Alexa and her grandmother, Phyllis Della-Rocca, laugh together.
Reflections

Things my grandmother taught me

My grandmother Phyllis was not a “bake banana bread and knit sweaters” kind of grandma.

The last time you all heard from me, my grandmother had just passed. (Thank you, by the way, for all your kind and comforting words — they’ve meant so much to my family and I.)

The days following her death have been a heavy mix of grief, laughter, and tears. We’ve lost such a light in our lives, and we’re still fumbling for the light switch.

I had the honor of giving my grandmother’s eulogy, reprinted below. Writing it offered me the chance to really reflect on the influence my grandmother and friend of twenty-eight years had on making me the woman I am today.

It feels natural to share the eulogy — to share her — because that’s the kind of lady she was: she loved sharing experiences, and was ever-curious about people and their stories.

I hope, in reading this, you get a sense of the woman my grandmother was, and are elevated by her life’s message: to live fully, be playful, and experience all you can.

A eulogy for Phyllis

We are here to celebrate the life of my grandmother, Phyllis Della-Rocca.

Now, Nanny was not a “bake banana bread and knit sweaters” kind of grandma: she was a “lemme teach you how to bait a hook” kind of grandma. A “let’s jump in the car and drive to Pennsylvania for the heck of it” kind of grandma.

If you knew Nanny, you knew that, to her, every day was a good day for a drive. We’d hop in the car and just go – the woodsier and windier the road, the better. When we’d ask her where we were, she’d say we were lost – teasing, of course, but my sister never quite picked up on that and thought we’d never see our mom and dad again.

Alexa and her sister, Breanna, sit with their grandmother, Phyllis Della-Rocca, under a colorful umbrella.

Nanny loved to tell stories. Some were true, and some were… not so much. She had a scar from a terrible car accident she and Granddaddy were in back in the 60s – it wrapped around her wrist like a bracelet. One day we asked her where it was from. She said that, when my mom was a kid, they went on safari in Africa: “Your mom swung from the tail of an elephant as we crossed the Nile, and an alligator bit my arm!”

Being children – innocent kids with no reason to believe their grandmother would lie – we were impressed. So impressed, in fact, that we told all the kids in school.

My mom? Not so impressed, especially when my third grade teacher called to invite her to speak to the class about her adventures in Africa.

Yes, Nanny loved to tell stories. But I think what she really loved was creating connections with people: she was never afraid to approach someone and strike up a conversation. She was also content simply people-watching. Her favorite spot for that was on the deck of her condo in Ocean City, where she had a front-row seat to all the passers-by on the boardwalk.

Alexa's grandmother, Phyllis Della-Rocca, relaxes on the deck of her oceanfront condo.

She enjoyed so many things – so many different kinds of things. She was just as happy sitting on the dock with a fishing reel in hand as she was curled up on the sofa, with her schnauzer on her lap, watching one of her favorite crime dramas. She was inquisitive and found excitement in everything and if she didn’t, she’d move on. She didn’t waste time on anything that didn’t innately interest her.

She brought so much adventure and action to our lives, whether it was one of her spontaneous car trips, trespassing onto local farms to pet the goats, or sneaking into a movie with pockets full of contraband snacks. We weren’t her grandchildren: we were her little cohorts, along for the ride, and I don’t think we’d have had it any other way.

As we got older, our adventures were quieter, and we began to appreciate another side of Nanny: the side that showed her love and loyalty to her friends and family. Though her memories had begun to fade, she always knew our bond was special, and even in her final days she maintained her playful spirit.

Nanny taught us the best way to experience life is to be present in the moment, to spend your time with intention.

Life’s too short to be bored so get in the car and go.

Alexa's grandmother, Phyllis Della-Rocca, waves from the sidewalk in front of her parked car.

7 comments on “Things my grandmother taught me

  1. So beautiful. What a great lady. ❤️

  2. Noreen O Connor

    Thank you for sharing such lovely positive memories

  3. Julia Archibeque-Guerra

    What a lovely story… and how blessed you were to have such a loving and fun grandma..?❤️🤗🥰
    Thank you for sharing 💖

  4. A wonderful tribute to a special woman and grandmother.

  5. I have often thought that the best way to honor someone we love who has been called Home – is to live our own lives well. With heart, humor, and kindness. Time will help, and meantime, treat yourself compassionately: as you would a beloved friend. Tanti bacci from NYC, Cindy and Ricardo.

  6. Oh this is a truly amazing tribute, so beautiful. thanks so much for sharing and so sorry for your loss xx

  7. Lymphie Strong

    What a beautiful tribute. Fly high with the Angels, Phyllis. ❤️

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