Some years ago, my grandma asked me if I would do her eulogy. I considered this a great honor, and I often thought about how I would ever be able to do justice to this tiny person with such a huge, embracing spirit. For, if the truth were told, my grandma was not just a grandma. She was a force of nature.
Grandma lived large. Everything she did—and she packed in an enormous amount in her almost 88 years—she did with style, generosity of spirit, exuberance and a sense of humor.
She was thoroughly engaged with life. She loved her political shows and had passionate opinions on the news of the day. The central thing you need to know about my grandma, though, is that family was her raison d’être.
She had a more expansive definition of family than many people. To her, love of family meant extending her embracing arms to include not only her children and grandchildren, but also all of her nieces and nephews, grand nieces and nephews, all of whom she was enormously proud. She was the über-Mom, up to the minute on everyone’s life, and the first to spread exciting news about the rest of us.
Often, my grandma would say in wonderment how lucky she was to have the best family. But we were the lucky ones, because we had what may have been the only Jewish mother and grandmother on the planet who didn’t believe in using guilt. It was her way to expect nothing, and to view everything she received as a gift.
My grandma’s philosophy of life could be summed up very simply: cherish what you have, invest in family and the rewards will be incalculable.
She made new friends wherever she went, because she accepted everyone, and judged no one. Even one of the caregivers who only knew my grandma for a short time in the hospital, told us that she “fell in love with that woman” the moment she met her. Grandma had that effect on people.
That’s because Grandma had charisma. First of all, she was a babe. I think of a photo of her from the fifties, lying on a sun cot at the cottage in short shorts, a flower in her hair, a smoke in her hand. That omnipresent cigarette—it was her trademark. If anyone admonished her for smoking, she’d just wave it around and laugh and say, “Well, I’m not going to die young!”
Her style was iconic. There was Jackie Kennedy. There was Audrey Hepburn. And then there was my grandma.
At the core of her being, my grandma was a party girl. She lived for the next occasion where she would don her favourite party dress and white pearl choker—working the room, flitting from table to table with her effervescent energy, gin and tonic alight, announcing herself with a sparkly, “Hi, I’m…!”
One of the legendary party stories about my grandma concerns the time that she and my grandpa were in Detroit for a wedding. The party was being held at a banquet hall with several party rooms. Having had one too many gin and tonics, my grandma led a conga line of alley cat dancers into the next hall, where another family’s Bar Mitzvah and candle-lighting ceremony was in progress. Feeling no pain, she joined a cluster of strangers and lit a candle. To this day, whenever we hear that story, we all die laughing imagining that family looking at their photographs and wondering, ‘Who the hell is that?’
And that was the thing about my grandma. She was just so damn much fun. She was curious and adventurous and up for anything. I have so many memories of her to cherish. She taught me about loyalty and strength and character and determination. She taught me about staying young at heart no matter how old you get, and slamming up against life with gale force. In the end, I like to think of her as a bright shooting star, who streaked through all our lives with dazzling force, lighting up the universe—and our hearts.