Denise Mary Barbarino was born on July 5, 1934 to Ludwig and Katherine Person in Glendale, CA. She went to Holy Family High School, attended Holy Trinity Church, and, on April 16, 1955 married Michael Alfred Barbarino, then went on to raise 5 beautiful kids, and subsequently, 10 gorgeous grandchildren plus a handful of great grandchildren. I could tell you hundreds of similar facts about my beautiful, bright, loving grandmother, but she was so much more than facts on a page.
When I first said I wanted to honor grandma by speaking at her funeral, I thought putting words to paper would be easy. But then I began to feel the immense pressure of trying to articulate just what made her so special and irreplaceable. I’m not sure I’ve done her justice, but then again I’m not sure anyone could, so here it goes anyway.
Grandma Denise came into my life 27 years ago, and from the beginning I adored her. She was lovely and strong and wise, and she taught me some of the most important lessons in life.
She taught me to fall in love wholly and fearlessly. I don’t think there is a single person in this room untouched by the love between Mickey and Denise. It’s the reason I truly believe you can be in love one person for your entire life. When Adam and I got engaged I can remember looking up at him in the midst of wedding planning and asking him if he thought he could love me as big and hard and completely as my grandma loved my grandpa (spoiler alert: he said yes). She taught me that while marriage is the most wonderful gift, it also involves tireless attention and work. She told tell me it’s a roller coaster – it has highs and it has lows- but if you stick together, you’ll wake up after 61 years and wonder where the hell the time went.
She taught me to appreciate each and every day. Whenever I would talk to grandma on the phone she would ask how things were going. I’d go on about work and my never-ending list of to-dos, how we were spending our weekend, what we had planned for the future. She’d listen intently, ask questions, then remind me to stop and take it all in because “it goes by so fast.”
She taught me to show up. Even when it’s not easy, or fun, or convenient. Sometimes that means actually being there, like she was at grandparents’ day, graduation, soccer games, and my wedding. But other times, showing up is more of a feeling than it is an act. It’s being reliable and loyal, opening your heart when it’s been hurt by someone you love, and allowing yourself to forgive and move on. She taught me that family can try your patience and kindness, but they are worth it, every time.
And, she taught me: pink is always the right color, whether it’s your sweater or your lipstick; ham isn’t good, but orange tick tacks are; tea bags should only be dunked twice, then set aside; you can always add more mayonnaise; a little rebellion is a good thing; no news is good news, ‘coz bad news travels fast; and, the freezer should always be stocked with drumsticks.
I loved so many things about grandma. I loved how, at a few years old, she let me traipse around her house in her bright pink pumps (but never the nice blue ones, even she had her limits); I loved how, when we’d go camping, she’d pretend she could braid my hair to match my sisters when mine was nothing but a glorified bowl cut that barely fit into a hair tie; I loved that she was selfless and kind, but also fiery and bold; I loved that she served dessert as soon as the last dinner plate was cleared, and that ice cream was her favorite meal; I loved that she always answered all my drunk dials when I “just had to call the Champagne Lady while I was drinking champagne” and that she acted like she didn’t notice when I said the f word. But mostly, I just loved being her granddaughter.
Grandma, we will miss you every day, but will forever carry your spirit with us. We’re so thankful for the time we got to spend with you.