Geraldine Elaine Tillett / by Rebecca Tillett

My gramma, Geri, died last night. She would have been 90 this Saturday.

If angels walk amongst us, she was very definitely one of them. I have never known anyone else kinder or more selfless. 

For decades, she was known as “the bird lady” in my hometown because she literally nursed back to health thousands (maybe even hundreds of thousands) of sick and injured birds before re-releasing them into the wild. Her days began at dawn and ended around midnight. Every day. No pay. Into her 80s.

She served as president of the local humane society for a couple decades before stepping down to serve on the board when the bird rehabilitation responsibilities became too demanding.

She’d don a big furry dog costume and go to every local elementary school (including my own) to talk to kids about cat and dog overpopulation and the importance of spaying and neutering their pets.

She made the best homemade vanilla ice cream. 
She’d let me read her my favorite parts of the newspaper every day that she babysat me before packing us a picnic lunch to eat under the big tree in her backyard.

She always read to me. 
A vegetarian herself, she would still cook a big turkey or ham for the rest of the family every Thanksgiving. 
She made the best ice cream sundaes and her homemade noodles were to die for.

This world is a far worse place for her absence.

I wish my daughter could have known her, but I am grateful they coexisted on earth, even if it was only briefly. I’m so happy that for a moment, Mina had the greatest great-grandmother ever.

I have so much more to say, but this is hitting me slowly and words escape me so for now, this will have to do.

Rob and Geri Tillett, 1950s


My grandmother is too great a force to be eulogized.
Instead, I only want to share a fraction of what I’ve learned from her. She taught me:

 That unrelenting kindness, even toward the undeserving, is possible.
That a please and thank you are never a waste of time.
That ice cream sundaes are better with nuts and maraschino cherries.
That figs and pomegranates taste best right off the tree, but jelly is good too.
That all living things deserve our compassion and protection.
That empathy is our greatest weapon in our war with indifference.
That religion and spirituality aren’t things to be forced onto others.
That grandmothers are not above donning a big furry dog costume and spending their days speaking to elementary school classes about the importance of spaying and neutering their pets.
That grandmothers cannot reasonably be expected to play Barbies for more than a few hours without falling asleep every now and then.
That homemade noodles are worth the great many hours it takes to make them.
And so is homemade ice cream.
That wolves are bigger than fairytales.
That it’s perfectly normal for a bird to build a nest in your hair.
That you’re never too old to start using the word “cool.”
That there is always time for a picnic lunch with your granddaughter under the big weeping tree in the backyard.
That silver and turquoise are as beautiful against warm bronzed skin as the afternoon sky settled behind the brown desert earth.
That the last person on earth you ever hope to disappoint is your grandmother.
That grandmothers are the greatest unpaid teachers.
That grandmothers are a worthy and irreplaceable conduit to a world that existed long before we arrived.
That societal expectations can often be an unforgiving prison.
That life is both too short and too long to spend in regret.
That a life of kindness, selflessness and generosity does not always guarantee a fair or happy end.
The sometimes purpose can bloom from loneliness.
That a single soul can radiate enough light to drive away the world’s dark.
That it’s possible to be remarkably beautiful both inside and out.
That one person can change the world if they care enough.
That my daughter has no idea yet, how privileged she is to be related to such an incredible woman, even only having shared 28 days on this earth together.

We patronize the animals for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they are more finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other Nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.
— Henry Beston