My dear sweet grandma Carrie has passed away. I haven’t had the heart to write anything about it or even talk about, as so many in my family have already done so well during eulogies or after the nightly service during our seven days of mourning. Each night, the Rabbi turns to the small crowd and asks if anyone has anything they’d like to say, and I bury my head while others share memories and anecdotes of this remarkable woman. But none of my words or thoughts seem to adequately capture who she was or what she meant, and the task of encapsulating someone’s full life and spirit seems insurmountably daunting.
Every story or thought I have is followed by, “but she was so much more than that.” She was a young woman with a new baby who kissed her husband off to war. She was a small child going off to Hebrew school, the only girl in the class. She was a 10 year old girl who found the strength to raise a baby sibling. She was a woman of 50 who got her driver’s license for the first time so that she could more easily see her grandchildren. She was a young widow with the strength to reinvent herself. And, as a granddaughter, I have no doubt there were aspects that I never knew about this strong but gentle, fiercely loving, creative, and dignified woman.
But to me, she was my grandmother and the anchor and heart of my whole family. And here is the one memory I have which came back to me in a flash when I first got the news that she had passed:
I was 6 years old sitting in her kitchen. My grandmother carved out large spaces for each of her grandchildren to have “special time” with grandma. She’d take us shopping, out to lunch, to the movies. This day, I was coloring at her kitchen table. It was about mid-day and she was probably preparing lunch or washing carrots for a snack. Then she turned around, leaned her back on the sink, wiped her hands on her apron, and asked me to come over to where she stood. I put down my crayons and walked over not knowing what she wanted. And when I got there she just hugged me. She wrapped her arms around me and swayed and said, “Kimmy I just love you so much.”
It wasn’t a hug goodbye or hello or goodnight. It was a hug in the middle of the day, in the middle of doing other things because she needed to love her grandchild in that soft and all-encompassing way of grandmothers.
My grandmother was many things, but that hug was who she was to me. She saw me fully and knew me well. We could talk about anything and did not always agree. But I always knew she focused on best parts of me, and I always knew I would be loved. And to be the object of that enormous and unconditional love is astounding and has made me a different person that I would have otherwise been.
All religions have rituals and idioms to comfort those who are morning. “He’s with Jesus now.” “She’s in a better place.” “May they rest in peace.” It’s all about what’s happening to our loved one now.
But in Judaism we say this: “May her memory be for a blessing.” It’s about what that life meant and how those memories will comfort those left behind.
My grandmother’s life was a blessing to us all. It changed us, improved us, taught us and sustained us. Right now, her memory is bitter sweet. We’d all rather have her here with us.
But as so many have told us this past week, her memory will be soon be a blessing to us all. We’ll think of her when we travel, learn, grow and love; when we see beauty or discover new talents. We’ll think of her when we see her gentle, curious and artistic ways in our own children. Her memory will truly be a blessing.
We will always love you grandma Carrie.