I lost my grandmother last month. This is the eulogy that I wrote with my sister. I’ve altered it to put it in my voice; in actuality, she is the one who delivered it.
When my sister and I first sat down to write this speech, we asked ourselves, how could we possibly sum up a human life in five minutes? Our hearts were so full, it seemed impossible to know where to begin. Grace Buonocore was so many things: a devoted daughter; a loving wife, mother, and grandmother; a career woman who worked for many years by my grandfather’s side in his office; a beloved teacher’s assistant; and a survivor who faced the battle of her life with the same quiet dignity that characterized her entire existence. But we had to start somewhere. So, clichéd as it sounds, with tears in our eyes, we picked up the dictionary and looked up the literal definition of the word “Grace.”
Grace is an old family name. It was appropriately chosen for a devout Christian woman who attended Church without fail and ensured that her three children were given Catholic educations at St Stephen’s, Sacred Heart, Notre Dame, and Fairfield University. Our mother’s great-grandmother was named Grace, and of course, my sister is too. When we looked it up, we found the definition “simple elegance,” and also, “the quality of being considerate and thoughtful.” It struck us that our grandmother’s character was a perfect embodiment of both aspects of her name. A name evoking elegance was perfect for a woman with her poise and personal style. Who can forget her beautifully patterned wardrobe, her signature red lips, her perfectly quaffed hair, or her sweet, musical voice? And a name evoking kindness was perfect for a woman who was so good-hearted and non-judgmental that when we began to draft this eulogy, something that several people independently reminded us to include was that in all the years they knew her, no one could remember her ever saying a single unkind word about anyone, even once. They meant this literally; she never had a single hateful thing to say about another human being. That is an extraordinary observation, and it’s a testament to our grandmother’s character. Truly, she was grace personified. And how appropriate that even her last name, Buonocore, means good-hearted.
But actually, her closest family always knew her by a different name: one that she gave herself. 31 years ago, when I was born in Israel, my grandmother went on the voyage of her life when she flew around the world all by herself to visit me and my mother. It was her first and only trip out of the country. She described it like a movie. She visited the Jordan River, Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, getting to see for herself the places that she sang about every Sunday in this very church. When she returned from that trip, she gave herself a new name. Now and forever afterward, she was Bubby, the Yiddish word for grandmother. This of course led to some confusion at the Ridge Top club, where she loved to play tennis with a huge and enthusiastic group of friends, many of them Jewish. Whenever my sister called “Bubby” on the tennis court, three or four other women would turn their heads.
With her new name came a new identity as a grandmother, and she adopted the role with flair. Bubby’s house was a magic place. It was where my sisters, cousins, and I spent our earliest childhoods. Bubby, Poppy, and Julia (Bubby’s mother) helped to raise us, empowering my mother to go to graduate school, and my aunt to begin her career. For over two decades, my grandmother, grandfather, and great-grandmother presided over this amazing version of the American dream in the most classic sense of the term. 1882 Ridge Rd is a little house with a big backyard and a patio, surrounded by trees and gardens and friendly neighbors. My mother lives on the very same street even now. So did my aunt. And now, my sister does, too.
My sister and I don’t know if we’ll ever be so happy again in our lives as we were in the days when getting to sleep at Bubby’s house was the greatest thing that could happen to us in the world. When we think of Bubby, we’ll always remember curling up on the couch next to her, her hair in a headband, and her attention divided between the Golden Girls on television and a Danielle Steele novel in her hands. In the evenings, she would go out walking with Gina, May, Irene, and Barbara. We loved her so much, we always wanted to join her on those nightly walks even after spending the whole day with her. We were always surprised when she ever so gently dissuaded us. When Bubby returned through the back door, we’d all have dinner together, either one of Julia’s famous recipes, or one of Bubby’s slightly less famous recipes. To be honest, food was Julia’s department. But taking care of Julia, and all of us too, was Bubby’s specialty.
We are in awe at Bubby’s dedication to Julia, whom she cared for until she passed away at the age of a hundred. It was representative of selflessness and devotion at their most pure. If everyone behaved toward their parents with such love and generosity, the world would be a much better place than it sometimes is. In Bubby’s final years, the attention she once paid to Julia was repaid in spades by our grandfather, who stood by her side for better or worse, and clothed, fed, and bathed her like a guardian angel. Bubby lost her father, who doted on her, when she was just sixteen years old. But that same year, she met her soul mate, and their life together was a great adventure full of happiness and laughter. This was true love—five and a half decades of cooperation, respect, and devotion, and three wonderful children raised side by side. What a blessing they found in each other.
Thank you for everything, Bubby: for your generosity and your sense of humor, for your gentleness and your sweetness, for your patience and your imagination, and more than anything, for your love. Your legacy lives on in the lives and characters of your children and grandchildren. I think that Bubby’s house and the old fashioned family values that defined existence there are symbolic of the dreams and aspirations of a generation in many ways more dutiful and hardworking than ours. Bubby and Poppy were children of the Depression and Second World War, a generation brought up on Popeye and Bette Boop, Bubby’s favorite. That generation never took anything for granted. They believed that the purpose of life was not to serve oneself, but to serve the ones you love. We will never forget that lesson, Bubby. And we will never forget you.