My grandma died on Thursday morning. She was 99.
She had all of her wits about her until her last few days. I was with her on Wednesday and held her hand for hours while she slept. She only opened one eye one time in three days. It was when I kissed her and announced to my parents that I was leaving. So I stayed.
To be honest, there wasn’t much wrong with her health-wise except that she was 99, weak from old age, and totally bored with her nursing home lifestyle. Who could blame her? This was a woman threw herself into everything she ever did. Sitting around and having lunch were not activities to her. Not for the grandma who taught me how to ice-skate when she was 68 or owned and ran her own business well into her seventies.
When she finally did retire from her business, she started volunteering for the Chicago Botanic Garden and, at 95, she was honored for having the most volunteer hours. Not a ton of 95-year-old philanthropists who get their hands dirty on the North Shore, or anywhere, for that matter, but it was her thing.
My grandma never missed an opportunity to be around nature, which was one of her true loves besides me (her only grandchild), my mom (her only child) and her own parents. She had a wonderful relationship with my dad, who took care of her as if she was his very own mom until her last day. They laughed together and loved each other tremendously, even when they teased each other unmercifully.
She loved the beach and swimming in Lake Michigan, which is something she did regularly, when the Chicago weather allowed, until sometime in her eighties. She loved birds and spent a lot of my life pointing them out to me despite the fact that I have a secret fear of our feathered friends (they ain’t no friend o’ mine).
She smoked tons of cigarettes (because apparently there was a time when people believed they weren’t bad for you), loved fashion and owned 2 women’s clothing stores, drank bourbon (I’m still not convinced I know exactly what that is), baked cookies for anyone who came through her door, and was fiercely independent.
Her cars smelled like smoke, like almost everything else she owned did, but she always let me drive, from the minute my parents taught me how, even though I was too young to have a license. I’m guessing it was more about her not having to drive, than me being allowed to drive, but the 14-year-old me didn’t care about the reason.
She was Jewish but thought that the “other” holidays were much prettier than Chanukah or Rosh Hashanah, so every year, she lugged a Christmas tree up to her apartment for the two of us to decorate. We dyed Easter eggs, made Christmas cookies, and on top of getting all 8 nights of presents, I was also spoiled with an overflowing stocking and tons of ‘morning of’ presents. I was one lucky only grandchild.
But the best part about my grandma, besides that fact that the woman was perfectly manicured with her standard dark red polish, beautifully coiffed, and elegantly eyebrow-waxed up until her very last day on earth, was her warmth.
Everyone liked my grandma. It was impossible not to.
She had plenty of friends her own age, but I’ve never met a woman who had so many young people that loved her too. She was easy to get along with, incredibly interesting AND interested, and fun-loving that she attracted the young and the old. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be at a restaurant and have a random 20-something ask how my grandma was doing.
My friends spent almost as much time with my grandma as I did, and based on what I’ve heard since she’s passed away, they loved her almost as much as I did too. She would take us ice-skating, drive carpool if my parents were working, or let us hang out at her house when we were done meeting the boys uptown in junior high. Whatever we wanted-within reason, of course-my grandma provided.
She had cool stories about knowing Donna Karan when the young designer worked for Anne Klein, a funny one about a model who hit on her during a market runway showing, and little tidbits about famous fashion designers from her days in the industry.
When I was 5, she let me stumble down the catwalk in a fashion show for her store in front of dozens of customers, wearing my mom’s gold wedding shoes and a designer-maxi-skirt-(it was just called “long” back then and I think it was YSL?)-turned-strapless-dress by little old me.
She came to every play, every dance recital, every ice show, every meet, every basketball game that I cheered at, and even endured a long photo session at my bat mitzvah and wedding, despite HATING having her picture taken.
She met and loved my husband, she met and loved my kids.
She hated when my hair was in my face, but she loved me more than anything in the world. And I’ll never forget any of it.