Monthly Archives: October 2009

My Grandmother

October 21, 2009

Maria Handler 1911-2009

A beautiful life has come to its earthly end.

And though my grandmother, Maria Handler, was 97 years old, it is never the right time, a good time for someone you love to die.

She lived a remarkable life, because she was a remarkable woman. She endured a revolution, a civil war, a world war, evacuation, famine, illness and tragedy. And yet you would never know she had borne any hardship at all from the way she carried herself: she was a good happy person who loved sweets and her friends, who loved her sons and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who took care of me and my sister and my cousin when we were young and maintained that one of her regrets was that she wasn’t strong enough to take care of the great-grandchildren also.

When you were in her home, you felt loved. You came in, you sat down, she served you, she cleaned your plate, and then she sat across from you and wanted to know all about your life. This is how she treated everyone, not just her family. She was curious about everything. She understood everything. You could count on her to have a righteous reaction to sorrow, to joy, to heartbreak. To your every success and failure she bore an empathetic and enlightened witness. She gave you always what you needed.

When you were hungry, she fed you.

When you were thirsty, she gave you drink.

And then you went away and lived your life, and she went on merrily and lived hers. She loved TV, and her newspapers and her books, and my grandfather, not necessarily in that order. She lived joyously until she saw you again. Sometimes she complained you didn’t call her as often as you should have, but it was a superficial complaint, because you knew that you were profoundly loved.

She remembered salient details about all the relatives, she had the memory of Matteo Ricci and the intuitive understanding of a sage, and she gave you all of herself, freely, liberally, always.

For seventy five years she lived side by side with my grandfather. The two of them came to America in 1979, seemingly in the twilight of their life and yet we were fortunate enough to have them bring us joy, and food, and conversation and love for thirty more years. That is astonishing, and I never forget how blessed I feel having had her in my life for this long. Still, it wasn’t long enough. It never is.

She brightened every room when she was in it, you felt yourself striving to be a better person in her sainted presence, led by her example, and the world is a smaller, darker place with her gone. Like my grandfather, my grandmother had every gift, including the gift of a long and magnificent life. She died peacefully, at home, in her bed, in her sleep, unsuffering, surrounded by people she loved. In a struggling, conflicted world, she, as my grandfather, died as they had lived, simply, and yet extraordinarily.

“And we who are alive and remain,
Shall be caught up together with them, in the clouds,
To meet the Lord in the air,
And so we shall ever be, with the Lord.”