In memory

My mother and I tried to enter through the lobby door of the condo this morning, juggling black coffees and glazed donuts for my family. The key code wasn’t working and a resident was kind enough to let us in.

“You changed the code, did you?” my mother asked.

“Yes, a while ago. Must be a while since you’ve been here. Just ask someone up there to tell you what it is,” he said indicating to the apartments overhead.

“Well, she’s dead,” I mumbled as the mirrored elevator doors slid closed. “We would have to go a little higher than that.”

My mom and I giggled. My grandmother would have too. The same way we laughed together in that very lobby 5 years ago November, when she glanced around to see if anyone was looking, then snatched an entire stack of George Bush campaign pamphlets from the mailroom and pitched them down the incinerator chute.

“Not in my building,” she proclaimed.

It was the most rebellious thing she had ever done in her life. I guess it’s never too late.

It’s strange, being here at Momsie’s apartment, waking up this morning on her side of the bed, on her pillow, her smell still hugging me tight and keeping me warmer than even the quilt in the unseasonable cold of Southern Florida this week.

The first thing I did this morning was look for Momsie’s red shoes, the leather slides that we laughed about ten years ago when we realized we both owned the identical pair. I slid my toes in and I looked down to see her feet at the end of my legs, the way I see her hands when I wear the ring that she once wore on her own fingers.

My mother and I, together but alone, took inventory of the closets and drawers. Quietly. Carefully. Trying to keep our emotions in check as we went through the business of purging.

But even as we discarded, we saved, taking mental inventory of Momsie’s world as she left it: Two dozen pairs of slacks (“slacks”) in every shade of tan. A BCBG sweater set hanging crisply among the no-name cardigans purchased at the flea market. A collection of cassette tapes I had made her years ago – Nat King Cole, Andrew Lloyd Weber, The Rogers & Hart Songbook. A DVD of the movie my cousin Ryan had written. Two yellow-tinged hard-cover desk dictionaries from 1957. Countless photo albums. Three drawers full of makeup.

Of course the makeup.

She looked so beautiful, the nurses said when my mother and her siblings arrived at her bedside, so put together, that even on a respirator, her body lifeless and her soul starting to peek around the corner to the next phase, they couldn’t imagine she was nearly 92.

She would have liked hearing that. Maybe she did hear it.

I’m overjoyed to discover that Momsie enjoyed her last day on earth among the living. She went out playing bridge with The Girls, not wasting away in some nursing home in confusion or pain or dementia. Her mind never left her and she didn’t allow her failing body to hold her back. In her final years she danced at my cousin’s wedding, allowing burly men to lift her up in a chair in a Hora five feet over the parquet floor. She knit scarves for her great-grandchildren. She took herself to the movies, calling us with hilarious tales of the rude, loud old people who talked through the quiet parts and asking us to explain the pop culture references.

She exercised in the swimming pool, despite a fear of water. She waited on line for hours to vote for Obama. She baked dozens of her famous frozen blackbottom cupcakes and sneaked them to us in cupped palms even just before dinner. She loved her family with all her might. And she outlived so many friends that at her 90th birthday celebration, she gloated that as vibrant and lively as she was, she was the oldest one there.

“See that one?” she would say a little smugly, eyebrows raised, pointing to a man hunched over a walker. “Eight-three.”

I nearly made it through her bedroom closet, emotions intact, until I was unable to resist the desire to smell her robe. The robe that she had likely worn only two days ago.

It’s hard to reconcile the fact that her smell is still here, filling her home, even as she’s never returning to it.

This is where I suppose there would be comfort for me in the notion of heaven, if only I could convince myself to believe in it. I don’t. But last night, as I drifted up 95 amongst the streaky headlights of the traffic, the song Dancing in the Moonlight came on. And I thought, who knows, maybe she’s dancing with Popsie right now, 20 years after he left us. Maybe somehow somewhere they’re seeing each other again and she’s scratching his back and he’s working on his golf swing, and all is right with the world.

Or maybe she just lives in my heart. I know she lives in my children. And that in itself is plenty.

Momsie was the last of her generation. And with her gone, I can’t help but feel as if the leaves of a strong tree have blown away in the wind, leaving the branches bare, and those of us below more exposed to the world. Not unsafe, but vulnerable. It brings with it that equally disconcerting and reassuring feeling as one generation passes and the next comes to be, that life does go on. And what we have left to show for our time here is one another.

They say you can’t take it with you. But who wants to take it with us, when it’s a greater privilege to leave it all behind.

The last blackbottoms Momsie will ever make are nestled on her freezer shelf right now, and surely they’ll be gone before the week is through.


114 thoughts on “In memory”

  1. Oh Liz, this is a beautiful post that made me laugh and cry. I'm so glad she enjoyed her last days, I'm so glad you have so many beautiful memories, I'm so glad she had you. I love Momsie and thank you for sharing her with me.

  2. What an amazing legacy, Liz.

    We should all be so blessed to have someone like her in our lives.

    Or someone like you who had someone like her in your life.

    Much love to you and your family.

  3. I'm so sorry for your loss. What a wonderful tribute, she sounds like a fantastic lady and how lucky you are to have had her as your grandmother. My thoughts are with you all.

  4. Liz, you are so lucky to have had such a wonderful relationship with such a wonderful grandmother. Clearly, she built a solid foundation of strength, love and humor for her family to continue to build on. Bravo.

  5. This: They say you can't take it with you. But who wants to take it with us, when it's a greater privilege to leave it all behind.

    =lovely. And true. How wonderful you had her in your life!

  6. Oh, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. But what a gift, that she was able to truly live until the very last.

  7. I'm all weepy now. She sounds exactly like the type of woman I want to be when I'm her age.

    You made me miss my Gramma.

    Much love Liz to you and yours.

  8. What a beautiful, beautiful tribute. Wishing your Momsie peace and an undoubtedly lively spirit in her next adventures. -Christine

  9. Agh — in tears. Beautiful tribute, Liz. She sounds wonderful, not all that unlike my 92 year old Grandma Flo, still driving her Cadillac with a lead foot, grumbling for the 'old ladies' to get out of her way.

    My thoughts are with you and your family. Love to you all.

  10. Your Momsie would've loved this post- I need to believe that she's reading it now and is so proud of you- you are her legacy. Much love to your mom xo

  11. Oh Liz.

    So many tears – happiness for the time you shared with her, sadness that her time is over, and my own grief as I continue to mourn too.

    Your Momsie was a gem. Thank you for the reminder to remember the loveliness of our grandmothers' lives.

  12. wow, you are one lucky gal to have had such a great lady in your life. I too hope she's up there dancing and having a great time, even though I'm not really sure there is an upstairs, like you said

  13. There's just nothing like a Bubby, no matter what name she goes by, and it sounds like yours was one of the best.

    I'm sorry for your loss, but so happy for all that you've gained.

  14. So beautifully written. I felt like I was right there peering into her closet with you.

    I'm so sorry for your loss. It's wonderful that you had such a close relationship with her. Enjoy those cupcakes!

  15. Oh, I'm so sorry, Liz. How lucky you are to have grown up with such a funny, spunky woman, and how blessed your girls are to have known her.

  16. I am so sorry for your loss. This piece puts in to words what am amazing woman she was. Thanks for sharing her with the rest of the world through this post.

  17. I am so very sorry for your loss- this post brought tears to my eyes, as reading it took me back to going through this very same activities when my own grandmother passed away nearly 8 years ago.

    Thank you for sharing, and hugs to you and your family.

  18. may her memory be a blessing to you and your family. your post is absolutely beautiful, very moving.

  19. To have lived that long, her mind and joy intact, able to still go out and get together with friends. Still able to show her love to all. That's the way I want to go.

    Best, Dee

  20. Such a beautiful post – thank you sharing with us.
    My mother in law passed away while my husband and I were dating, never got a chance to meet her. But, like you, I always say that she will live on in my children.

  21. That was beautiful Liz, thank you for sharing that. I'm so sorry for your loss but know that in the years that you did have with her, they were extra special.

  22. You might be amused to know that, on the other side of the world, some girl just had to tell a lie about “allergies” because her colleague caught her with tears in her eyes!

    I'm sorry that you've lost somebody so amazing, but also happy that she has left such a beautiful imprint on your life.

    What a fantastic lady! Thank you for sharing this post.

  23. Liz, this is such a heartrendingly beautiful post, paean really. All comfort to you and your family.

  24. This is such a beautiful tribute to her…you capture her spirit in your words and reflections. Thinking of you, and her, and how much love you both shared.

  25. So lovely. I tip my glass of wine to your Momsie and will sneak cupcakes to the kids on a non-dessert night in her memory. Hugs to you all, especially to your mom, another beautiful woman in your family.

  26. I'm sorry. I remember when I lost my grandmother. I miss her but I see her everyday in something or someone.

  27. I am so sorry for your loss. This is a beautiful tribute that gives us all a glimpse into her life and her honored place in yours.

  28. Beautiful tribute, Liz. The last picture gave me chills, and your closing words brought tears to my eyes. A wonderful woman indeed lives on.

  29. She sounds amazing Liz. You gave your family such a wonderful gift in remembering her so vividly through your words.

    I'm going to go call my Meme now.

  30. That is a lovely, moving post. My Grandmother died on Christmas and was the last female of that generation in our family and I also noticed that odd shift. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

  31. Your grandmother sounds like she was loved as much as she loved all of you. What a wonderful life.

  32. I am truly sorry for your loss. How blessed you are to have had your grandmother in your life for so long.

    You may not believe in heaven, but I believe enough for both of us. And even though I never knew your Momsie or Popsie, I love the thought of them dancing around up in Heaven. 🙂

  33. Crying as I read this, realizing there is nothing I can say that hasn't already been said by others.

    She sounds like an incredible lady, and so much reminds me of my own grandmother.

    Love the photo of her in the chair. Looks like she is having the time of her life.

    Thank you, so much, for sharing her life with us. May your memories give you and your family comfort during the sad times.

  34. This is such a lovely tribute, I'm sure your grandmother would be pleased. I'm sorry for your loss, I'll keep you in my thoughts.

  35. I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. For with the loss of Momsie you are suffering a huge loss. But you have gained so much by having her in your life, she is an inspiration to us all.

  36. Olfactory memory is so fierce, isn't it? I remember checking into a hotel room and smelling my grandmother's perfume. It was a bit too strong (the previous guest had really gone overboard is what I thought to myself) but it was reassuring because it was her distinct, familiar scent. Later that day I learned that Grammy had died. I think she came to visit me before going to meet grandpa (in front of Macy's on 34th street, as agreed upon) and showered me with her fragrance to say goodbye.

    Thanks for triggering that memory.

    What you've written is such a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. How lucky you were to to be loved by her. And how lucky she was to be loved by you.

  37. You are very lucky to have had such a wonderful person in your life and that your memories of her live on in your heart. What a beautiful and touching tribute.

  38. Im so moved by your story. that's really all we can ask when were gone that we do leave something behing for those we loved. That's a life well lived. She definately lives on in you. Your memories will bring you comfort.

  39. Amazing people like your Momsie are few and far between. I envy you having someone like her in your life. May she rest in peace and live on in the beautiful memories she left behind.

  40. She sounds like an amazing person!

    I know what you mean about the robe. When my Dad died a few years ago and his robe was still hanging at the top of the basement stairs, washing it was the hardest job I could imagine. I have that robe now (wore it this morning) – I can't look at it without thinking of him. And even though, he'll never meet my husband or my daughter – I look at her and see little bits of him and know what you mean about going on.

    I'm sorry for your loss, but she sounds like someone it was totally worth loving with all your heart – even if it makes the loss harder now.

  41. You are always a wonder – often because you say so well what we ourselves aren't quite artful enough to write. I remember going through my mother's apartment with my sisters – no daughter to be there with me and both boys back in California. Finding small memories (and large) among the drawers and on the shelves. You've brought it back in a way that is a tribute not only to Momsie but to all those mothers gone from us and – as you say – living in our hearts and our children.

  42. A beautiful tribute, Liz. I'm sure your Momsie would have approved. As much as can be sent through the wires of the internet; please know that I send hope that you can smile more then cry as you remember.

  43. I'm so sorry Liz. She sounded like an amazing woman. That photo of her up in the chair at the wedding, you can see the joy. And tossing the Bush pamphlets? What a scamp she was!
    I think your daughters, and their daughters, and so on, will always know they came from a long line of incredible women 🙂

  44. I am so sorry for your loss. You wrote an amazing post for her. it makes me think of my own 94 year old great grandmother. Just remember all of the beautiful memories you have and she will live on forever.

  45. What a beautiful tribute… Thank you for sharing it. So sorry for your loss (even if it does seem like she lived a very happy, full life).

  46. What a beautiful tribute to an amazing lady. Thank you for sharing her with us. I'm so sorry for your loss.

  47. Love the final picture of this post, Liz. That picture is who you are – your past and your future marching joyfully together. So precious.

  48. Hi Liz. My mom once told me that even though people die, our relationships with them never do. I don't know where she heard that from, but when she was telling me this, she had tears in her eyes. Her mom had died nearly 45 years earlier and for the first time in forever for my mom, her mom seemed not so far away any more. Don't know why your post brought that powerful memory back to me. I'm so sorry for you loss. -Monica

  49. Bossy is convinced the best we can do for ourselves is love completely and “get” those people in our lives who, one day, can sit down and describe us in this way. You, and she, rock.

  50. I'm so sorry for your loss. She sounds like a great lady! This is such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it.

  51. I'm sorry for your loss. This is a lovely tribute to wonderful woman.

    I'm here via Neil and commented because I feel compelled to tell you that your Momsie appears to have lived in the same build as my brother does (we live in South Florida too). Perhaps this is Momsie's way of letting you know she's doing fine.

  52. That was a beautiful tribute. And how lucky your children are to have known their grandmother as a strong, dancing, baking, laughing woman.

  53. Sigh. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing her.

    And the smell, yes. The smell of my dad still lingers on his hat, which I've kept. I inhale it regularly, which maybe sounds creepy, but smell is so alive, so visceral, and it comforts me.

  54. I miss her greatly!!! But comforted by the fact we have each other…Please, lets get together soon…You are the Glue!

    Love ya,

  55. I can't believe I'm only now seeing this lovely post. My thought are with you while you continue (and continue, and continue) to say goodbye to someone who clearly meant a great deal to you and your family. It sounds like 'Momsie' would love for you to finish off those frozen black bottom cakes. They sound wonderful – just like your memories.

  56. Thank you so much, to every one of you. Your kindness and generosity of spirit have really touched me, and the comments on this post have brought me so much comfort this week.

    Thank you.

  57. I am so sorry for your loss, but that was a beautiful post. Your Momsie sounds like an amazing woman and I'm so glad you both had each other.

  58. I am so sorry for your loss. This is an amazing tribute.

    Simply beautiful and I think we've all gained a lot simply by reading your words and your memory of this amazing woman.

  59. A beautiful post, made me cry. Best wishes to you and your family- you memories will be with you forever.

  60. I just cried about the death of a woman I never met on the blog of a woman I never met. What a wonderful tribute. I'm so sorry for your loss.

  61. Just loved this post so much. I had a very similar relationship with my grandmother – funniest stories that make me laugh out loud to this day. I take GREAT comfort and delight in the fact that all my kids got know my grandmother and remember her with great fondness. I hope you kept that robe or at least a sweater! I did and that beautiful smell is worth all the tea in china (a favorite phrase of hers 🙂 Thinking of you xo

  62. I missed this post earlier in the week but wanted to pop end to offer my condolences. I lost my own grandmother about 5 years ago and reading about your loss brings back all the sadness all over again, but in a good way, if that makes sense. I'm glad your Momsie led a full, rich life. That's all any of us can ever ask for, right?

  63. Clearly, vivacious women run in your family. I'm so sorry for your loss, Liz. Absolutely beautiful post.

  64. I'm late, but just read this and your next post all at once so instead of worrying that I don't actually know you or what to say, even tho I really enjoy your blog, I'll just say what comes from my heart to yours: I'm so sorry. It seems the world must be a little dimmer as it misses her. Hang in there.

  65. so sorry to see this, hope time quickly brings you to that place where you can laugh (without wanting to cry) as you remember her. the photo at the end is magical.

  66. I know there are no words to take your pain away. I wish I could. I'm sure you will always cherish your memories & hold them close to your heart so she may live on forver in you.

  67. I'm so sorry for your loss, but what a wonderful life, and a beautiful tribute. You brought back images of my own Nana's last apartment, and the heartbreak of not being able to be there with my mom and my sisters to do the sad but touching job of sorting through her things.

    Lovely post.

  68. you're good people, liz. thank you for sharing the giggles and the tears. lovely post, lovely tribute. and i am so sorry for your loss (even belatedly).

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