Jeri Christianson: A Eulogy

Geraldine Mary ChristiansonáÂ0;Recently, I was honored to spend time with my paternal grandmother as she died and with my father’s sister and brother as they provided care. Relatively speaking, she passed away quickly, after a short kidney illness, and peacefully, having had an incredibly sound health care directive in place. I was surprised to be tasked with giving Jeri Christianson’s eulogy: it was overwhelming to absorb the enormity of standing in for my father, of crystallizing a life, of leading my family through a life course transition in a way that would recognize the process of grief and change is both individual and social. Here’s what I wrote:

There’s nothing particularly surprising about the peaceful death of a 96-year-old woman. Geraldine Christianson was fiercely independent until the very end. She died with her family at her side and an incredible Palliative Care team to watch over her. I suppose it only feels surprising that my grandma Jeri has died because she was a surprising woman. By the time she rounded 90, maybe we all thought she’d outlive us. Or maybe we’d just turn around and she’d be gone one day. Now she is, and we miss her.

Geraldine Mary ChristiansonáÂ0;Grandma was fortunate to live a long, adventurous life. She wasn’t embarrassed to be an amateur, afraid to mess up, or even scared when most reasonable people might be. When she asked, incredulously, “Am I dying?” she was at least a little satisfied with my aunt Sonja’s answer: “Not today.” Later, in the hospital, Sonja, my uncle Chris, and I talked about the things about Jeri that would surprise people. She’d grown up playing basketball with her sisters–apparently she had a height advantage. She’d met her husband because he was the best jitter-bugger on the floor. She’d worked directly toward the end of the war with Japan in 1945, bookended the baby boom with her oldest and youngest child, outlived or outwitted four kinds of cancer, and learned to drive at age 72. She got applause in the DMV waiting room when she passed the test. While maintaining a reputation for being strict, grandma Jeri laughingly let us kids get away with anything, from drawing flowers all over her white pants to being exactly who we were in every way. She was quietly brave and tenacious from the first to the last, and she has left an enormous legacy in the form of many adventurous young women and men who will continue to look to her as an example.

And that’s the thing. A life isn’t an assemblage of dates and relations. It isn’t a list of facts. The truth is different than the facts. The truth of Jeri’s life, of my grandma’s life, wasn’t made in who she leaves behind, but in that she showed us all how to be honest and brave. Once, in her 90s, she saw a little boy scared to go off the diving board. She clambered up to show him how it was done. In my head, it was the high dive. My grandmother was the kind of woman who would stop in her tracks, inviting everyone to look at something we normally passed by. She simply didn’t care if anyone thought she was a rube. The world was as surprising and beautiful to her as she was surprising and beautiful to us.

In appreciation of this life well-lived, I invite all of you, all of us, to do the things that put butterflies in our stomachs. Say what we believe and remain quiet when our words aren’t needed. Be steadfast and loving and firm and silly. Be a little scandalous, but always reliable. Be an amateur with all the love you’ve got.

–Letta Page, June 28, 2014

About Letta Page

I am a disarmingly earnest editor, translator of academia, nonfiction revisionary, and domesticated roustabout. More professionally, I might say: I am the senior managing editor of Contexts, founding associate editor and producer of The Society Pages, and a sociology editor, jargon-slayer, and “book doula” for hire. My specialty is in helping authors identify and hone their arguments in ways their target audiences can both understand and use. In this way, I’m a translator, consultant, writing coach, and editor all in one. The senior managing editor of Contexts magazine (the public outreach journal of the American Sociological Association), I have more than two decades’ experience in academic editing across a range of disciplines. I’ve edited and written copy for publications from Oxford University Press, Routledge, Taylor & Francis, W.W. Norton, the University of Chicago Press, Cambridge University Press, Stanford University Press, and many others, including dozens of journals. Today, I specialize in sociology and, as a sort of fun “palate cleanser” (trust me, when you’re editing books on neoliberalism and genocide, it’s always good to have a fallback), I write copy for organizations like Stand Up! Records. I also have a background in the visual arts and was a founder of First Amendment Arts (now Co-Exhibitions) in Minneapolis, MN. I hold degrees in history and classical studies from Boston University and an art degree from the University of Minnesota, and I enjoy most of the things you can imagine Rose from The Golden Girls counts among her hobbies. I received the University of Minnesota’s Public Sociology Award, for outstanding contributions to the discipline and public conversation, in 2019. My truly lovely husband, Josh Page, is a professor of sociology and law at the University of Minnesota, as well as a food writer and founder of Meal magazine. He’s a great writer, and I’m so happy to work alongside him in print and in life.