My grandmother explained death to me when I was eight years old shortly after the sudden and tragic loss of her husband, my grandfather Barry. Heartbroken but strong, I’ll always remember these words: “Do you remember what happened to your grandmother Etta?” My dad’s mother had passed away when I was very young, but I knew what she meant and nodded. “Well, that’s what just happened to grandpa.” After a warm embrace, I’d suddenly understood mortality in a way that helped turn what could have been a painful experience into one filled with learning and love. From that moment on, I recognized the loss of someone that you hold dear is an inevitable part of human existence. And because she taught me to be cognitive of that as early as she did, I feel I became capable of living a more impactful and meaningful life. So, grandma, thank you.
Grandma made the most of her time here with us. She was stunningly gorgeous, always with a beautiful manicure and a meticulously well-kept hairstyle. Her fashion was loud, proud and so dang fun. She was a beloved business owner in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. She even got to make an appearance on one of her favorite shows, People’s Court, and starred alongside her sister in a commercial for a local station casino. Grandma was truly charming in an unparalleled way. Even in her darkest days, she had a way to make her nurses laugh and feel a special and strong connection to her. They knew she was sassy, witty and her quirks were endearing. Many were overwhelmed by her support system, though I wasn’t. Everyone loved grandma. It made sense that so many people would spend so many hours doing whatever they could to help her.
There was a calm lightness and casual sarcasm with which she approached her life. She always talked about “when she’d croak” even when she was fully healthy and self-sufficient. One of her favorite jokes was that she wanted to meet a rich man with one foot in the grave and another foot on a banana peel. Recently, she referred to her death as “putting me in the junk pile” and we were always able to laugh at the absurdity of her acceptance. Her vocabulary was always filled with brilliant imagery, even if you had to sort of guess meaning when she used more dated Yiddish colloquialisms. Those of you who knew her well know it it was always a sight to see when she would tell people to “kish meine tuchus” with somewhat repeated regularity.
I’d like to end with one particularly fond memory. After spending many years in Vegas unable to gamble, my grandma and I were thrilled at the chance to finally play cards together with real cash rather than our usual Monopoly money. When she was getting tired, she announced that she was going “all in” on the next hand. As a sign of risky empathy, I threw all of my money on the table as well. She lost all of hers; I hit a blackjack. She was so happy. We danced liked fools and celebrated like we had just won the Super Bowl. She found so much joy in her family and that was an endless source of purpose in her life. Grandma loved her friends, she loved video poker, she loved jazz — especially Frank Sinatra; she once cried when I played his music for her on Spotify — and she always spoke to me about how much she wanted to go dancing with me. I wish I could dance with my grandma again; I used to go on walks and talk to her about how our days were going. I’m devastated that I can’t do that again, either, but thanks to the lesson she taught me in 2001, I’ll always understand why we can’t. Cherish those who mean the most to you and you’ll appreciate them, especially someone like Pauline Samuels, forever. I miss her to pieces and love her to the moon. But I am at peace. And I know she is as well.