Last Wednesday, in the wee hours of the morning, our family lost its matriarch, my grandmother. It still seems somewhat unreal, as we all grapple to come to terms with it and the family gradually works our way home to say goodbye.
As I sit alone in LAX waiting for my flight, I can’t help but think of our Sha-Sha and how to describe what a special soul she was. She was truly a remarkable woman, a remarkable human being, and we were all the better for having known her.
There are so many stories I could share. I could talk about how, at more than 90 years of age, she still raised a dubious eyebrow at the cane her doctors handed her. Instead, would take my husband’s arm and whisper, “I’ll just hold on to you. That way I don’t look like a crotchety old woman, and you’ll look good with me on your arm!”
I could tell you how, in her 70s, she still hopped in a bus or a taxi every week and traveled across town to keep her ailing sister in law company, playing bridge and watching Countdown and poking and prodding at Marie to put on something nice, for goodness’ sake, and go out to lunch.
Or I could tell you how she weathered the death of two husbands, all of her brothers, her dearest friends and, eventually, her son. She did this with an unwavering faith in God’s plan for her, a quiet reassurance that all pain can be borne with God by her side.
She raised 7 children alone, in an era where women were expected to defer to the wisdom of a man in all things. More than that, she raised children that were all successful and strong. Doctors, scientists, teachers and parents themselves. She didn’t always approve of their choices, she didn’t always agree with their values, but she stood behind every one of them and shared in their joys and their sorrows equally.
She was a wonderful grandmother. Loving and warm, funny and quirky. She adored all of us, and knew the hopes and dreams of each one completely. You could find her, more often than not, absorbed in the excited ramblings of a seven year old girl who had another idea for a book. Or cleaning the skinned knees of a little boy before a kiss and a cuddle that fixed all ills. Or crooning a lullaby to a sleeping baby in her arms. She was the kind of person who always had more love to give, more time to talk and more attention to give.
Don’t get me wrong; my grandma was not your sweet little old lady with candies in her purse. She was a force of nature. She had a flair for the dramatic, which served her well in her singing career and her later years when she acted in amateur theater. She was meticulous about her appearance, always making sure her nails were polished to perfection and often accessorizing with a jaunty scarf and brooch. She loved to tell me that she could have married again as a young woman after her first husband died, but she rejected several proposals in favor of independence.
I still hear her voice in my head when I slouch, telling me in no uncertain terms, “stand up straight, Nemmy! Shoulders back, walk proud like a lady!”
I see her in myself. I see her in my cousins, in my siblings, in my mother and her siblings. She put beauty out into the universe and maybe that’s why she always seemed so beautiful. She was an artist and a singer, who filled the world with color and laughter and joy.
We adored her, we adore her still, and we are all better for having known her. I feel lost without her, but I know she would want us to be happy that she is with her beloved son again and with God. So we all make our way back, to gather and mourn. To comfort and celebrate this vibrant, glorious woman that anchored generations of family together in love.
And as I bid her a final farewell, I’ll hear her voice in my head singing an old, comforting bedtime song.
“Goodnight, sweetheart, well, it’s time to go,
Goodnight, sweetheart, well, it’s time to go,
I hate to leave you, but I really must say,
So goodnight, sweetheart, goodnight.”