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 us – my family.
My grandmother Amy died on Friday, October 19, 2012 at the age of 98. She left us peacefully, cared for in her last days by people who loved her – two of her three children, two of her six grandchildren, caregivers, hospice nurses – each of whom was deeply moved and affected by Amy’s life, and by the loss they felt when she passed away. Across the country were the rest of us, sitting vigil from afar, 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 met a 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 (nine and twelve) 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 kind of a bonus family for me, and my brother two years later. 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 had made for Amy’s 90th birthday celebration. A history of her life through old movies, more recent video, still pictures, and of course, as always, music, it exquisitely captured Amy in all of her beautiful Amy-ness. Her appreciation of attention was endless and always entertaining. Give her a hat and a scarf and suddenly she was singing show tunes. Ask her a question about her parents and grandparents 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 on how to decorate your home. You could find yourself spending money you shouldn’t have on things that transformed a room completely. Their 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.
What a life she lived!
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 scent of lilac and lavender
-a beautifully set table
-the democratic party – she was a lifelong liberal
-the smell of the 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 her 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. This is family history, this is legendary.
About 15 years ago, I saw the musical Showboat for the first time and was enchanted by the operatic score. When I told Amy about seeing the show, she told me that the song “Why Do I Love You” from that show always made her think of me, sung in one scene by a grandmother to her infant granddaughter. If you listen to the lyrics, you can hear the love I always heard coming from her heart.
This video features many of my family members, all of whom will miss Amy as much as I will.