Bernice Libman Lewis 1915-2012 (aka Grandma Bunny).
the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive:
for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric
acts -George Eliot
Last week I lost my beloved grandmother. To my twin brother Dan, our cousin Mitch and to me she was companion, cheerleader, spoiler and indulger, receiver and giver of care. To the world she was a teacher, writer, hostess, consoler, wit and friend. And although she was ninety-seven, my family has found itself bowled over by grief, maybe more than we expected, because while our minds comprehended that she couldn’t live forever, I think our hearts began to fall into a pattern of hoping she would.
I haven’t been sure how to handle her loss in my internet life. On the one hand, it is strange to concern myself with something so personal, difficult and profound in a space usually reserved (in my case) for things either trivial or polemical.
On the other, it seemed far worse to just pick things back up and joke and rant about sexism and political news and the latest books I’ve read without stopping for at least a moment and acknowledging the newly-opened hole in my heart, the long, rich and treasured life that has come to an end and is already missed so deeply.
Here is Marie Howe, whose words are of Biblical significance at Vermont College. My grandmother, a poet and something of a purist, would probably view Howe’s disdain for meter with a skeptical eye. But I’ve been reciting her lines in my head like a catechism.
WHAT THE LIVING DO
by Marie Howe
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through
the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss — we want more and more and then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.