Two days ago - on the day your grandmother's body was cremated - your uncle Jon said that what hurts him the most is that you and your cousins, Arnon and Rosalie, will not be able to spend time with your grandmother. He was right, and I can hardly think about what you and your grandma are missing without a terrible pain. I want to start to write something now, which maybe I'll expand in years to come, to help you get some hint of a sense of who your grandmother was.
Tímea - I don't know how old you'll be when you really read and understand this - there is something I need to you do before you I can try to tell you about your grandmother. I need you to look at me as a full, complete and complex person instead of simply seeing me in terms of your relationship to me. It is particularly hard for a child to do that with a parent. I am struggling with that now about my own mother. My task has been made easier in the past few days by hearing and reading the thoughts of people who have known my mother in aspects of her life that were peripheral to my relationship to her, but a very important part of who she was. I know that I and her other children were central to who she was, just as you are central to who I am, but it would be an mistake to use that centrality to consider a person largely in terms of ourselves.
While I am just now learning to see my mother, your grandmother, in that light, I am not capable of persenting her to you that way. I will talk about her as a son talks about a mother.
She was my sole parent for most of my childhood. And she was ill for most of my life. I grew up always expecting that she would be dead in the next five years. After decades of erroneously expecting her death, I suppose I stopped expecting it altogether. I was wrong.
Yet despite her illness and her widowhood through most of my childhood, she not only lived, but lived joyfully. Somehow for reasons that still aren't clear to me, I became her travelling companion and confidant. While that may have put some responsibility on me beyond my years, it only very rarely felt like a burden. I don't know how many other children really become respected friends with a parent. It was so wonderful growing up surrounded by such fascinating adult company that she was always engaged with.
It's odd. So many of the memories that stick in my mind are about failures to communicate with her. (For example, when as preschooler I'd described cupcake frosting used to adhere candy to the cake as ``edible glue'' she somehow didn't get what I was talking about). But I think that these sorts of conversations I had with her stuck in my mind because they were the exceptions. I think that it was the shock of the occasional failure of communication against a background of remarkable understanding that makes those events stand out.
She was always involved in something exciting, whether it was an ACLU fundraiser at the house or a folk music event on a sailing ship going down the Hudson. These were exciting things for me to be part of, and for some many of these things, her love and friendship with so many people helped make these things happen.
Her past was far richer and more varied than I ever gave her credit for or properly respected. And I am not capable now of characterizing it, and it would be best to learn about those from people who knew her an capacities I didn't. But one thing that you will learn from me and from everyone who speaks of her that it is impossible to overestimate how warm, loving and caring she was. Despite her terrible burdens and limitations she was able to make good things happen for the people around her.
Had she lived longer, you could have learned a great deal, particularly about loving and being loved from her. And so could have I.