My grandmother passed away yesterday, peacefully in her sleep. She spent the last few days of her life surrounded by her family and friends. A doctor once told her she’d never live past age 45; she lived to 88.
She saw a lot in those 88 years. She grew up on a barge on the Danube–born, by her own account, at a Romani village by the shore because her parents couldn’t make it to a hospital. As a young woman, fearless, she took up skydiving at a time when it was a brand new idea. She survived the horrors of the second world war, worked with the Yugoslav Partisans, and shared her first kiss with a Jewish stowaway her family smuggled to safety. Her beloved older brother fought with the Partisans, and survived the war only to be shot by his best friend in a dispute over a girl.
When her daughter married an American diplomat and moved to the United States, she and her son followed not long after; they were a tight-knit little family and couldn’t bear to be apart. With her lack of English she had trouble finding work here, so instead she helped raise me and my sister. I always told my friends she was more like a third parent to me than a grandparent.
Of all the people in my family, she was the one who always understood me the best–and the amazing thing is that every single one of us can probably say that. She was not only a grandparent to me, but also often a surrogate grandparent to my friends; she was endlessly generous with her patience, her kindness, and her (usually mischievous) sense of humor.
She was always trying to convince me to be healthier (while, in true Slavic grandmother style, also offering me enormous amounts of food at every opportunity). The next-to-last thing she said to me, lying on her deathbed, was: “You’re so beautiful. I love you so much. Have you lost weight?” She repeated it about ten times.
In the last few years, as her health declined, I’d often sit by her bedside showing her the latest pictures from space, and telling her about stars and exoplanets and black holes and distant galaxes. She never had much interest in science fiction, but was utterly fascinated by science fact. The very last time she spoke to me, she asked me–struggling to get each word out–whether their were any new pictures from Ceres. Curious to the very end.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruling came down making same-sex marriage the law of the land. My mother and uncle joyously told her. We don’t know if she heard, but if she did it would have made her incredibly happy. Just a couple hours later, she passed, according to my mother with a “not bad” expression on her face. She was wearing my rainbow bracelet from Pride.
She adamantly didn’t believe in God, but she often said she believed in reincarnation–although she always said so with such a mischievous twinkle in her eye that I’m still not sure whether she was just messing with me or not. If there’s a heaven, I’m sure she’s there now; if reincarnation is real, I’m sure she’s being born again as something totally amazing as we speak. Regardless, she lives on with all of us.
She was the best person I’ve ever known. Let’s all try to be a little better in her memory: a little kinder, a little braver, a little more generous and patient.