Sad things

Hey blog readers,

I don't have a piece of art to share with you today. My dear, wonderful grandma passed away last weekend. It's been a long week, sad and joyful and overwhelming at times. She was 92, so this past week during shiva, we mourned our loss but celebrated the grand life she led, with photos, stories, and memories shared by family and friends.

Since folks have been asking, I thought I'd post a handful of photos and the eulogy I wrote for her funeral.

c. late 1940s/early 50s
early 60s with my Aunt

 1983 with me

 with me and my sister

      I was lucky enough to have both a childhood and adult relationship with my grandmother. In my eyes, she was a pillar of strength and a bottomless well of unconditional, unending love.

      Despite the sadness and loss she suffered, I never heard her express any bitterness about her life. Nor did it affect the love and nurturing she showed me and her entire family. Her children, grandchildren, and our massive extended family of Great Aunts and Uncles and second and third cousins all had the incredible opportunity to be on the receiving end of her love and kindness, often rendered in the form of her delicious cooking.

      Grandma was the ultimate Jewish grandmother. Our visits began and ended in her cozy, plaid-papered kitchen, where we were showered in edible love. From the Schneper family stuffed cabbage to a Thanksgiving table that sagged under the weight of days of cooking to her yeast cake, my grandma was a cook unlike any other. 

      About ten years ago, I was in West Caldwell for a conference, and I knew that if I told my Grandma that I would be stopping in to see her, she would make an enormous fuss. I really didn’t want her to go to any trouble, so after the conference, I called to tell her I was around the corner and would love to stop in and give her a hug. Without hesitation, she told me to come right over. She ushered me into the kitchen—her inner sanctum—and despite my protests that I didn’t want her to go to any trouble, in less than 7 minutes, a 3-course meal magically appeared on the table. I made her sit down and eat with me, but not only did she feed me a dinner far beyond any expectation, she also sent me home with two mangoes from her fruit bowl and a leftover turkey leg.

      Grandma’s do-it-yourself, make-things-from-scratch, attitude didn’t just stop at the kitchen. She built and decorated a dollhouse for all of her grandchildren to play with. She was a whizz on a sewing machine, as my mom has already said, and when I was a child, made me and her other granddaughters clothes and accessories for our dolls and toys, and when I was older, she helped me with my own sewing projects.

      She also did as much outside as inside. On one visit I remember we arrived just after she had been on the roof replacing a cracked shingle all by herself. She cared for her yard by herself well into her 80s, waging an annual war on the poison ivy out back, to be sure that her grandchildren, running around outside, wouldn’t end up itchy. Her home was a study in love, and in the heart that goes into handmade objects and into a so lovingly cared for space.

      When we were children, Dina and I loved visiting her in that house. We were lucky enough to spend more than one sleepover in West Caldwell. Grandma always had a full weekend of activities planned for us, from tie dying and decorating t-shirts to teaching us how to make her yeast cake to walks in the little woods in her neighborhood. On one of those visits, she also taught me how to make a bridge while shuffling a deck of cards and how to whistle with a piece of grass, both excellent skills that I still use. After these magical weekends, Dina and I would leave her homemade, heart-shaped notes beneath her pillow to find after we’d left. In our little-kid way, we tried to show her just how much she meant to us.

And as we got older and our relationship evolved and changed, Grandma never stopped showing us how much she loved each of us. Instead of crafts and sleepovers, she shared stories about her life and childhood, she asked us about our lives and art projects, and she wrote us letters when we left for college. These letters weren’t just a small gesture in thoughtfulness, but were yellow envelopes filled to the brim with love. Every letter always came with something sweet, usually a package of her favorite Swedish fish, and the Sunday comics. Not only did she send the entire Sunday Section, but she clipped out several dailies during the week. Every day of the week, she would cut out her favorite, “For Better or For Worse” and our favorites, “Get Fuzzy”, “Non-sequitor” and “Zits” out of the paper, date them, sometimes annotate them with her own hilarious comments, and staple them together and send them out. Finding one of those thick yellow mailers in my box at Smith would cheer me unlike anything else.

      My grandmother, like her home, like the thoughtful things she did for each of us, was a study in love and generosity. Her love never came at a price or with any conditions. She loved me, my sister, and all of her grandchildren wholly and with all of her heart. She was one of the strongest women I’ve ever met, and she supported and cared for all of us beyond anything most of us will ever know again. I am so grateful to have known her, to have loved her and been loved by her, to have so many memories, and like everyone here, I will miss her very very much.

 more recently with me and my sister

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