A Tribute to Dottie Olson (1935–2018)

My wife’s grandmother, Dottie Olson, passed away a little over a week ago. Before she died, she requested that I perform her funeral service. Unfortunately, I contracted a severe illness and was unable to travel to conduct the funeral. To make up for it, I wrote a tribute in her honor. Below is a manuscript of my tribute to Dottie Olson. My wife’s cousin read it at the funeral in my stead.

Dear Family and Friends,

I, Matthew Emadi, am deeply saddened that I could not be here today in person. I would have considered it an honor and a privilege to participate in the funeral for Dottie Olson. When I finally accepted the fact that I was too sick to travel, I became haunted by one of my childhood memories. It was June 11, 1997. I was 13 years old as I watched flu-ridden Michael Jordan score 38 points in game 5 of the NBA finals leading the Bulls to victory over my beloved Utah Jazz. How come he was able to rise to the occasion and score 38 points in an NBA finals game, and I can’t even get out bed to get on a plane to travel across the country? I guess that is why he is considered so great.

Our world defines greatness according to the athletic achievements and accomplishments of people like Michael Jordan. Our culture would have us believe that people worth celebrating, admiring and imitating are the people who can perform spectacular dunks, or sing beautifully, or make thrilling movies and entertain the masses. But I would suggest to you that this is where our culture gets it wrong.

You are here today to honor a life truly worth celebrating. You are here today to pay respect to a woman who is truly worthy of our admiration. You are here today to consider the magnitude of the legacy of Dottie Olson. As I reflected on what I wanted to say about Dottie Olson, I had several words come to mind that describe the type of person she was. I want to share four of those words with you.

First, Grandma. By the time I met Dottie Olson, I had no living grandparents. My Mom’s mom died before I was born. Distance and a language barrier kept me from having a close relationship with my Dad’s mom. And she passed away during my teen years. It was my Great Grandma who I admired, enjoyed, and loved as a kid, but she had passed away by this time as well. When I met Dottie Olson, it didn’t take long for me to realize that she embodied everything a grandma was supposed to be. So one day I approached her and said something like, “Dottie, I don’t have a grandma. Would it be okay if I called you grandma?” She said “of course, that would be fine,” and she was grandma to me from that day forward. This may seem like a small thing, but it wasn’t to me. What happened at that moment was more than just a clear decision on what name I would call her. She was telling me, “You are part of my family. We will accept you; we will embrace you; we will be loyal to you.” This was the kind of person Grandma was. Her heart was large enough to bring others, like me, into her family. And she treated me as if I was one of her own grandchildren. She never forgot my birthday; she regularly sent me hand-written notes; she truly made me one of her own. She was worthy of the title “Grandma,” and for the remainder of this tribute, I will refer to her as “Grandma” because she is worthy of that honor.

The second word that came to my mind is hospitality. Grandma practiced hospitality. I began to understand Grandma’s heart for hospitality the first time I came to her house in 2008. We were celebrating Easter and we all gathered at her home for lunch. When I walked in, I discovered a dining room table the size of the Titanic. To this day, it is the biggest table I have ever seen. Why would anyone go out of their way to have a table that big? Wouldn’t it be easier just to scatter around the house as we ate our meal? Perhaps it would have been easier to do it this way, but Grandma, and her late husband Vernon, understood something about hospitality. In a world that is losing the art of hospitality, Grandma recognized that there was something meaningful, something powerful, and something necessary about sitting down at the same table with others to share a meal together. And she was right. Around her table, we were able to sit together, to eat together, to laugh together, to share stories together. And we are all better for it.

It was also at my first Easter celebration at Grandma’s house that I found out I would be participating in an Easter-Egg hunt. There I was, 24-years old, trotting around Grandma’s yard with other young adults doing an Easter-egg hunt. And I loved every second of it. What a cool family. Perhaps we should all be surprised that I didn’t just drop to one knee right then and there and propose to Brittany! But in all seriousness, the Easter-Egg hunt was a tradition that Grandma kept alive because she wanted her grandchildren to feel special and loved. That is what hospitality is all about, making people feel special and loved. I am confident that all of us who had the privilege of sitting around Grandma’s table will forever treasure those times together. I know I will. When we think about the size of that table, we will always understand that it was merely a reflection of the size of Grandma’s heart.

Third, Generosity. What can I say to try to articulate the depths of Grandma’s generosity? Words cannot capture an adequate description here. Many of you know what I am talking about. Grandma was generous; she was incredibly generous. Generosity reveals something about a person’s character. A generous person cares more about people than stuff. A generous person sees his or her material goods not as opportunities for self-indulgence but as opportunities to bless other people. Grandma was immeasurably generous. She cared more about people than possessions. Her generosity extended beyond material goods. She was generous with her time, her effort, and her service. I’ll never forget how she spent her time when she visited our house in Utah. She washed our dishes; she folded our laundry; she worked around the house. Her generous service and tireless work-ethic put me to shame in my own home. Thank you, Grandma, for your generosity. I am sure I only know the tip of the iceberg.

Lastly, Legacy. Grandma has left a legacy that is more significant than our world would care to realize. Businessmen can leave us with products and goods and services. Politicians leave us with laws, policies, and, hopefully, better taxes. Athletes leave us with highlight reels and memories of exciting performances. Grandma has left a greater legacy. She has left us with a legacy of large-hearted, generous, and loving people.

Our culture underestimates the power of a faithful wife and a faithful mother to influence our world. But a mom devoted to her children has the ability to shape the next generation in a way that almost nobody else can. She does so by teaching her kids virtue; by forming the content of their character; and by preparing them to make a difference in the lives of other people. This is the legacy Grandma has left us. I think you understand the significance of her legacy when I say these three simple words: Shelly, Sheryl, Gary. I wonder how many of you here today have had your lives touched by one of these three people or their families. That’s the power of a faithful wife and a faithful mother. Her legacy extends from generation to generation because she worked hard to love her children.

Thank you, Grandma, for your legacy. You will be missed by many. I, personally, will miss the family gatherings at your house, sharing pictures with you, and your hand-written letters. I realize that in our technological world I may never get another one. I wish I would have written this tribute as a letter and sent it to you while you were still living. I would have thanked you for your legacy. I would have told you that I see your legacy every day in my wife Brittany as she fiercely devotes herself to her children and sacrifices so much for their well-being. I see that same legacy in Brittany’s mother, Sheryl and her siblings, Shelly and Gary. I see that they love their families with the same devotion they learned from you. I see your legacy in your grandchildren and their families. Thank you, Grandma, for your life. Your legacy will continue to touch our world for generations to come.