My grandmother died on Wednesday at age 94. I’ll write something about her really soon, but I wanted to first post the eulogy I wrote and delivered today for Maggie Estep at her memorial service/tribute at Nuyorican. John S. Hall is a miracle and he made it all happen. It was seamless. I left before it was over because there was a little too much death for me this week, but I was so honored to be included and I’m terribly sad I missed hearing everyone. Thank you to all who came, and those who couldn’t make it. Thank you to Francis Hall aka “Faceboy” for hosting.
A few days after Maggie died, I couldn’t feel her anywhere. I’d look at her photo and think, Who are you? I can’t remember anything you’ve ever said. Everything about her had been relatable, but this last thing–dying, turned her into a sudden stranger I knew nothing about. I’d walk past my refrigerator and stare at the photo booth strips that have been hanging there for a year and feel like I was house-sitting, staring at someone else’s life and friends, wondering who they were and whether I’d like them. The harder I tried to call up my experience of her, the less of her I felt. Another thing was my confusion. There was a strange two-dimensionality to life, like the world was made of cardboard, and everything suddenly looked flimsy, easy to disassemble. Other days I felt we’d been dolls in a dollhouse and the little kid who played with us abruptly and unexpectedly pulled Maggie out.
Maggie and I met for the first time eleven years ago. I wanted to thank her for providing an incredible blurb for my first book and we decided to meet for chai at my brother’s yoga school, where we’d discovered she and her best friend Jenny Meyer studied. Turns out we had a remarkable amount in common: two of the most important were our love of complaining and our shared birthday. Not long after, we spent an entire summer together at Yaddo, an artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, down the road from the racetrack, where she taught me how to bet on horses, although she didn’t teach me how to win. That was the summer she started calling me Frankie and for reasons I can’t remember, I started calling her Oscar. We never called each other by our actual names, again. We talked about everything from writing and boys to recovery and religion. I wanted to know what she thought and felt about every last thing and in many ways I wanted to be just like her. Still do.
Seven months ago we were in Seattle where we did wickedly un-deviant things like turn down offers to smoke pot, leave an outdoor concert after five minutes because of the noise and “steal” handfuls of complimentary Clif, Kind and granola bars so we had our meals for the next day. We felt like batty old ladies. She couldn’t believe she was 50. Everything in our lives was funny and hard and weird, but I remember feeling so present, even when we were talking about where else we had to be, and what else we had to do. My mind didn’t wander when I was with her. I didn’t feel worried or anxious about anything else because being with her was fulfilling; it was an experience. She was brilliant and acerbic, with a caustic wit, and making her laugh felt like you’d won the big door prize, every single time. Deep within her was a rare and vital duality–she had a loud, jangly soul which led her to be wickedly acid, but really she just wanted quiet so she also kind of Zen. My 94-year-old grandmother died on Wednesday, of a heart attack. She went fast and on her own terms and yesterday as I was looking through photos of her I heard Maggie’s voice for the first time since she died. I can’t tell you what she said because it was inappropriate, and also private, but I heard the specific way she swallowed certain letters while drawing out others and then I heard her hearty punctuated laugh and realized, it wasn’t making Maggie laugh that was the door prize, SHE was the door-prize, and the opportunity of knowing her was something everyone in this room had won, and we never, ever, have to give that prize away, all we have to do is dust it from time to time.