Thursday, August 2, 2012

rest in peace, vivian

Even when you expect it.

Even when she wanted it – begged for it, for years.

Even when, well, to be honest? She wasn’t the warmest, most open-hearted person.

Even then.

It’s still sad.

My grandmother died last night. She was 97. A few weeks ago, she finally resolved to take matters into her own hands, by simply refusing to eat. It took a few weeks.
That’s it, for me – that’s the last of that generation. Every one take one step forward toward the abyss that is The Before and The Next.

Vivian was…I would say she was an acquired taste, perhaps. Not one to understand, or be understood by, a child. Better appreciated, the older I got. Or perhaps, the older she got. Not unlike my sister’s cat, Pumpkin, who finally allowed herself, as a very elderly lady indeed, to be cuddled in a way she’d never have tolerated when she was younger. Similarly, as I passed age 40, and Kevin and I undertook an extensive house renovation, Vivian suddenly… took an interest in me, and my life, for maybe the first time. She’d already begun losing her sight to macular degeneration, so I bought a stash of Sharpie markers and mailed her hand-drawn blueprints. She’d fire back lists of questions and comments, born of years of designing and building homes over decades with my grandfather.

This was a refreshing change from the woman who exiled her grandchildren to a separate room so that she, my grandfather, and my aunts and uncles could down their gin and tonics in peace over the evening news.

She was as generous as she knew how to be, I think.

Every August, she and my grandfather hosted a couple of weeks long reunion of their five kids, and all the grandchildren.


This print was on the back of the bathroom door in their condo, and I think it perfectly expresses how we all felt about those times together. Every day, she’d go for a long walk, barefoot in her bathing suit, her long white hair up in a French twist. She did this until well into her 70’s at least.
There are probably an infinite number of ways you can perceive another person’s life. Here is what I notice.


A somewhat lonely only child, happiest outdoors.


A collector of shells, a great fan of snails and turtles, a noticer of flowers, an afficionado of shore birds.



Age 15, visiting Montana with my great-grandmother and her second (and third – there’s a story there somewhere) husband.

And, although I never heard her sing, apparently she had the family gene for it. Her uncle, Walter Damrosch, a composer and conductor (for whom Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center is named) had this to say about her:



Rest in peace, Grandma. I knew you’d make it to August. I can see you on the horizon, on one of your walks, picking up shells and making silent note of all the birds wheeling in the sky around you.


  1. What a beautiful tribute, Sarah! Was she your mom's mother?

  2. This is amazing. I am jealous of how much more she knew you, and you her. Thanks for this. xoxo