I have so many memories of my grandparents -- some of which I wasn't even around to experience. The family stories, the iconic ancestors, the inside jokes and traditions passed from generation to generation; sometimes it's hard for me to remember where my memories begin and where the stories from before my time are interwoven, becoming a comforting crazy quilt of history that is uniquely my family's.
My grandmother Amy died on Friday, October 19, at the age of 98. She left us peacefully and was cared for in her last days by people who loved her -- two of her three children, two of her six grandchildren and caregivers and hospice nurses, while across the country were the rest of us, sitting vigil from afar. We were all comforted by the knowledge that if there was anyone who had lived life the way it should be lived, it was Amy. I have never known another person who had as much joy and love to share with the world. I can count on one hand the times I saw her angry, and I don't think I ever knew her to be pessimistic about anything. She felt deeply about those she loved, and worried terribly about all of our happiness and the well-being of every one of us on a daily basis. Though she looked as glamorous as could be, inside she was a true "bubbe" (Yiddish for grandmother).
For me, losing Amy isn't just losing a grandmother. In many ways when I was growing up, I was practically another one of her children. With two young kids of her own (9 and 12) when I was born, I was embraced as part of the brood. I most certainly had loving and wonderful parents of my own, but these other four people -- Amy and my grandfather Paul, and my uncle Jon and Aunt Susie -- were a bonus family for me and for my brother, born two years after me. There wasn't ever any sense, at Amy and Paul's house, that we were just visiting -- we were theirs, too. It was wonderful.
We watched a video when we were all together last weekend that my Uncle Jon had made for Amy's 90th birthday celebration. A history of her life through old movies, more recent video, still pictures and, as always, music. The video exquisitely captured Amy in all of her beautiful Amy-ness. Her appreciation of the attention of others was endless and she was always entertaining. Give her a hat and a scarf and suddenly she was singing show tunes. Ask her a question about her life when she was growing up and you were captive for far longer than you expected, listening to tales of her beloved parents, sisters and brothers. An accomplished interior designer, she loved to advise you on how to decorate your home. You could find yourself spending money you shouldn't have on things that transformed a room completely. In the video, Amy and Paul's glamorous friends looked like they had stepped out of an episode of Mad Men, dressed to the nines for a garden party, cocktails in hand.
I will never see her again, or hear her lovely voice saying "Sharon dah-ling" in only the way she could, but I will remember her in these things:
-animal print anything
-the New York Times
-blue and white and yellow
-a mildly dirty joke
-the scents of lilac and lavender
-a beautifully set table
-the democratic party -- she was a lifelong liberal
-the salty smell of the Atlantic ocean
-a midday nap
When my grandfather was a young man in the music business, his company published the music to the song "Once In Love With Amy" from the Broadway musical Where's Charley? On the cover of the sheet music, they featured Amy's picture. The story goes that late one night, he brought home dozens of copies of the sheet music and hung them up all over their apartment in Forest Hills, New York to surprise her when she woke the next morning.
This is family history, the stuff legends are made of.
What a life she lived!