Nickole Brown

Jessica Jacobs writes about her grandma, Gloria Goodman

In the living room of my grandparent’s house was a large gray rug studded with patches of puffy white tufts. I would spend hours adventuring there, circling the couches as I hopped from island to island of white, cautioning myself that if I stepped on the gray in between I would fall into a vast unknowable void.

At eighty-five, after ten years of intermittent chemo had taken their toll, my grandmother Gloria Goodman had a similar relationship with time: she moved through it in circles, touching down lightly on islands of memory—moments from her fifty-plus years of marriage, those glorious months during the war when she lived in Manhattan, her love for her family—safe harbors as the remainder of her life sank away into an unknowable past.

To keep her with me just a little longer, I asked her to again and again tell the few stories she remembered—the day she and my grandfather met, what my mother was like as a child. Between each, as her mind faltered and sought solid ground, she paused, then delivered what I came to think of as her refrain: "You know, every morning I wake up and think to myself how lucky I am. I had a wonderful husband, a loving family, and, if I have to be sick like this, at least I have this beautiful view where I have so much light and can watch the wind move through the trees. Even on days when it rains and the sky is dark, I'm thankful for this view."

Even as her memory and self were worn away, what was exposed was not anger at the failure of her body and mind but a bedrock of kindness, a deep and abiding gratefulness for the entirety of the life she had lived.

Our final months together didn't consist of much that can be described, really. When she felt well enough to venture into the living room, we would sit together on the couch, watching the world outside her window. Other days, we would lie together in her bed, watching old home movies or paging through photo albums. Each day, I learned something new: we had the same color eyes, her fingers were close to half an inch longer than mine, our bottom teeth were crooked in exactly the same way.

Then quiet. Then the refrain. Every time I heard it, every time her mind reset itself to that message of gratitude, every time we sat together in companionable silence, her hand in mine as we watched the movement of the wind and the light, it was plain that these moments were among the most sacred of my life.

They were lessons in not just how to gracefully approach aging, infirmity, and imminent death, but an imperative to live a life that allows you to have such grace and gratitude when that time comes. My grandmother—my stunning, vivacious grandmother who took up snow skiing when most people begin to consider retirement, who had a long loving marriage, who was consistently the most well-dressed women I have ever known and always the best dancer in the room, my grandmother is for me an exemplar of a life lived well, and I have endless thanks and love for her and this path she helped to illuminate before me.