Sunday, December 23, 2007

A tribute to Grammy

Since early December I have been back in the U.S. with my Grandmother, who has been quite ill. I know this is a place to talk about Tokyo, but Grammy is - and will always be - one of the biggest influences in my life. She has made me what I am and who I am. She died on December 16th. Here is my speech from her memorial service.

December 19, 2007

I could stand before you today and regale you with stories of trips we took, adventures we had and have you rolling in the aisles with laughter. But I have to say, most of you are here today because you know Shirley Blumin and you know a lot of the stories. Talking to Grammy in her final days of life, what Grammy wanted us to do is concentrate on the future at today’s memorial service so in that vein, I want to give you a speech titled, “The Top Ten Lessons I Learned from the Grammy School of Thought.” These are the things that Grammy taught my cousins and me, and I dedicate them to Bailey and Sydney.

10. Accept yourself but never stop trying to improve yourself.
Grammy loved me and loved me, but she also pushed me and pushed me. She called me in mid-2003, and said, “Aimee, honey, I have cancer, NOW GET GOING AND FINISH THAT DISSERTATION!” And when I graduated about 18 months ago with my doctorate, she was with me. I gave a toast later, to my grandmother, my biggest supporter – who when the going got tough, she never gave me any sympathy, just said, “of course it’s hard! Now get your ass back in the chair and write!” When I feel unmotivated, I simply have to channel my inner Grammy.

9. Education Education Education – it’s not IF you’re going to college – it’s WHERE you’re going to college.
She truly believed that that a university education is the only path to success. But she defined success very broadly – sure, financial success is important, but it’s not the be-all and end-all either. Education gives you options about how to spend the rest of your life, introduces you to ideas and people that you would not have encountered otherwise, and gives you the ability and confidence to see the world from a position of strength.

8. Stand up for what you believe in.
I don’t even have to explain this one. Grammy always championed the underdog – and no one ever had to ask what she thought about a situation. She gave her opinion freely and threw her considerable support behind what she thought was right.

7. Find your life’s work and pursue it with passion.
After her first heart attack, Grammy lived with my family for a year when I was just five years old. Her condition forced her to take early retirement from being the assistant superintendent of schools in Trumbull, Connecticut. But this didn’t stop her. From there, she had a ranch with race-horses, had a mobile home park, a car-transport business and then on to building Tot’s Learning Center. Each of these varied careers she dove into with equal zeal. She worked hard daily.

6. Just as you work passionately, so should you play – HAVE FUN! And the corollary to that lesson: laugh at yourself!
I can see the smiles on your faces as I say this. Grammy loved the dog tracks, to eat good food, to go to the casinos, go to the movies, eat good food (oops, said that already…) and a gazillion other pleasurable pursuits. When she told the stories of her escapades, she told them with the same passion with which she lived them. And often in her stories, she herself was the butt of the joke – like the time the cruise never cruised and she lectured her grandchildren on bringing the right clothes on the airplane because we were not buying anything, but we ended up buying shoes for her because she brought one blue shoe and one black – both of them lefts. She told that self-deprecating part of the story with the same glee as she told of the rest of the adventure.

5. Give back to your community.
Grammy always had a project going on. Some of you, including her grandchildren, WERE her projects! But in all seriousness, Grammy taught me about not just giving money to a cause, but about getting involved with people and places and causes. She didn’t care what it was – she wanted me to choose my beliefs, but as long as I support them diligently.

4. Support your synagogue – teach your faith and customs to your children.
This is an interesting one. I’m not really sure what God and faith had to do with it – I’m not sure how truly religious she was or what her exact beliefs were. However, she believed strongly in the communal and familial aspects of Judaism and was zealous about her practice and this synagogue, especially about the education of the children.

3. Have a wide group of diverse friends and love and accept them unconditionally
This also I don’t need to explain to you. Grammy loved people – interesting people of all shapes, sizes, ages, beliefs, colors, etc. She would give her friends the shirt off her back and accepted people for who they are and what they could bring to her life. My Uncle Jeff reminds me of how she liked to have her “inner 100 and then the outer 200.” Grammy loved people.

2. Attend family events – the most important thing in life is to BELONG. In this family we belong to each other and with each other.
You know, Grammy has been saying this to me my whole life. And I’ve been repeating it to others as a mantra of sorts for the past 30 years. But I’ve never believed it or realized it until recently. In the last days of her life, I spent a lot of hours with Grammy. Taking care of her might have been difficult, but it was truly a gift to me. With her hospice care has come social workers, chaplains and other people designed to help the family of the patient cope with the impending death. It took me until now to truly understand the meaning of belonging and the depth of the bonds of our family. Grammy’s children and grandchildren are spread across the globe, literally. But we communicate regularly with her and with each other. She emails and calls and loves to get emails and calls. I know I can call my aunts and uncles with problems or challenges just as easily as I can call my parents. My cousins and I are family, but we’re also friends – friends with a long history. Explaining this to social workers and chaplains and the like has brought it home to me because they stressed the uniqueness of our situation in an increasingly disparate world: We’re tied together inexorably and the main thing that means is that I’m never alone. That’s what Grammy wanted for us and to impress upon us. We’re never alone. We belong to this family.

Before I give you the top lesson that I learned, I want to acknowledge my mother-in-law, Dottie Weinstein, who is here today. She’s a particular devotee to the Shirley Blumin School of Thought and she and Grammy had several discussions about this particular lesson. As Grammy and Dottie both say, THE TIME IS NOW. That’s the top lesson. THE TIME IS NOW.

Grammy did not wait to take her 85th birthday cruise or to see the tulips in Holland. If something was important to her then she did it – she didn’t wait and wonder if the time was right – she just did it. She lived her life on her terms and she showed me she loved me in so many ways every time she saw me. She made me understand that every day that I share on earth with my Mom and Dad – with my brother Alan, with my sister/cousin Jenn and of course my wonderful husband and children – is a gift not to be put off. Take opportunities as they arise – go for the gusto and experience whatever life has to offer. To me, that was her biggest and most important lesson.

These are the things that Grammy has given to me – taught me. And being faithful to my promise to her, these are the things that I will teach to Bailey and Sydney because they, along with Shaun, Isabel, Zachary, Ella and the babies yet to come in our family – are her future and her legacy.

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