Remembering My Grandmother Who Couldn’t Remember

Yesterday, we buried my grandmother.

Answer to the first question: No. No, it was not the spunky one who’s always featured on my Facebook page. I’m (thank G-d) not mourning the loss of the star of my tales of adventure (may she live and be well and continue adventuring forever. Amen).

I am saddened by the loss of my other grandmother. The private one. The silent one. The behind-the-scenes one.

And in a world where being center-stage is glorified, where public = appreciated, where a life well lived is one featured on Twitter, the media, Instagram, and with #YouOnlyLiveOnce glory, ‘the quiet grandmother’ is a hard family member to be.

Just like ‘the quiet person’ is probably a hard person to be.

But there was so much in her silence.

There were no grand gestures and exclamations of affection. There were whispers. There was refuge. Candy whenever requested, hugs whenever necessary, TV whenever desired.

(Don’t tell mom, ok? Ok).

There was the Lucky Charms box, with only the cereal remaining. Because I would pour a bowl, pick out the marshmallows, and then refill the box with the dry wheat shapes.

There was the new box every time I came to visit.

There was the cookie tin filled with buttons collected over years. Small. Large. Felt. Square.

There was the bowl of miniature, hand painted eggs.  I used to study each egg in turn and determine the one that most represented my current mood. I’d then arrange them carefully into a pyramid with my day’s egg placed precariously on top.

There were crystal-cut animals dwelling atop a mirrored tray. My nose would rest on the dresser as I admired the way the light shattered upon touching them.

There was warm milk and honey before bed. There were paper dolls which she helped me color in.

We colored them outside of the lines.

There were no huge vacations or birthday presents. No earth shattering eventful stories. But there were innumerable small things which were really large things.

The individual memories of my grandmother’s home fit together like chain mail armor. Hundreds of small links forming an unbreakable bond.

Or… what should have been an unbreakable bond.

Because much in the way of the vibrant youth faced with the weakness of age, I’m sad to say that I withdrew. As her memory dimmed, I did as well. My presence faded, like the photos featured in the albums of her childhood.

Sure, I still visited every once in a while. That’s true. But I grew weary of holding the hand of someone who no longer knew me. I grew tired of the disappointment elicited from showing family pictures and explaining, ‘this is your daughter’, ‘this is your grandson,’ ‘we love you,’ ‘you love us.’

(Don’t you remember that you love us)?

And although I don’t believe in regrets, I have regrets. I’m pretty sure there are always regrets when it comes to death. There are the times I didn’t visit. There are the days I didn’t call.

And there was the last time.

And on my last time, I brought the photo album and showed her photos of her family. And I pointed, ‘this is your daughter’, ‘this is your grandson,’ ‘we love you,’ ‘you love us.’

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(Don’t you remember that you love us)?

And she showed me the sparkling bracelets on her arm. Which she said she acquired for a steal at the market. She admired the way the light shattered as it touched them.


She wanted to give me one. I refused. ‘You keep them safe for me, ok? They look stunning on you.

‘I love you.’

(Just remember that we love you).

(Please don’t forget that we love you).

Then I imparted that final kiss. The one you give whilst ignorant that it will be the last one. The one which meant pretty much nothing until yesterday.

And then, I left.

And I flew off to bigger and better louder things. Education and vacation and friends and dating and exploring. And my mind was occupied by things of greater consequence.

Until, two months ago, when I saw it.

As soon as I saw it, I knew it was magic. The lily-shaped (maybe legit) crystal candle holder was cut in such a way that rainbows covered the walls whenever a candle was placed within.

And I saw the flicker of the candle and the spectrum of colors and was immersed in the smell of the Lucky Charms, and the feeling of the buttons, and the clarity of knowing which egg represented my day, and the time when I yearned for something just out of my reach. Back when I knew that if I reached far enough… if I could just balance on my tiptoes well enough, I could grasp it.

I was transported to a time when things were clear. When things were simple. When nothing was done for the way it would be perceived or the number of ‘likes’ it would get. When things were just done because they were beautiful.

I was taken back to a time when she remembered that she loved us.

Which, I now realize, is one of the most precious things of all.

So, I bought it.  Because although I’m not married, and although I don’t yet have children,  I want to own something that my grandchildren will look at with awe.

I want to possess something that I can place on my table and view when the internet is down and the lights are out.

Something quiet.

Because if there’s anything that I’ve learned from my grandmother, it’s that you can be grand without being public.

Maybe the truly awesome things are.


May the soul of Perel bas Yitzchok ascend peacefully from height to height.

Image by Elisa Paolini