In Memory of Jean Voskamp

I gave the following eulogy at the funeral of Jean Voskamp, my Grandmother, who passed away on April 5, 2004. If you would like to contribute a story or memory about her, please leave it in the comments at the end.

Jean Voskamp is my grandmother, and when I heard I would be speaking for her, I was both excited and terrified; excited because there are so many beautiful qualities to my grandmother, but terrified I would not be able to do her justice in a few short moments, and with my own narrow perspective. I want to thank her friends and my family for their help as I struggled to contain on paper the essence of a person who was utterly uncontainable.

Let’s state the obvious: Jean Voskamp was the life of the party. At our house, birthdays, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas– none of these celebrations were allowed to start until Gramma showed up. After dinner, we always played cards, and because of her, I love card games. For years, when I met somebody who couldn’t shuffle, or didn’t know how to play Euchre or Canasta, I thought, “didn’t your grandmother teach you anything?”

When there wasn’t a party to be had, Gramma would make one up. She kept the importance of family close to her heart, and for years she organized the family picnics that brought us together for a day and let out the kid in all of us. It’s amazing how hard some of us fought against getting pulled into the baseball game, or the three-legged race, or the water balloon toss; deep down, we all wanted to play, we just didn’t want to admit it.

Gramma was a woman who never forgot to send a birthday card. A woman who always smiled and asked about how you were doing. A woman who always welcomed you into her home, any time of the day or night, although if you showed up unexpectedly, she might excuse herself for a moment to make sure she looked her best for you.

She was a woman beyond her generation, who managed to not only raise three children as a single mother, but always make sure they had a proper summer vacation at the cottage, and a joyful Christmas celebration with family.

I don’t remember my grandmother ever trying to teach me anything (other than card games), but I learned many things from her example. She knew the value of making something with your hands, and loved her crafts and ceramics. She knew that we are measured not by what we get, but by what we give, so she volunteered at church fund raisers. She knew that nothing is more important than our loved ones; when she met the love of her life, Arend, my grampa Jack, she also brought two families together, and we are all richer for it. She knew that hugs are not to be squandered, and happiness not to be suppressed, so she showered us with affection and laughter. She knew that music is the language of the soul, and dancing is the freeing of the spirit, so for years she sang and danced with the Geritol Follies, bringing joy to thousands of people. If ever a spirit was free, it was hers.

To my mother Marilyn, Gramma was a hero. Many of us dread growing up and turning into our parents, but my mom now sees this transformation as a blessing, and an incredible challenge to live up to Gramma’s legacy.

I grew up hearing stories about characters who I never knew, larger than life: Ma and Pa Sauve. Grampa Johnny. From what I could piece together, it sounded like 30 people, spanning four generations, had started a frat house in downtown Hamilton. Card games that went on all night, until the police were finally called. Police who were invited in to have a drink and play a few hands before heading back out into the night. Shouting because everybody was going deaf or just trying to be heard over the people shouting at the deaf people. Every meal was an event, every piece of furniture had a life of its own, and family was the most important thing in the world.

Perhaps I’m romanticizing a bit. But these people, these places, are my legends, and now my Gramma becomes one of the legends that will be passed down one day to my children.

Norma, Jean’s sister, had these thoughts to share:

“Growing up in the Malcolmson house was truly a great experience. We loved and laughed and argued. On Sunday after church, the house would be filled with our friends, and we would all play cards. Ma Sauve would be in the kitchen making pies, and Dad would say– loud and clear– ‘I’m in,’ meaning he was in for cards. We had a wonderful life growing up. Through all these years we have remained friends as brothers and sisters and we will miss Jean. She was always the life of the party.”

Someone remarked that Grampa Johnny saying, “I’m in,” sounded like “Amen.” What a perfect segue to talk about her spirituality. Gramma found great comfort in her faith and in this church. She accepted Jesus Christ into her heart, and from Him found the strength to battle through her illnesses to be with us for another Christmas, another birthday, another family picnic, and for that we are all truly grateful.

Yesterday Pastor Jeff said that when Gramma arrives in heaven, Jesus will be waiting to embrace her. I can’t help but picture Fred Astaire a few steps behind, waiting for the first twirl with “Jean, Jean, the Dancing Machine,” and Greatgramma Malcolmson and all the departed family sitting at a card table in the background, hollering to ask if they should deal Jean in. In heaven nobody’s deaf, but I suspect they’ll still be shouting.

I will think of Gramma whenever I see someone drinking tea from a china cup. I will think of her whenever I hear music from the 40s and 50s. I will think of her whenever I shuffle cards. And like all of us here today, I will miss her company, but celebrate her memory.

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  1. #1 by Mom - April 20th, 2006 at 12:20

    Thank you again for your sensitive,loving interpretation of a woman bigger than life. I miss her very much but you made me feel her presence again.

    Love you

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