Family

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On March 7, 2019 my grandma Barbara Schwartz passed away. Exactly one month from today.

As a family, we decided to meet up in New York City, to celebrate her life.  She was a New Yorker you see, laid to rest in a Jewish cemetery in Jersey, next to my great-grandmother Mary, who I am named after.

My brother, sister and I all decided to fly in without our families as together we have six kids under the age of five. We wanted to have adult time, focused on my grandma, without being distracted by the need for snacks, naps and constant entertainment. (Well, except Quinny who is still breastfeeding, so she doesn’t count.)

That meant I was going to leave my boys in Tokyo for a week.  That’s no biggie, except Steve has a something called a J.O.B.  With Chase in school 3-days a week and Anders out everyday at 2:25, all of a sudden, I needed a hand.

Now here’s the thing, I always felt like the Tokyo community I am a part of is something special - something different. I always felt like I was woven into something magical here - something I have never been a part of on this level before. And when the time came for me to really need some help, the community I have here caught me when I was falling and lifted me up. 

In a day, I had a master Google doc rocking, informing Steve of where to pick up the boys after work.  A different friend every day.  Some days, the boys were with separate families.  Some days together.  But always, in good hands.  It is unlike anything I have ever experienced.  You see, when you don’t have family in town, you become each other’s family.

Friends made Anders a birthday cake, took the boys way past the time we planned and invited Steve over for dinner too.  It was pretty remarkable. I truly felt lucky I could be present in NYC, knowing all three of my boys were being taken care of above-and-beyond back home.

Back in the city that never sleeps, we had a lovely service for my grandma.  Family members surprised us by showing up unannounced, making my mom’s heart swell.  I wrote a little something for my grandma and felt at peace with it all. We went back to my Aunt and Uncle’s house and ate bagels with lox. Five out of the eight of us fell asleep.

And the next day we headed into the city, checking out her old haunts, eating at her favorite deli on the Lower East Side, doing a little shopping and catching Hamilton on Broadway.  Kinda her perfect day.  Kinda mine too.

I feel blessed to have had this time with my family. I also feel blessed this experience showed me I have a family in Tokyo too.  Cause in the end, it’s truly the relationships in your life that matter the most.

This is what I wrote for my grandma and shared at her funeral:

The first way I describe my grandma is with the phrase, “She is a New Yorker.”

Then I modify that phrase with other adjectives. I say she is Jewish. I say she is spunky. I say she has a dirty mouth.

And then I will put on my best New York Jewish grandma accent and say: She loved “coffee.” “Hot coffee.” Yet, it was never hot enough. Unless it was too hot.

My grandma liked bagels. Soft ones. She would squeeze them to make sure they were fresh.

When she ordered it was particular. She wouldn’t just order salmon. It had to be a center cut.

And a meal was never complete without dessert. I agree. She was smart like that.

She would turn over the flatware at every restaurant we ate at. She was rarely impressed. Her collection on the other hand, from Michael C Fina, was impressive.

After a meal, you would ask her if she liked it, cause there was nothing more satisfying than having her shrug, scrunch up her face and nod her head yes. That was a win and it felt good.

Whenever I saw her she would offer me food. She would set it out, even if I declined, and then would demand I “EAT” - gesturing to the food.

Then when we settled onto her couch she would ask me when I was leaving again. She had a knack for guilt trips. She was the master.

That couch was in an apartment that was covered in treasures. She could take an ordinary space and make it extraordinary.

She had great taste. Animal prints, furs and shawls. She would tell me to not be so conservative.

She loved jewelry. Not the fancy stuff. The cheap stuff. The big stuff. The kind I like. She’s my style icon.

Her nails were always painted a signature shade of silvery white. I will remember her fingers, always with big rings adorning them. I will remember her hands, cause they looked identical to mine. Always slightly cold, squeezing my thigh. Touching me, just to know I was there. Saying something I didn’t exactly understand, in Yiddish.

She would always ask me if I liked how she was wearing her hair these days. If I liked it better with a band or not. I always knew what she wanted me to say and I’d say it.

When I lived with her that summer in Brooklyn we would meet on the Upper East Side and head home together. Always stopping for food. She never cooked. I don’t either. We are alike like that.

She was never quite satisfied. Nothing or anyone ever lived up to her incredibly high standards. She was always on the quest for something better. New York City can do that to a girl.

She always wanted to shop for more chachkies. Wanted more clothes to add to her collection. And men. She always had her eyes open for a new good looking man. Points if he had a mustache. Points if he was a good dancer. Or was rich. But she would still play the lottery, cause you never knew when it was your turn to get lucky.

She loved her family hard. She loved me. A lot. I know that as fact. She loved Marv. She loved Jenila & Justin. And she loved my mom more than anyone in this world. My mom was her whole world. And that love was intense. That love was the kind of love that lays upon your chest and sometimes makes it hard for you to breathe. But it was true love.

We all loved her too. She knows that. I know she knows that.

My grandma. She is a New Yorker. She is Jewish, spunky and has a dirty mouth. And she is finally free. Out of her body that lived 97 years of life, to now walk the streets of “New York City” once again. With a spring in her step, a mischievous glimmer in her eye and a frankfurter with mustard in her hand.

I love you grandma. You’ll always be with us. Goodbye.