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Grandma’s Love Is Always There

Grief,Grandmother,Moana,Gramma Tala,Walt Disney Pictures

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. Given my own love for my grandmother, the love between Moana and her Gramma Tala really touched my heart.

Grandma and I around 1990

Gramma Tala understood Moana in a way that only a grandmother can. She provided insight, advice and guidance, as well as perspective and grounding in family.  She understood Moana for who she was and for who she could be. For me, their relationship was probably the most meaningful part of the film, and the quote, “There’s nowhere you could go that I won’t be with you” has stayed with me. I, too, shared a uniquely special relationship with my Grandma. Last week was 20 years since she left this world, and I related to Moana’s pain as she had to let go of her Gramma.

My grandmother loved being called Grandma, and said it was the greatest honor to be a grandmother. So, throughout this post I will simply call her Grandma.

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 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. The best shopping I ever did was in her closets and drawers. 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.

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 an appreciation of and particular compassion for elderly people that I have to this day.

(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.

Making humentashen is a tradition that started a long time ago!

I made humentashen today, on her birthday, because Purim is next weekend. It could very easily have made me feel terribly sad and lonely. But, today I found comfort in the thought that it’s pretty perfect to be doing something on her birthday that created such a strong bond between us. And, for followers of my blog, I made them on the table I got that replaced Ben’s (click for post). It didn’t feel quite right, but I know he’d still be happy that I’m baking.

Making humentashen on Grandma’s birthday, March 5.

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.

Happy Birthday, Grandma. I love you and miss you.
And, there are 150 humentashen: 41 apricot, 30 prune, 27 poppy seed, 35 raspberry and 17 pumpkin-pecan

Thinking of Grandma

If you’ve followed my recent posts, you know that February has been a difficult month for me, with several anniversaries. My dad’s birthday and day he died. Ben’s birthday. And now, today, February 23, the day my Grandma, Dora, died. Since her birthday is coming up, and things have been rough with these milestones, I want to respectfully acknowledge this date and my love for my grandma, but I will wait until March 5, her birthday – at least a happier date – to write more about her.

I grew up in a house with my grandma. I was also with her in that house when she succumbed to cancer. We knew the best and worst of each other and loved each other unconditionally. She is a part of so many memories, and of much of who I am, and for that I am grateful.

I am thinking of you today, Grandma. You are always in my heart and I love you and miss you.

To My Mickey, With Love From His Minnie

 

Today, February 21, is Ben’s birthday. As I often do, I have been reminiscing by looking at old photos. While looking at our most recent birthday pictures, I was reminded about his table that broke over the holidays and, in so doing, broke my heart. That ugly, shaky table held many birthday cakes and other celebrations. I’m glad to have those pictures. I’ve put together a video of photos from some of these occasions, and, of course, some Walt Disney World photos. Some were taken when he had ALS and some in the pre-ALS days. The love was always there, so I embrace all of the memories.

In the background, you will hear The Beatles’, “Happy Birthday.” Ben woke me up with that song every year on my birthday. Now, I am playing it for him.

While it’s emotional to make these videos (click here for the one I made for my dad), I also find it comforting to revisit beautiful memories. It is a good way to focus my attention when I’m feeling down and a positive way to deal with grief. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with tears, but tears are okay.  So are smiles.

No candle on a cake now, but always wishes that he is comfortable, and running, singing and eating to his heart’s delight. And, wishes for a cure for ALS, because wishes do come true, even if, as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother says, “even miracles take a little time.”

When Ben proposed to me, he asked me to be His Minnie. So, I now say

Happy Birthday to My Mickey!

With much love and pixie dust from His Minnie

Walt Disney World, Halloween

Ben and I at Walt Disney World, Halloween 2011

So This is Love… The World According to Cinderella

Cinderella, Disney, ALS, Grief, Caregiving

Walt Disney World
July, 2014

 

“Cinderella” is celebrating a birthday today. The film was released on this date in 1950. She was my favorite princess when I was a child. She remains dear to my heart because there is more to Cinderella than what meets the eye. She had feistiness and determination, and also a loyalty to her father’s memory that let her tolerate the poor treatment by her stepmother and stepsisters and maintain her dignity. Cinderella knew the power of dreams, and in the end, all of those qualities got her the love of the prince of her dreams and a position of respect and power!

Cinderella knew at her core that, despite treating her horribly, “They can’t order me to stop dreaming.” There’s a good life lesson. I know that people sometimes think I’m unrealistic because of my Disney love and its connection to wishing and dreaming. On the contrary, as the caregiver for my dad and for Ben, I was hit with harsh realities on a daily basis. Dreaming and wishing were my escape. They encouraged me to find creative ways to solve problems. And, they allowed me to envision a future where my dad and Ben had peace and comfort. Now, as I work through grief, dreams help me to redefine myself and reshape my life. No one can tell me that dreams are not valuable and important.

It’s pretty cool to make dreams come true, too. Ben wanted so much to go to Walt Disney World as often as possible. That last trip we took, in July 2014, was a dream come true for him. It was a challenge, and I wished a lot for things to go smoothly. They went fantastically! We even had a Walt Disney World Halloween in July! Now THAT’s pixie dust and Disney magic at their finest!

Ben and I with Cinderella
Walt Disney World
July 2014

Maybe you didn’t literally talk to your Fairy Godmother, but I imagine that a lot of readers have had a similar conversation with someone, or with themselves, and questioned their faith that they could handle things or that things would be ok.

Cinderella,Disney,ALS,Grief,Caregiving

Cinderella, 1950
Walt Disney Productions

During caregiving days, when my dad and/or Ben was struggling, knowing that in the end I was going to lose them, it was easy to lose hope and optimism. In those times, I had to thank goodness for the insight and “Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo” of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. For me, the dreams and the wishes got me through very difficult and sad days of terminal illness and caregiving and feeling that nothing I did really mattered. There were no cures, no one was going to get better, and things were becoming more difficult. But, I could dream, and those dreams helped me keep the faith.

There is a song in the film, “So This is Love.” The song is sweet and romantic, and love is beautiful. In the rough times, it is easy to lose sight of those feelings. The thing is, when we are watching someone struggle with illness or we are struggling with caregiving responsibilities, we accept these challenges, and embrace them, because this is love. It’s that simple. And, that complicated.

At the heart of the film is the song “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.”

A dream is a wish your heart makes
When you’re fast asleep.
In dreams you will lose your heartaches.
Whatever you wish for, you keep.
Have faith in your dreams, and someday
Your rainbow will come smiling through.
No matter how your heart is grieving,
If you keep on believing,
The dreams that you wish will come true.

I’ve always been a dreamer. I believe that my wish came true that my dad and Ben are both at peace, even though grief is hard for me. I’ve written before that I will wish for and dream about cures for ALS, and also for cancer and the many other horrible diseases. Sometimes it seems futile, but I remember that Fairy Godmother said, “Even miracles take a little time.”

 

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

 

Today, February 15, would be my dad’s birthday. It’s a strange and melancholic kind of time, with the anniversary of his passing just two days ago and Valentine’s Day yesterday.  But, there are so many good memories on which I try to dwell during these down days. My dad is always in my heart and thoughts, and at this time I would like to take the opportunity to put him front and center and share glimpses of his life. My dad never wanted to make a fuss over his birthday. But, we always did. And he deserved it.

I realized as I was preparing this video that my dad was not in so many pictures because he was always the one taking the photographs.

The background music is “From The Hall of Montezuma,” the USMC hymn. He would love that. He loved dogs, the USMC and his family. The camouflage coat you will see was an homage to the USMC, and he liked telling people that he wore it when he went outside and tried to hide among the greens from his mother-in-law, my grandmother. I had to include it in the slide show.

I was a Daddy’s girl and I was his life and his caregiver. I wrote more about him a couple of days ago, on the third anniversary of his passing. Click here to read that post.

Happy Birthday, Daddy! I love and miss you.