On the heels of January 13 being the anniversary of my mom leaving this earth, February was filled with anniversaries- my dad’s birthday and the day he died, Ben’s birthday, the date of my grandma’s death, and two and a half years since Ben died. I didn’t mark the 6-month date in a blog post, but I was keenly aware of it. March began with my Grandma’s birthday. All of these events made all the more resonant Widow Tweed’s words to Tod in The Fox and the Hound: “Goodbye may seem forever, farewell is like the end, but in my heart is a memory and there you’ll always be.”
Each year, when I am hit with this block of dates, I relive all over again the losses and how they happened- the hospitals, the VA, the hospices, the crises, the goodbyes, the sadness and fear and even anger. I lament the many ways that life changed with each of these losses, and I think about how I have lost the family that was my bedrock. At a time when I have begun to feel more joy and comfort in memories, and I am gaining perspective on my relationships and my experience with grief, this block of time definitely feels like a setback.
I think back to when my mom died of a sudden massive heart attack, and it completely uprooted my world. My mom and I spoke many times each day, spent so much time together, and when she died I simply did not know how I would go on. For quite some time, every morning I awoke, sat on the sofa trying to decide how I would spend each day, until evening fell, and I could just get back into bed. When I did go outside, something would invariably remind me of my mom and I would break into tears. It was unbearable. Family events without my mom were traumatic. During that time, I was completing my Master’s Degree and I was hired to work with children in a hospital. I relished that time because I had to put my own grief aside for a few hours to focus on the needs of the children, which was rewarding and purposeful. Other than that, the only thing present for me was her absence.
With each subsequent loss, I went through a similar process, though, sadly, I knew more of what to expect. With Ben, the levels of grief were particularly layered and they began during his battle with ALS- loss of the life as we knew it, shifts in our relationship, and, ultimately, supporting his decision to go off life support and preparing to be there for and with him as he left this world on his terms. Experience did not ease the pain of my losses by any means, but maybe it helped me to understand it and adjust more quickly to coexisting with the pain of grief.
Although I did question it when I heard it, I now believe that Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother was right that “Time passed and pain turned to memory” (live action Disney Cinderella, 2015. Click here for that post). I do remember those awful days of grief. At this time of year, in particular, but also at other times, anticipated or unexpected, I still get hit by waves of grief, sadness and missing everyone. But, I also have vivid, beautiful memories of these beloved people. I look at myself and know that they have all helped to shape the person I am today. The memories are loving, and also truthful, and they have offered me a better understanding of myself and those relationships. They have led me to want to offer comfort and support to other caregivers and people in grief and to want to find and keep love in my life.
I’ve come to realize that although I said goodbye, our relationships did not end. Now, I carry our memories in my heart, where they will always be to guide and inspire me and to surround me with love. It is not the same as having them here, but it is a lot.
By the way, The Fox and the Hound is a truly touching story that I highly recommend. It has sweet messages about friendship, loyalty and acceptance.
Today would be my Grandma’s birthday. I was a mommy’s girl, a daddy’s girl and a grandma’s girl. That has stayed with me. You don’t see a lot of emphasis on grandma love in Disney films. Julie Andrews as a grandma and a Queen in The Princess Diaries was a treat, as well as outstanding casting, in my opinion.
How appropriate that last night, Disney Pixar’s Coco won an Oscar for best animated film. Coco was absolutely beautiful, but very emotional, given my own losses. For one thing, the character Coco is young Miguel’s great-grandma, who is delighted by her great-grandson, although her memory of him and of everyone, is fading. But, Coco is loved and respected, cared for by the whole family. My family lived with Grandma, too, and we all cared for her as she succumbed to cancer. I was happy to see Disney tackle the issues of respect for the elderly and memory loss in a sensitive, touching way. Although the film unnerved me and had me in tears at various points, Coco was a powerful, and, actually, a positive reminder that Ben, my mom and dad, my grandma and all of the other people I’ve loved so deeply but lost, are always with me in my heart. I was fortunate to be able to tell my dad, my grandma and Ben that I would never forget or stop loving them. Remembering them keeps them close to me always and, very significantly, it keeps their spirits alive. Click here to read more about Coco and its beautiful messages.
The song from the film, Remember Me, is also lovely and moving. I was so pleased that it was nominated for an Oscar.
Remember Me Lyrics from Coco
Written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Performed by Miguel, featuring Natalia Lafourcade
Though I have to say goodbye
Don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart
Though I have to travel far
Each time you hear a sad guitar
Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be
Until you’re in my arms again
Given my own love for my grandmother, the love between Moana and her Gramma Tala in the film Moana also deeply touched my heart.
I grew up in a house with Grandma, in the same house that she raised my mom and her siblings. There were a lot of memories in that house, a lot of dreams, a lot of happiness, but also sadness. I grew up in that house but my mom and Grandma also died in that house. Grandma and I were very attentive to each other, always calling each other and spending many weekends together. When she was ill I helped with her caregiving, and although I was not her primary caregiver, I was the one she relied on for comfort. At the same time, she wanted to protect me from the fact that she was dying.
From the time I was a child, I was in awe of Grandma and her elegance. I loved her sense of fashion. She had a wonderful way of putting together colors and fabrics and styles. I still have some of her clothing and jewelry. In fact, some of the best shopping I ever did was in her closets and drawers. On a couple of occasions, I was stopped by saleswomen at boutiques because they remembered that before I made a purchase, I called my grandmother for her opinion on an outfit that I was considering. They said they’d never met anyone who called her grandmother. If they knew her, they would have, too. She really had great style. To this day, when I’m feeling lazy about dressing up or putting on make-up- it happens rarely, but it happens!- I hear her warning me that I never know who I am going to meet and I should always look my best. Clearly, she was hoping for a nice, Jewish Prince Charming. My fairytale was not quite exactly her idea of the “tale as old as time,” but Grandma always seemed to understand that I danced to my own beat. Sometimes we frustrated each other, particularly when I challenged her ideas of an ideal life. But, we had a special bond and an unconditional love for each other. And, I know that she would have loved Ben.
Grandma doing my hair. She crocheted my dress. She was very talented! I get my creative streak from her.
Grandma had four brothers and a sister, my great-aunts and great-uncles, and I loved them all dearly. If you read my Valentine’s Day post, these are the wonderful people for whom I made cards when I was growing up. I accompanied my mom and Grandma to visit my great-grandmother at the nearby nursing home almost every day when I was quite young. As a child, it was a fun experience for me because, as I realized in retrospect, the people living there were so happy to see and interact with a child. I loved spending time with my great-aunts and great-uncles. Losing Grandma and my older relatives left a huge void in my life. However, through our loving relationships, I developed a lasting appreciation of and particular compassion for elderly people.
(L-R) Great-uncle Louie, Great-aunt “Tanta” Rosie, Great-Aunt Lillian, Grandma, Great-Uncle Larry. Mid-1980s. I adored them all.
Grandma was very artistic and I inherited her abilities and passion for crafts. She crocheted many aphgans and sweaters, skirts, dresses and ponchos. I remember choosing wool colors with her and how each item had to represent the gift recipient, yet had to be timeless and classic. I can see my own shifting tastes as I look at my childhood aphgan in its pastel colors and then the gray, maroon and cream colors in my college aphgan. I remember waking up in the morning covered with the squares she made while I was asleep. My dollhouse and dolls even got aphgans! I still have many things that she made. They hold such beautiful memories of time spent watching her and learning how to crochet. Eventually, she helped me to make an aphgan of my own. Ben used it often.
Some of Grandma’s aphgans. Far left was from my bedroom, the middle was for college and far right was another design she made for another room. When I woke up, I would often find little aphgans in my dollhouse! I’ve kept them, too.
The aphgan I made with help from Grandma.
Grandma was also a craftsy child, and I remembering discovering and being fascinated by a beautiful ribbon doll that she made when she was young. My mom had it restored and framed, and it hangs in my apartment, another reminder of the artistic sensibility that I share with Grandma. Grandma’s talents extended to the piano, and she inspired me to learn how to play. I never played as well as she did, but she helped and encouraged me to play, and I’ve kept some of the sheet music.
A ribbon doll that Grandma made as a child. I believe that these were popular crafts when she was young.
My mom, on the other hand, was not artistic. Grandma did my hair, helped me pick my clothes and taught me how to bake. I never saw Mommy approach the piano, though she did take guitar lessons with me for a very short time. But, as I’ve written previously, my mom and I shared a sense of whimsy and we were both children at heart. Grandma did not share that sensibility and it made for some amusing times. One of my funniest memories was watching “The Little Mermaid” with both of them, my mom and I giggling like little girls, and then laughing hard as we looked at Grandma, who was staring at the screen in disbelief that we could lose ourselves in the film. OK, so Grandma did not embrace the Disney magic, but she did have a healthy respect for Mickey and Minnie and was amused and enthusiastic when I called her from Walt Disney World to tell her that I’d gotten a Happy 35th Birthday hug from Mickey!
One of our traditions was to make humentashen, the triangular, fruit-filled cookies made during the Jewish holiday, Purim. When I was a child, she taught me my Bubbe’s (great-grandma’s) recipe, and we made the cookies every year. And every year, Grandma admonished my mom, who laughed as she struggled to make the triangle shape and never got it quite right. Family traditions! As Grandma got older, I did more of the work and she supervised. After she died, I continued the tradition, and I even taught Ben how to make them. He loved doing it, and got a kick out of knowing that he, a Puerto Rican, was better at making humentashen than my mom! Every year, he would look up the date of Purim so he could tell me when we had to bake! And, just like Grandma did, we counted how many of each flavor I had. (Counting was a ritual she started as a joke because my dad used to sneak into the kitchen to take the matzah balls she made. ) As Ben’s ALS progressed, he made less and less, but he was always a part of the process, even as the official batter taster. Grandma never knew Ben, but I believe that she watched over us and that she would have loved him. I kept and used her mixer until it finally broke, and I still use her huge wooden rolling pins. And, last year Purim fell in time for me to make the humentashen on Grandma’s birthday, but this year I made humentashen last week, on Ben’s birthday, which I’m sure would have pleased them both (Click here for Ben’s birthday post)
Making humentashen is a tradition that started a long time ago!
Ben and Grandma would be proud of this batch of humentashen.
As Gramma Tala said, there is nowhere I go where Grandma is not with me. So are my mom and dad and Ben. It’s not always enough, and the truth is that sometimes it’s not even close to being enough, but it helps me to know that everywhere I go, and in everything I do, I carry them in my heart and in the person I am. I hope that I make them proud.