Thursday, April 12, 2012

Positively Ageless: A Tribute to my Grandmother

My grandma died on Tuesday after a brave go-round with a rare form of lung cancer. She was 82 years old & still full of spunk, even at the end.

I keep telling myself that for a woman as on-the-go as she was, it must've been agonizing to be confined to a hospital bed, at the mercy of others for everything from using the restroom to brushing her teeth to filling a glass of water. It's better, then, that she went out near the top of her game, only a few months into what could very well have become a long, drawn-out battle. We all expected her to pull through this challenge, so it still feels freshly shocking that she's truly gone - but if the options were death or a loss of her dignity, I know she would've chosen the former.

I flew home on Wednesday to be with my family at my grandma's home in Lima, Ohio. The funeral was held this morning, with a burial at the Jewish section of the local cemetery, where her husband & parents are all laid to rest. It was a moving, meaningful ceremony, conducted by her favorite rabbi & attended by more than 50 of her friends & family members, a tribute to the full & busy life she led.

I had the honor of delivering one of four eulogies for my grandmother, joined at the podium by my two younger cousins. Though it took me nearly 48 hours to figure out how to appropriately pay tribute to the most amazing woman I know, I found that once I discovered the words, the delivery was the easy part. The mourners in attendance laughed as much as they cried; together, we celebrated the beautiful, long life of a woman who loved nothing more than being alive.

The full text of my eulogy is below, & I hope it gives you a sense of the kind of woman my grandmother was. To say she will be missed is an understatement; to say she will continue to be loved is even more of one.

I spent the last 48 hours agonizing over what to say in a eulogy for my grandmother. What could I possibly say? How could I narrow it down? Last night, I found inspiration in an unexpected place. As I rummaged through my her vanity for a nail file, I came across a drawer full of moisturizer called "Positively Ageless." Simple as it was, I was struck by it because I realized that that was exactly the phrase I was looking for to describe my grandmother: "Positively ageless."

I distinctly remember being nine years old and at the Ohio State Fair with my grandparents, who let me stop to play one of those guessing games, where you get a prize if the fair employee guesses your age incorrectly. The guy guessed my grandma's age at 51; she was 64. But it wasn't just her youthful looks that made her ageless; it was also her outlook & her active lifestyle. My grandma wasn't one for naps or sleeping in; to her, life was worth waking up early for, & she always said, "I'll sleep when I'm dead." When other grandmas were baking comfort foods like chocolate chip cookies, mine was making things that were a little bit more unconventional, like soy chili and lemon sorbet. When other grandmas were curled up in front of fireplaces knitting, mine was walking miles a day, traveling all 50 states & across the world, to Japan & Greece & Israel & beyond. When other grandmas were slow-paced & laid-back, mine was living her life full steam ahead.

My grandma was a character in the very best kind of way. She was a fantastic, talented, creative painter, and her basement was filled with watercolors and supplies and dozens of works of art in progress. She was a bit of a neat freak, & whenever she came to visit my mom & me, she'd clean our home so well that we'd be unable to find anything for weeks after she left. She was thoughtful: For more than a decade, she sent me Milk ads torn out of all her magazines for my ever-growing collection, and she wrote me a check at every holiday, even Halloween. She went by her middle name, like me, but didn’t think it was a problem, like I do; when I was a teenager, she accompanied me to the DMV to argue with them when they refused to put my middle name on my driver’s license – and, of course, she convinced them to change their minds. A proud liberal, my grandma campaigned for John Kerry & Barack Obama, even in conservative little Lima, & she regularly sent letters of political protest to her Republican Congressman. She was on the board of the Friends of Lima Public Library & of Temple Israel Shaare Zedek, &between those & her other commitments, it sometimes seemed like she knew everyone in town. She was funny, too, whether intentionally or not, & one of my favorite memories is of the time I asked her for a plain bagel, & she told me, “Oh, I have something similar. It’s called an everything bagel. You just brush the stuff off," which I pointed out to her was the exact opposite of a plain bagel. Headstrong, whip-smart, & more than a little stubborn, my grandma was the matriarch of our little family - but she was also our peacekeeper, our cheerleader, & our friend.

Cliche though it may be, I will always remember my grandmother as someone who truly lived her life to the fullest. This is a common thing for people to say about their loved ones, but in this case, it couldn’t be more true: My grandma was one of the most incredible people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, much less of being related to, & we are all better off for having known her. She was an active participant in her own life, & she refused to let age or even illness affect her relentless optimism - something we could all take a lesson from. Instead of sitting back and letting time pass her by, she seized – and created – opportunities for learning and adventure.

Cancer may have caused my grandmother’s death, but it certainly didn’t take her life. She was, in a phrase, "positively ageless."

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