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Remembering my Grandmother

Yesterday I held my grandmother’s hand and told her I love her while she took her last breaths.

This has been an extremely rough, beautiful year. First my father declining into dementia and being moved thousands of miles away from me, then my grandmother going into hospice. Then grieving for the victims in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Vegas, Texas, and Florida, and worrying about the immanent volcano eruption in Bali. And now grandma’s death.

This is life.

Even having a great life and a loving relationship with money doesn’t stop the grief, the anxiety, the anger, and the gratitude from arising simultaneously…

The privilege of existence is getting to experience it all.

I feel deeply blessed to have known her, to have been loved by her, and to have been there for my grandmother’s final moments.

My grandmother has been one of the biggest influences in my life.

She invented the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire in the 1960’s, where I was conceived and had some of my best childhood memories…

I can thank my grandmother for my own background in ballet. She was a groundbreaking dancer in the history of American Modern Dance and Ballet, teaching Alvin Ailey, performing in the premiere of Stravinsky’s “Firebird” at the Hollywood Bowl, and scandalizing critics when she starred in the interracial love ballet “Jenny on the Bench.”

(That’s grandma, probably 15 years old, in the front row, to the right of the guy in the middle. I think the man with glasses is Stravinsky. My Russian-speaking grandmother translated for him. She had been in the U.S. for about 2 years, after growing up in Shanghai.)

She taught me to love art through her art. She taught me perspective, the color wheel, took me to museums and explained what made things art.

(Family portrait when I was 9 years old. You can see me 3 times. That’s my grandmother in the right corner, looking at the viewer. My mother with my baby sister on the left. My great grandmother at the top. My two aunts complete the family.)

The Buddha statue in her fireplace (she was born in China) planted the seed for my fascination with world religion.

My grandmother saved my life.

Grandma took me in when my brilliant, beautiful, borderline personality/addict mother made home unsafe. I was suicidal. I moved to grandma’s house when I was 14, before moving on to my father’s house.

(One of my last birthday breakfasts with my dad, who has Alzheimer’s, and my grandparents.)

Grandma taught me to take no shit from men who aren’t kind (based on her first marriage) and she modeled Great Love with her second marriage… they were madly in love for over 50 years. Even when she was losing consciousness she would reach for Ron when she heard his voice. (She also taught me that couples in their late 80’s still have sex.)

Grandma quit her job teaching geriatric water aerobics at the Hollywood YMCA about 3 years ago (she was close to 90) when the new manager told her she shouldn’t say fuck. She responded, “Fuck that!” and left. Her departure caused a near riot.

Grandma taught me Love.

My earliest human memory is of her singing me Russian lullabies when I was a baby.

She was there for me all the years I had to sneak phone calls and visits with her behind my mother’s prohibition.

And I’m in awe of the hundreds of hours she poured into painting portraits of me over the years. Wow.

The Renaissance Faire, Art, Dance, Feminism (of course she voted for Hillary), Love, and Grit: that is my grandmother’s legacy.

(This is my grandmother as a single mother with her three young daughters… my mother is at the right, probably 12 years old.)


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