APB Aunt Pearl Boardman
My grandmother passed away early Friday morning, at the birth-and-death time of 4:33 a.m. I miss her dreadfully.
Aunt Pearl, so-called by me and my cousins because she is my step-grandmother, was a passionate, active, beautiful, and well-opinionated woman who would walk into a room and you immediately knew she was there. I remember coming to her house or to the “Club” so many times for Passover (about 35 times in my life) and, as I walked through the doors, there she was, arms outstretched, dark glasses on, long sleeves draping down, saying, “Hello, Bubbelah.”
Aunt Pearl was not an easy person and she would often say things that would hurt you, even if that was the last thing she wanted. But mostly she had an uncanny ability to know exactly at what station in life you were and she could, in just a few seconds, gather what was bugging you and immediately jump to your aid. In college, she urged me to not worry so much. In grad school, she sent me a generous check for money to buy pans and furniture. Most recently, she advised me about business, parenting, real estate, life.
A heavy smoker, she succumbed to some form of small-cell cancer, which devoured her body in a little less than three weeks. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2003 and the chemo given six months ago gave her the life she needed to die with dignity, ordering her life so that others may live more orderly.
I’m struggling very deeply with her absence. I know I should have called her more over the past eight months, when she was sick yet living. I miss her advice, both requested and unrequested. She was one of those people that seemed so invulnerable, who projected an air of certainty and elegance, who never seemed to be in pain, that, even until three weeks ago, I thought she would continue for a long, long time.
I wonder if she was ready to die. Friends and family at today’s funeral said she had prepared herself these past few months — probably in ways that few of us could ever enjoy.
But here’s the harder part for me. As one eulogist more eloquently noted today, her life was a dedication to the family’s continuity, to compassion for others, and to leaving the world a “better place than it was when one inherited it.” As the matriarch of the family (her husband and my paternal grandmother died in 2000), she always put others before herself. But now there is no one ahead of herself. There is, in fact, no one ahead enough to take ownership of the family, to lead its gatherings, to create its ritualized Passovers, to organize its occasional occasions.
She stood alone because she was the head of the family. She now resides next to my grandfather, who she disinterred only a few weeks ago in preparation for her passing. They are head-to-head, feet apart. Their two souls, from which our small family gained so much love, sustenance, assurance and stability, are together. And I mourn.