In memory of my Grandma Nor
(These are the words I spoke at her memorial celebration in January 2023 with some added visuals)
My grandmother was always there for me. She came to the sidewalk sales to buy the fimo jewelry I made when I was a budding entrepreneur at the age of nine. She took my friend Ruthann and I to get manicures before our 8th grade graduation. She came to all my graduations.
She took me to Sam's club and Costco and bought me Danielle Steele novels and Silence of the Lamb when I was too young to be reading either. She and Grandpa Lorry took me on clothes shopping sprees. They took me to TCBY and let me get blizzards.
Grandma Nor also intimidated the hell out of me when I was a kid. She spoke her mind, was feisty, sensitive, and very beautiful. It once got back to her that I was scared of her when I was little and she didn't hesitate to give me a piece of her mind, even though she was at our house to celebrate my birthday.
I never forgot this though I've come to see it differently.
Though she didn't always express herself in a way that was easy to take, she got the feelings out, didn't let things fester, and she made sure that you knew where you stood with her.
Grandma Nor stood by me no questions asked. When I met Nico and married him less than a year later at the age of 24, she flew out to our civil ceremony at the Skokie courthouse. The following year she stood proudly at our more formal wedding. She made an effort to get to know him. Treated him like a grandson, her first.
When we found out we were going to be parents, we flew to Florida to tell her in person that she was going to be a great grandmother. She had been so sad for so many years following my grandfather's death, and I felt a new sense of purpose stir in her when she knew she was to take on this new role.
She was one of the first to come and meet our daughter Maia Lucia when she was born. We played Wii bowling on that visit and laughed til we almost cried. She told us stories of her early parenthood. She held newborn Maia with fierce pride and overwhelming love.
She braved her fear of cats to come and stay in our various homes multiple times over the years, and even came to have a sweet relationship with them. She understood how important the cats were, especially to Nico, and since she loved him, she came to love them in her own way.
She loved her family. Though she sometimes had odd ways of showing it. She was a self-proclaimed "tough cookie" and would say to me, "nobody can mess with my family if I have anything to say about it." And she was never afraid to give any of us a piece of her mind.
I talked to my grandmother on the phone once a week for several hours for most of my married life. I knew that if I called her, she would answer, even when she was at Costco or driving or out to dinner with someone else. I knew that if I needed her, she would be there for me. Sometimes I listened, sometimes she listened. Sometimes it was a tech problem I didn't have the patience for and Nico took over. Sometimes there was a worry I was having that she couldn't solve but she could witness. I've come to realize since she is gone what a deep friendship we developed over the last 17 years.
I've struggled over the past few months to understand how to do life without her in it in some basic way. I've come to realize she was one of my closest friends. I now know as far as family goes, she was one of the people I most relied on.
Trailer for "Lenore: Portrait of a Lady"--the first Legacy Film I ever made in 2005
When I made the film you just saw, I spent a week with Grandma Nor by myself, the first time we'd ever done anything like it. We talked. We laughed. I listened. I learned.
She had always seemed to be high strung, intense, with a sense of humor and a sharp edge. In listening to her story and going over the family history, I started to understand how her personality was formed, how she had become herself. She morphed from grandmother into person before my eyes.
I am so grateful to have had that opportunity to get to see her as a fellow human when I was just 25 years old. I am even more grateful to have had the past two decades since to deepen our connection. I know she was proud of me because she told me so. I know she loved me deeply, because she made sure I knew how she felt. She felt this way about everyone in her family. Pride and love.
Grandma Nor was a Sun-sign Cancer who was sensitive, sharp, and fiercely loyal. She had grown up in an era where marriage and parenthood were the prizes, though she would often comment to me in our long phone chats how she had tutored people in Spanish and how she had been studying sociology and race relations, how she would have liked to do something in that arena. I know deep down she regretted not channeling her energy into a career, but she put her all into her family and household.
Though I never got to travel with her, I loved being able to brag to people that I had a grandmother who, well into her late 80s travelled to India with her daughters. She was not fearless by any means, but she embodied the feel the fear and do it anyways when it came to taking risks that would bring her into closer connection with those she loved.
Grandma Nor was not a warm and fuzzy grandmother. She had extremely high standards but held herself to even higher ones. She was as I would often tell her "dysfunctionally independent" refusing to allow others to help her even when she needed it. Watching her reject help has allowed me to receive help in many ways and I'm glad I got to tell her about this insight. We laughed about her stubbornness and refusal to accept help until it wasn't funny anymore.
When I made the film of her life, we had a screening here at the Barclay in the party room. She was so proud. All her friends came. That's why I knew we had to show it today. It's what she would have wanted.
Just before Grandma Nor died my Miele vacuum just stopped working so I knew that she was nearing the end. That may sound nuts, but she was perhaps the one person in the world that could understand how much I valued that cleaning machine. She gave me a hand-me-down Miele vacuum when I got married. And even though I'd traded it in for this newer model, I knew that when the vacuum went capoot it was a sign she was leaving us too.
She loved home shopping network and random gifts like the Roomba and a set of purple ceramic Rachel Ray baking dishes or hangers would just show up at my house unannounced.
I am constantly coming across small and large things that she got me over the years. Now that she is gone, I understand the power of these gestures. Now that she is gone, I remember her every time I come across an object I would never have bought for myself but appreciate. She lives on as we remember to tell her story, and continue to heal the parts of ourselves that she may have never healed in herself.
I last saw her in March when I was here in FL working. I took her and Shanique, one of her amazing caregivers, out to dinner at the Eau hotel. We celebrated her birthday early with something chocolaty. I knew as I hugged her goodbye that that was our final goodbye. I began to practice talking to her in my heart.
In the last dozen conversations or so that I had with her, I started to write down stories she would tell, anecdotes, a lot of them about discounts on fish. I started to savor and treasure the way she spoke. Now, when I want to, I can hear her voice in my head, in my heart, clear as day. I know she is one of my guardian angels now. I know she will watch over us with that same fierce, loyal love that she did in life. I will miss her. And I am so grateful that I had her in my life for nearly 43 years. Not everyone is so lucky to have a grandmother for so long.