Reflecting on Intergenerational Relationships
In January, the last of my four grandparents passed away after about seven years of decline into Alzheimer's. The final four of those years of decline, which proceeded my Grandma June's death, were precipitous. As I was writing the eulogy I would present at his funeral service, I found myself reflecting on how memory changes as we move through the stages of our lives.
My Grandpa Lee died in 2005. He slipped and fell on some icy steps in early November. His decline, following a surgery to fuse his second cervical vertebra, took everyone by surprise. I visited him in the hospital over thanksgiving break, and when I got back to school, I couldn't concentrate. I was distraught enough that I applied for an extension on my fall semester coursework. I returned home again in time for his death and funeral in early December.
My memories of those weeks are patchy with emotion. I didn't read a eulogy at my grandpa's funeral. I remember putting my arms around my younger brother, and how my Grandma Rita was late, as usual. My feelings crystalized later in songs, and poems, and I encapsulated my whole relationship with Grandpa Lee in the dedication of my honor's thesis, completed in May 2006. In it I wrote,
"Finally, I'd like to thank my grandpa Lee. With his sense of humor, love of nature and history, and unwavering creativity, my grandpa was an embodiment of 'heritage' to me. Although he didn't get to see it to the end, I think he would appreciate this thesis."
As the seasons turned, we remembered Grandpa Lee in other ways. My father, brother, and I recorded an interview about him at the StoryCorps booth at the WTC Path station after I started my job at the 9/11 Memorial. In 2013, my husband and I named our newborn son for him.
Then, on April 2, 2016, my Grandma Rita died at the age of 89. Unknown to my family, I was pregnant with my daughter at her funeral. Ten years after my Grandpa Lee's death, I was in a different place professionally and personally. And I'd really gotten to say goodbye to her. The eulogy I wrote for her reflected this different mood. It became a real tribute to her personality, however quirky and sometime infuriating, and to what she had gifted to me.
My Grandma June's death, two years later, came as a complete shock. She succumbed to a previously undiagnosed heart condition after only a few months of close care from my mother. She and my Grandpa Dick had only recently moved from Aventura, Florida, to Princeton, New Jersey. I rushed to say goodbye to her after she underwent emergency surgery in early May 2018, but I flew back home instead of attending her funeral. It was a difficult decision, but I felt like my duties were to Leo and Ilana and Matt rather than to an extended stay with my family in New Jersey. It was a time that felt so busy and alien, and my memories ventured back to my childhood. It was those memories that came back to me in a rush on the train from New York City to Princeton Junction, culminating in a eulogy read by the rabbi at the funeral.
After her death, time moved more quickly. The world descended into a pandemic, and my Grandpa Dick descended into dementia. When he finally passed, we were granted a chance to reflect on his entire life. It's that reflection that came out in the eulogy I presented at his funeral.
His passing marked the end of a chapter in my life and the lives of my children. Now, my parents' generation is the oldest (save Matt's Grandma Irene) with whom we are connected. The distance between life and death seems shorter somehow, and the distance from childhood seems longer. It's easy to feel like a leaf in the wind. So I'll conclude with this offering from Will Robertson, the inestimable chorus director at CBH, recorded with friends from their homes. Everywhere, everywhere there is beauty.