over chopping her row of cotton so she could go get cleaned up to go out on a date with him. My niece Sydney asked how she knew he was the one. She was pretty taken with him, but he was convinced she was the one after seeing her outfit.
They were so poor they made their clothes out of whatever material they could find. She shared the story of that first meeting, as Herschel loved to tell it. She was bent over as he walked up, her dress blew up and on her bottom were the words, ” XXX Beula’s Best Self Rising”, then she turned around and her skirt blew up again and he read the words, “100% Pure Sugar” on the front. He always said that was the point he knew she was THE ONE!
As a military wife, she had many adventures taking up residence in Bangor, Maine and Roswell, New Mexico. She said loved Roswell the most.
They returned home after Herschel’s distinguished military career, serving in WWII and later with Project Ivy, to begin their life after service.
Herschel and Betty were entrepreneurs and eventually started The Claxton TV Center, a small business with Gary Tippins, that provided a good life for them.
Betty was a doting, loyal wife, committed to her family.
She was feisty, the judge and jury who provided a heavy hand when needed to help refocus children.
Richard shared the story of how she killed Herschel’s favorite peach tree, ripping off the branches to dish out some “Betty discipline”.
She loved to cook and the big Sunday family dinners were her favorite. She loved her family and any reason to get everyone together was special to her.
Her favorite cake to cook was also my favorite to eat – Red Velvet!
As the family shared favorite memories of Betty this week, Sydney and I both loved the simple ways she would make you feel special.
I recalled how she would always be the first in line to pick me up at school every afternoon. Sydney, who was her Great Granddaughter, reminded me that she did the same for her, traveling to Glennville to take her to dance then pick her up. She was always the first in line.
Her “Lester Wilson” work ethic was unmatched.
I came home from school one day, upset about being bullied and picked on at school. Betty sat me down and told me to not worry about them. I may never be the smartest or most handsome boy in the my class at school, but no one would out work me.
She knew the most important thing in life was showing up every day, committed and focused on making a difference in every way possible. Then doing it all over the next day and the next.
Betty taught us all to live humbly, sacrificially and to be happy where God placed us. No matter what cards we are dealt, understand that God always has a plan. If we stay faithful, focused and consistent in our work, then we would always be successful.
She understood the importance of dressing the part. I don’t recall ever seeing her without makeup or without her hair done perfectly. She instilled in all of us the importance of dressing for success. Always be presentable and respectful in how we dress.
Betty had many wonderful characteristics. Time will not allow me to go over each of these, but hands down she considered the greatest accomplishment to be her four incredible children that she raised and then her grandchildren, great and great great grands.
Nothing did Betty love more than when any one of us came to visit her in church on a Sunday morning. The pastor always had a time of prayer requests from the congregation, Betty never passed on the opportunity to stand and share, in great detail, how wonderful whomever attended that day was. We all cringed, never knowing what she was going to share next.
There is no more fitting way to end this eulogy today than to close with one last opportunity for Betty to share, from Heaven, her thoughts about a few of her special guests today, her children.
I closed with this audio interview I did with her in her final days of life:
Livestream of the Celebration of Life Service
Goodbye Mama, we will love you forever just as you loved us.