We left the hospital at 2am, and got the call at 6am. She’s gone, and I’m heartbroken.
She was born Evelyn, but everyone called her Peggy. I called her Grandma. (1924-2003.)
Update: This is the eulogy that I wrote for her funeral yesterday.
My grandmother was a truly amazing person. She was brilliant, compassionate, and outgoing, a fantastic dancer with a sense of humor, and without any ego at all. In other words, exactly like me!
Seriously, though, we have a lot in common. Among other things, I inherited her curly hair, her mind for trivia, and her obsession with books and music… She preferred mystery novels and jazz standards, while I liked science fiction and rock n’ roll, but those differences are only skin-deep. Like she always said, “I guess that’s why they make chocolate and vanilla ice cream.” (She preferred butter pecan.)
That reminds me of one small difference between us: she was an amazing cook, while I still have trouble boiling water. Meatballs with all-day sauce, stuffed shells, followed by icebox cake… It was all so good. You could walk into her apartment and pass out from the smells alone. It makes me hungry just thinking about it.
And when I’d walk home from elementary school and let myself into her empty apartment, there would always be a note on the TV, telling me that there were cookies and milk in the fridge. It’s the little things… I always knew that she was thinking about me.
As we both grew older, we grew even closer. I did some pretty terrible things in high school, but she always took my side, even when I was clearly in the wrong. She defended and protected me, mostly from my mom.
Years later, at my wedding, she serenaded us in a garden in Cambria, accompanied by a jazz band. She sang, “It had to be you, wonderful you… It had to be you.” She had such a beautiful singing voice, and I swear, she must have known the lyrics to every single song written before 1959.
We shared a dance afterwards. Even though I was taller than her, she still made me feel like a little boy, as we danced cheek-to-cheek. It was the best day of my life.
When I think of her, I think of her warm embrace. On my bad days, she would hold and comfort me. Grandma would wrap me in her arms and protect me from the rest of the world, and make me feel that everything was going to be all right.
Even in her hospital bed, holding her hand and listening to her soft breath, I wanted to kick my shoes off and be hugged by those safe, strong arms. But I just held her hands and whispered, “I love you, Grandma… I love you.”
During one of our visits to the hospital, she woke up from a deep sleep and tried to make her way to the bathroom. She leaned against me to steady herself and swayed with tiny steps. We slowly spun around, dancing in the light from the hospital window. She looked off in the distance and I heard her softly sing… “S’ wonderful, S’ marvelous… That you should care for me.” And as quick as it begun, it was over. It was our last dance together.
Our family is a tree, with all the branches and leaves leading back to a strong and sturdy woman with roots deep in the ground. It’s difficult to imagine life without her, the foundation that gave us all life. Knowing that my own children will never know her, never be able to feel that embrace. It makes me sad.
But then I remember another song, written by Irving Berlin, sung by Ella Fitzgerald:
The moon descended
And I found with the break of dawn
You and the song had gone
But the melody lingers on
Her body may be gone, but she lives on in the deepest fiber of our being. Her life and blood and memory live on in us, her children and grandchildren and, soon, her great-grandchildren. And long after I’ve passed on, all those qualities that made her my Grandma will linger on in my children’s children.
We’re her legacy and life’s work, and I’m proud and grateful every day to belong to such noble blood.