I look like my grammy.
I have heard that countless times in my life, and as I grow older, I hear it more frequently. I have her eyes especially, of which I am inordinately proud.
I like to think though, that alongside her physical contribution to my makeup, she also passed along a few of her spiritual and moral strengths. That her donation to my person was more than DNA and in the 18 short years I knew her, her emotional legacy also helped to form and shape me.
Her strength & stead-fastedness in the face of adversity.
Her fierce independence streak.
Her absolute style, leopard print and all.
Her will to keep moving forward and learning, exploring, becoming.
Her appreciation for beauty in the small and unexpected thing.
How she knew how to love someone in the exact way they needed it.
Sometimes my grief feels fresh and new; I feel bowed by my sorrow at her passing. Especially as I grow older and begin to establish myself as a woman, I often find myself wishing I could just talk to her about…everything. Ask her for advice or a story on how she did it, how she stood strong as a pillar and didn’t crumble when things felt overwhelming and impossible. i feel like she should be just a phone call away. The unfairness of it can be debilitating at times: why was this woman taken, this woman who was such a strong guide and could have helped so much? She stands in my mind’s eye as timeless, an unchanging example of strength and ability.
And aside from wanting her help, I wish that now I could know her as a fellow woman. There is so much I didn’t understand about her when I was a teenager, so many things I didn’t even know enough to ask her. Even now my mother will mention something wonderful and unexpected about her, something I want nothing more than to talk to her about. I wish she could tell me stories from her youth and beyond, wish she could laugh at my mishaps and meet my boyfriend. There are jokes I didn’t understand before, heartaches we can’t share, concepts I couldn’t even begin to fathom. I wish I could talk to her about those Kahlil Gibran books she gave me, or introduce her to Pablo Neruda, or discuss Joseph Campbell. I want to pick her brain about color theory and which is the best hardware store and what California was like and maybe take a trip with her there. i wish I had more pictures with her, but then again, that was before the age of the smartphone with it’s built-in camera.
I remember the last birthday dinner I had with her. We were eating at my favorite German restaurant, next to the fireplace, very intimate , and she ordered a glass of wine to go with her meal. Then she asked if I was old enough to drink yet. Only seventeen, I remember yearning for the day I could join her in a glass of wine over dinner. I was so excited by the prospect. I like to think that if she were still alive, we would go out to dinner together just because, order a bottle (or two) of wine and sit and talk, or go see the newest exhibit at the city museum. Maybe we’d make sure to see the symphony’s next concert. I feel she would like me as a person, and she would be my friend. I don’t know, and that’s as sad as anything.
The anniversary of her passing is still a month away, almost 8 years since she surprised us. Of course who knows who I might have become if she had lived another decade, so no one can say definitively what would have been. I only know I’ve changed and grown so much since then, and even though she wasn’t here for it, I credit so much of who I’ve become to her influence and her example. I feel like I’ve left behind some of the silliness of my youth. Not the good kind that keeps you laughing, the absurd kind that makes you cry. I’ve cast aside quite a bit of the desperation that defined so much of my adolescence. I have accomplished things I didn’t think I could. I try to move through life with her same grace and elegance, and I like to think I keep an open mind in regards to other perspectives. The biggest part of her legacy I carry with me was her strength: strength of character, of principle, of belief, and a complete accommodation and resiliency to whatever came her way. I hope to emulate that. I hope to live in that and pass that to other women in my own time: we are not weak and we can follow whatever dreams we want, because we are able.
I’m not saying she was perfect. I’m sure the passage of time has blunted some of the more frustrating bits, like the time I wanted to quit the family business because she was “being unfair”. And I’m willing to bet there are things she did I would absolutely not agree with, behaviors I wouldn’t condone. I try to remember that she was human, that she had her faults, just like the rest of us. I bet she got mad, I bet she said things she regretted, and I bet there’s a lot more she wanted to accomplish before she left. But I still mourn that there was such a woman as she, a strong, brave, courageous, accomplished, thoughtful, mighty lion of a woman and that she has left our midst. So whenever someone mentions our similarities, I can only smile and say thank you, because there’s no higher compliment to me.