My grandmother, Gee Gee, died yesterday from complications related to her Alzheimer’s disease, but instead of being sad (though there’s definitely some of that), I find myself overwhelmingly filled with love and a sense of understanding that makes me smile.

She was ready to go, there’s no doubt about it, but these feelings aren’t coming from a place of relief — for her or for those of us who imagined how she must’ve been suffering — no, they’re coming from the fact that in her death she is shining a huge, contrasting light on all the life that’s here before us.

At the most basic level this “life” is the family that exists because of her — my mother, my sisters, my aunt, my uncle, my cousins and nieces and nephews — all beautiful beyond words and all quite the legacy. However, the “life” I’m specifically referring to is this whole thing — the moment we’re living in now and sharing with everything — the “life” that, through the gift of her death, shines brightly waiting only to be celebrated and lived with love. Grateful for this, my smile continues to get bigger, and if I was my 91 year old grandmother, that’s the only way I’d want it to be.

If you want something, know who to ask..

It’s funny, but when I think of my grandmother, it’s difficult for me to think of her outside the shadow of my grandfather. They always seemed like the unlikeliest of pairs — like Laurel and Hardy or the Odd Couple. I guess that’s what made her so interesting to me, how she navigated their relationship with such patience and humor, and how at the oddest times she’d step out from under my grandfather’s large personality and steal the show.

As kids — and even as adults — if there was something we wanted from my grandparents, we knew exactly who to go to. My grandfather tended to be a stickler about things, but my grandmother — for whatever reason, maybe because she liked being contrary to my grandfather — would give us whatever we asked for. This worked out especially well, when, at an early age, I fell in love with my grandfather’s hawaiiana/tiki oddities. Whether it was in a box or tucked away in some corner, it made little difference, invariably if you asked my grandfather for it, he would say no. But, if you asked loud enough or if my grandmother was in the same room, then, well, you could be pretty sure you’d be going home with your object of desire. “He won’t even know it’s gone”, she’d say, as she handed it to you on your way out the door.

Sausage talk

To say my grandmother had some strong opinions about things, would be an understatement. Where they came from, God only knows, but more often than not, these opinions (in my opinion), would be downright ridiculous. Sometimes I would just laugh and roll my eyes, while other times my liberal Berkeley leanings would compel me to respond. I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere with her, but if I could get her to that place where she’d had enough, then what’d come next would make it all worthwhile. Push her to that point where in her mind the conversation was over and you’d invariably hear, “Oh please, you’re talking like a sausage”.

Now, I’m not a linguist, but I have a fairly good understanding of the dynamics of language, and how you combine words is pretty important. For example, the following combination of words (expressions, if you will) — I love you; the tea is good; the hippo is fat; shut your mouth — regardless of how often you’ve heard them, or even if you haven’t, will always make sense. My grandmother, who was not a dadaist, somehow managed to come up with an expression, that while making absolutely no sense at all (unless, of course, you’re a dadaist, and even then, I’m not so sure), paradoxically — almost poetically — makes all the sense in the world.

Is that Griffith Park I taste?

It’s hard to say, but I think it’s an established fact that my grandmother was an excellent cook. Somewhat of a foodie myself (yeah, I said it) and knowing several chefs, I’ve learned it’s extremely beneficial to have an open mind where ingredients are concerned, as great things can often come from unexpected sources. My grandmother understood this and could be counted on to turn out some pretty interesting dishes.

When my sister M and I were very young, our grandfather taught us how to catch crawdads with just bacon tied to a string. For whatever reason, this method of fishing sparked our imaginations, and whenever we got near a lake or a stream (size and location weren’t an issue), we’d scour it for crawdads. Fortunately for us, my grandparents lived near Griffith Park in Los Angeles, and through Griffith Park ran a little stream and in that little stream were — you guessed it — crawdads (I’m not exactly sure why).

Catching these little creatures was a lot of fun, but what we really looked forward to was how my grandmother cooked them. What her recipe was precisely, I don’t really know, but I’m sure it began and ended with butter. Now, there are a lot of great chefs in the world and you can bow down before as many Rachael Ray’s, Emeril Lagasse’s or Wolfgang Puck’s on the Food Network as you like, but I’d like to see them make a tasty crustacean dish with the city-licious flavor of Griffith Park.

Behind door number one…

The truth is, we’re all so much more than our bodies. This thing that we flop around in is temporary; it’s going to get old, it’s going to get wrinkles, its breasts are going to sag, its neural pathways are going to become damaged and stop firing, it’ll suffer from erectile dysfunction; it’s going to get ugly, it’s going to poop on itself and, yeah, in the end, it’s going to die. But who we are — who we truly are — is beyond all that.

So, yeah, my grandmother’s body shut down and died, but to think she isn’t here anymore would be a lack of understanding. Just like I never doubted she was still in her home after we’d visit and say our goodbyes, I have no doubt she is with us now. Of course, my grandmother would probably say I’m talking like a sausage, but, hey, if the shoe fits…

I love you Gee Gee. Thanks for switching the light on.

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