Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Germambie

When I was growing up in Schenectady, NY, my family lived eight blocks from my maternal grandparents. They were a major part of my formative years, especially my grandmother, who got stuck with the nickname “Germambie” due to the fact that as a child, I couldn’t say the word “grandma.” In later years, after my sisters had children, she became known as “GG,” which stood for great-grandma. And let me tell you, people, the woman really was great.

She and my grandfather had one of the most amazing real-life romances I’ve ever heard. Her parents didn’t approve of him, so they were secretly married for TWO YEARS, while she stayed at her parents’ house and slept with her wedding ring under her pillow. Once they were finally together, as far as I know they were never apart until his death—at home—from cancer in 1976.

Germambie was a gifted concert pianist before her marriage, and when the Depression hit, she gave piano lessons to neighborhood children to help support the family. My grandfather, who had gotten his law degree, went to work for GE, and stayed there the rest of his life. Together, they raised my mother and her two siblings in a household that prized learning and music and intellect, but also specialized in the world’s worst puns.

As well as being a pianist, Germambie was a master-weaver, a published author, and a life-long learner. In her sixties, she went back to college and finally finished her Bachelor’s degree. In her seventies and eighties, she audited class after class, and went to aerobics at the local Jewish Community center until she was 89. She walked there, by the way. She traveled to places as far away as Sweden and Poland in search of knowledge and, in the case of Poland, her family roots.

After my grandfather’s lingering death, which she dealt with mostly on her own since there was no such thing as Hospice then, she founded an organization called Haven, which helped the dying and their families. It eventually grew so large that she handed it over to a board of directors, and it continues her work today.

For her 80th birthday, Germambie went up in a hot air balloon. For her 90th, she wanted to go white-water rafting, but since she had broken a hip the year before, her doctor said it probably wouldn’t be a good idea. She lived in the house she and my grandfather shared until a few years ago. At 96, she finally couldn’t live on her own, and was moved out to San Diego to be near my parents in a wonderful adult home where she was treated like the queen she was. This coming April, she would have been 100.

But she is unlikely to make it to that anniversary. You see, Germambie is dying. Today, tomorrow, next week. Maybe even a couple of weeks. But soon now. The family is flying out in two’s and three’s to San Diego to say their final goodbyes as she slowly slips away from this world and closer to the next.

For the most part, this isn’t a sad thing. She had a full and wonderful life, and has said that she is ready to go. As her short-term memory disappeared, and with it her ability to keep busy and interested, her life has become more and more frustrating. It is time. For her, death will be a gift, and—no doubt—the start of a new adventure; she wouldn’t have it any other way.

For me, and for her family, it is a mixed blessing, as these things always are. We are happy for her to be free of the burden that her life has become. But we are sad for ourselves, that we will no longer have this glorious, amazing, shining woman in our lives. We remember the family dinners, filled with laughter, and the way she baked a perfect apple pie, with just enough cinnamon (although we always said, “not enough cinnamon” as an on-going family joke).

For me in particular, this loss is beyond measure. My grandmother and I always had a special relationship. Maybe because I was her first grandchild. More likely because we were both “oddballs” in the family, drawn together by our love of writing and gardening. She was the bedrock on which my life was built, and her passing shakes my world to its core. Most of all, she was the one person who always believed in me—even when no one else did, including me. Everyone should be so lucky at to have a Germambie in their corner.

As it happens, I was already preparing to go to San Diego next week, to visit with the family for a couple of days before going on to the Pantheacon convention in San Jose on the 18th. Now my sister and brother in-law from Schenectady will be traveling out with me, in the hope that we will arrive in time to say one final goodbye to this remarkable woman who touched all our lives so deeply. And if we’re too late, at least our family will be together; to mourn, to celebrate, and to remember.

So I say to Germambie: hang on if you can; I’m coming. And if you can’t, then may you go easily along your path to the Summerlands. There you will get your well-deserved rest after almost a hundred years of living your life to the fullest. There you will be reunited with your beloved Efrem, and hold his hand in yours again as you walk in a place of peace. And when you are ready, I believe, you will move on to live yet another lifetime; one which will no doubt be filled with love, and laughter, and learning. And it is my hope that, when the great wheel turns, I will find you there, and meet you once again. We will be strangers to each other, but I am sure that I will know you. Because wherever you are, and in whatever lifetimes, you will always hold within you a piece of my heart.

Goodbye, Germambie. Thank you for all the gifts you gave me. I love you. Go in peace.


  1. Oooo *sniff* that's so sweet! What an amazing life she's had *sniff* That's a really beautiful piece you've written, I hope you get to say your final goodbyes in person.

  2. I'm terribly sorry to hear of this great loss in your life. So sad losing someone you're so close to, I know. As you said though, it's a plethora of feelings that you experience of ones passing. It's my wish that you may visit her once more before she leaves. What a touching story, & an amazing life she lived!

  3. Oh la :-( I'm sorry for this mourning you're already going through. But happy to know that such a great lady lived (lives!) and made so many other lives better. - Terri from the Betties

  4. Beautifully expressed, Deborah. I am sorry that I will not have the opportunity to meet you this weekend. - Deborah (Justin's wife)

  5. Beautifully expressed, Deborah. I'm sorry I won't get the chance to meet you this weekend. - Deborah (Justin's wife)

  6. You made me cry and you made me so sorry I'll never know your grandmother.

    I'll be keeping you in my thoughts.

  7. Thanks to you all for your lovely comments. I assure you, they mean a lot.

    Deborah--I'm sorry, too. I wish that all of us were going to be together at the same time, in the same place. I look forward to finally meeting you (the other Deborah!) during happier times. Much love to you and Justin.

  8. Beautifully written, Witchy. Your Grandmother sounds like someone we would all be lucky to know.


  9. Thank you for this loving & evocative tribute. What a spectacular woman! I will be thinking of you, your family & your grandmother, & will light candles for you all. I will also be at PCon & I hope it's restorative for you.

  10. Deborah - My sympathy is with you at this time of grieving and change. When my father died, it was the strangest sensation. It took me a while to realize, my world had shifted just a little because of the removal of his energy from the here and now. Because of who you are, you may experience the same sensation. If you do, be kind to yourself and take your time adjusting. People have a tendency to want you to move on so they can be more comfortable. Just ignore that.
    If there's anyway I can help, contact me. Judy aka Clever C/B

    That's a beautiful, loving tribute to a lively, feisty, beloved woman, her love story, and your family! Blessings bright and Dark on your journey and hers! Gail

  12. Oh Witchy,

    This post touched me so deeply. You know my Grandma Hilda passed into summerland last August. She would have been 98 (or is it 99?)this month.

    We are so lucky to have such brilliant women in our lives. And I mean brilliant not only in intelligence but also in the way they lived their lives and the auras they radiated.

    It is sad when they leave us, even after such a long stay here on earth. The adjustment is wrenching. I'm sending radioactive FGBVs to help you assimilate this change.

  13. I called my Grandmother "Nanny", and she passed over a decade ago now... not that she is ever far from me, visiting me when I need it in dreams!
    She taught me so much, but most importantly that a real woman can, and should!, be knowledgeable in as many ways as possible, from magick to car repair, from make-up, dress and baking to plumbing, and that wisdom makes her more feminine... never less!
    The women of her generation were amazing, and we were lucky to have had been able to experience them. However, the larger a blessing that a person is in our lives, the sharper the pain when they must leave.
    And, although there is nothing that anyone can say to lessen the sting of tears our tears of loss, I think of that pain as a palpable sign, even many years later, of our recognition and appreciation.... and our ongoing Love!

  14. Thanks to everyone for all the wonderful comments, memories, and sympathy. You all rock.

  15. A wonderful and moving tribute. Your grandmother sounds like an extraordinary woman and I'm glad you got a chance to share your life with her.

  16. What a woman to have in your life. Thank you for sharing her with us.

  17. My heart aches for you and your family Deborah. I pray the spirits give you the opportunity to say a proper farewell. May her passing be gentle, her journey pleasant and may you meet again.

    Many Blessings

  18. Deborah,
    So sorry to hear about your grandmother. She is a wonderful lady who lived life to the fullest on her own terms. We should all be so lucky. Peace and light be with you and your family.