The child in me just wanted this horrific nightmare to end. I was at the beach with my mom when we received a frantic phone call from my cousin alerting us my grandmother had suffered a terrible stroke. All I wanted was for her to wake up and magically be healed.
On Friday the 13th — which happened to be my birthday, and a day I never associated bad luck with — I watched my grandmother leave the hospital and head back to the nursing home.
As I hugged her goodbye, she whispered in my ear, “When is your birthday? I know it is soon.”
I replied, with tears filling my eyes, “It’s today.”
She told me to go enjoy my day with my boyfriend and began crying. I struggled to contain my emotions. Maybe in that moment we both knew she was going to pass away.
That was the last conversation I had with her.
I shared a strong, intense bond with my grandma — the woman who had instilled a love of gardening, cooking and baking in me. I learned so much from her, and I am incredibly grateful for how strong our bond was and continues to be, even though she is no longer physically here.
Here are the seven best pieces of advice she gave me that will stick with me forever:
1. Don’t let anyone take away your spirit.
My grandma was the queen of being silly.
She taught me to never lose my childlike wonder, even as I grow up.
She would be the ultimate friend when I was a kid, letting me paint her nails gnarly colors and put a billion bows in her hair because I thought it made her look beautiful.
2. Always look your best.
My grandma was always put together, and that’s a challenge for anyone to live up to.
Even in her nursing home, she made sure that her nails were painted and her hair looked good.
By doing so, she was even able to find a boyfriend who kept her company in her last year.
3. If your going to drink, drink vodka — straight.
My grandma grew up in Eastern Europe, where vodka reigns supreme.
I never saw her drink anything else, and she could party with the best of them.
4. Always keep a tissue in your purse.
My grandma was known to carry tissues rumpled up in the sleeve of her sweater.
I may not go that far, but I do carry tissues with me in my purse — just in case.
5. Cakes, cookies and salads, oh my.
My love for being in the kitchen is a direct result of being my grandma’s sous chef while growing up.
She was infamous for her cooking and baking. She brought all the delicacies of Eastern Europe to America.
From cheese blintzes to her incredible napoleon cake, I saw her work away in the kitchen and love it. I saw how it made her light up when someone tried something she had concocted.
Now, I share in that same spirit. Nourishing others through delicious food and being in the kitchen is one of the strongest ways that I feel close to my grandma everyday.
6. Family traditions are important.
Being from a Communist country, my grandma was never able to celebrate any Jewish holidays.
When she was able to celebrate them in America, she was the hostess with the “mostess” who made sure everyone had a good time.
Being the queen of entertaining guests, I learned the importance of preparation.
I also learned that family is forever, regardless of where people live or what ridiculous arguments come up along the way.
7. It’s OK to move away.
I went out of state for college and for four years didn’t live in the same city as my grandma. But I could call her at any time of day, and as long as she wasn’t playing bingo, or doing arts and crafts, she would answer.
Conversely, she knew she could call me at any time of day and I would drop what I was doing to talk to her.
Even though she wanted me to be closer, she was always overjoyed when I was able to visit her. Even if we barely spoke because she was watching her favorite daytime show — “The Jerry Springer Show” — I’d bring her a caramel latte with extra caramel and watch as her lovely face light up as I walked through the door.
I spent the majority of my childhood with my grandma.
She helped raise me while my mom was working full-time, going to college part-time, and my dad was working nights.
She was not just my grandma, she was my best friend. I will forever be grateful for our special bond.