Tag Archives: cancer

Goodbye to My Mom

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A portrait I shot of Mom in August 2013, five months after my Dad died. She wanted a nice photo to get her started in the world of internet dating. She never ended up going on a date- I’m not surprised, who could seem even remotely interesting after being married to my Dad?

My mom died on Friday night, March 15, 2016 after a two year battle with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare and aggressive cancer. At some point I’d like to do a post about my parents’ battles with cancer and how it’s influenced the work I do in chronic disease prevention. But that’s not today.

I didn’t deliver a eulogy at my Dad’s funeral 3 years ago and I’ve regretted it since. So in a way, this eulogy was for both Mom and Dad.

Over the last few weeks I’ve posted dozens of photos of mom in the sixties- friends all over the world seem to have enjoyed them, as well as the stories that accompany these images. I thought some of you might be interested in hearing a little more about my mom, so I decided to post the eulogy here.

Mom's college graduation portrait

Mom’s college graduation portrait

A Daughter’s Eulogy | Esther Krohn 1946-2016

 

Mom with baby me

With baby me

Anyone who knew Esther Krohn knew that she put everyone else first. Her family and her friends were infinitely important to her, and she invested all of her energy into ensuring that the people she loved were happy and well cared for.

This was evident in Mom and Dad’s relationship from the very beginning. Soon after they started dating, Mom bought tickets for a music festival due to take place upstate in the summer. At the last minute, Dad had to take call. Did Mom call a girlfriend and make alternate travel plans? Absolutely not. She stayed in the city on a sweltering August weekend as she didn’t want Dad to feel extra disappointed about missing out. That little music festival turned out to be the most important musical event of the 20th century, if not ever. If missing Woodstock to take care of your boyfriend isn’t the purest incarnation of altruism, I don’t know what is.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day

Mom and Dad on their wedding day

And of course that’s how it went down- because Mom always put herself second. Or third. Or fourth. There was nothing more important to Mom than being sure that her family was happy and that their needs were constantly anticipated and consistently met.

Her desire to care for us took on innumerable forms, some obvious, some more subtle. For instance, during East Hampton summers she monitored the motion of the leaves around our house or the fluttering of the flags on the ocean beaches, hoping that these observations would relate to the conditions at Napeague, ensuring Dad a good windsurfing day. Likewise during those summers she observed and reported the intensity of the sunlight, hoping that I might have a productive and enjoyable day photographing.

Mom never let anything get in the way of caring for the family- what she called “her job.” I don’t remember her being sick a single day in our childhood- and I doubt it was because she didn’t get a cold- it’s because she never let it stand in the way of doing that job. Regardless of whether she had slept 3 hours, which was often the case, or whether she recently had a major surgery- she was always there to make us breakfast, get Dad off to work and us off to school, drive us to after school activities, make us dinner, help us with our homework and get us to bed.

Mom at Summer Stock in the summer of love, 1967

Summer Stock in the summer of love, 1967

At the 1964 World's fair

At the 1964 World’s fair

Mom was expert at caring for those she loved. But she was expert at so much more, in both the physical and intellectual realms. She had an impressive and diverse athletic ability- trying everything from skiing to windsurfing to sailing to running to tennis- she really did it all. And she was an aesthetic virtuoso –this was evident in her legendary green thumb, in her encyclopedic knowledge of art and antiques, home decorating, and her uncanny ability to walk into a space, see the vast potential- and then achieve it.

She took pride in sharing her love of art and culture with us as children- any weekend we weren’t skiing or sailing, she piled us into the car early and ushered us to a museum or performance in the city- I am forever grateful for that immersion so early on.

Somewhere around 1966-67

Somewhere around 1966-67

Everyone here knows of Mom’s phenomenal sense of style- a sense that transcended medium. It was apparent in her knack for decorating, flower arranging and gardening, and in her impeccable personal appearance. The aesthetic details we saw on the surface of Esther Krohn were a confident expression of her vast knowledge of art and design.

My personal favorite era of Mom’s were the 60s and 70s- in fact it’s likely that the photos of her in this era as well as a hermetically sealed time capsule of floor length psychedelic dresses, hidden away in the basement of our childhood home, informed my own love of vintage style. Mom forged on with countless reinventions, all successful in their own way. Even her collection of 1980s hairdos, some rather mullet-y in nature, were pulled off with grace and flair.

My parents in Paris sometime in the early 70s.

My parents in Paris sometime in the early 70s.

A collection of Mom's Scarsdale Pool passes. My favorite mullet is the Jimmy Page-esque one upper left.

A collection of Mom’s Scarsdale Pool passes. My favorite mullet is the Jimmy Page-esque one upper left.

She even had a style overhaul a year into her cancer battle, eventually ditching the wig for a chic pixie-like cut in her natural, strikingly beautiful grey, which no one had ever seen prior. She stopped wearing makeup, with the exception of a bright red lipstick that highlighted her infectious smile. When her clothes no longer fit, she assembled an entirely different wardrobe, resulting in a new look- one more unique and striking than anything I saw her wear since the 70s. It was authentically her, and it was beautiful.

Mom, right with her dear college friend, Sherry, this past summer in East Hampton.

Mom, right with her dear college friend, Sherry, this past summer in East Hampton.

And speaking of beauty, it’s tough not to mention her legendary, outward physical beauty. From the time I was in nursery school, every teacher and parent commented on her loveliness and elegance. And it wasn’t just because she was a babe. Her beautiful smile, engaging nature, compassionate demeanor and sense of humor all played a part in her attractiveness. All of these attributes made her the life of the party, the belle of the ball, and a devoted friend to innumerable people over the course of her life. She was magnetic, and everyone gravitated toward her.

With her granddaughter, my niece Genevieve

With her granddaughter, my niece Genevieve

Many of you reaped the rewards of Mom’s aptitude for entertaining. As Max mentioned she was a gifted cook and an exemplary hostess. Whether a small dinner or a big charity fundraiser, entertaining gave mom the chance to show off some of her numerous talents while taking care of other people.

In working so hard for the sake of making others happy, and in putting everyone else first, I don’t think mom saw herself as coming last. Mom took great pleasure and pride in being there for her friends and providing the vital framework for her family’s happiness and success. That being said, when others need you most, it can be hard to carve out the time and space to take care of yourself, particularly if you’re the kind of person who mom was.

Mom and me on our boat the Nephron, around 1977

On our boat the Nephron, around 1977. My Baby Peggy phase.

Perhaps the most potent example of mom’s altruism, and sadly a tragic aspect of her propensity for caring is that she sublimated her own intense physical suffering when Dad was dying. Who knew that she too had cancer, but put Dad’s pain ahead of her own, so that he would feel loved and comfortable without feeling ashamed or guilty. We all knew that she was suffering emotionally, and that her stomach issues, at the time thought to be anxiety induced, were irritating to contend with. But in retrospect, it is haunting to think of her stoically enduring the effects of cancer alongside her husband.

That was mom. Everyone else first.

I can’t imagine how rough it must have been for fiercely independent mom to eventually let others help for a change once she received her diagnosis.

When she had no choice but to relent and let others help, she never complained of her own pain or sadness. All she communicated to us and to her valiant caregivers was her guilt about disrupting our lives. To the end, her main concern was that her family should not feel inconvenienced.

Just as we all did, I wanted so much to do something meaningful for mom in her time of suffering, and I feel so grateful that in the end she finally allowed me to do just that. On the last night she was verbal, the night we initially thought she would go, Max and I stayed rather late. While he took a nap I sat at Mom’s bedside holding her hand, as we had done for weeks. She thought the end was near as we did- although tenacious as she was, it turned out that she would go on fighting for another week.

Around 1 am, I told Mom that I was about to head home, and I’d be back to see her in the morning. Ordinarily she would say something like “you do what you need to do,” and send me on my way. That was sort of her code for “I kind of want you to stay, but it’s more important to me that you tend to your own needs.”

But that night, she looked uneasy, and didn’t respond. “Mom,” I asked, “do you want me to stay? I can stay.” Mom had a hard time talking in her last few weeks, and with the oxygen machine blaring in the background it was tough to hear her faint whisper. So I put my ear a millimeter from her mouth and heard one very distinct word: “Stay.” Of everything Mom did for me over the course of her life, and there was a lot – that one word was one of the greatest gifts- the permission to return a lifetime of caring by just being there in her time of need.

Skiing somewhere in Europe

Skiing somewhere in Europe. Wear your sunscreen, folks.

I began with a musical tale so perhaps it’s fitting to end with one. My most Proustean memory, at about 2 years old, is being with our parents at a condo called Middle Earth, in Sugarbush, VT. It’s 1976 and the the two 8 tracks perpetually on were two of our parents’ favorites- the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road. To this day, any time I hear those albums I am transported to Middle Earth, and am instantly embraced by a sense of warmth, home, and the unconditional love of my parents. But even as a child, those albums were tinged with sadness, as it occurred to me that they would be uncomfortable to hear when my parents were gone. I never imagined that time would come so soon.

The last line of Abbey Road’s The End is  “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Our parents put a tremendous amount of love out into the world, and in return, were blessed by the love of each other, of their family, and a vast network of friends. Their example of love and compassion continue to inspire me every day of my life. I only wish they could have stayed around a little longer to inspire us all.

On one of Mom and Dad's boats- either The Intuition or The Nephron

On one of Mom and Dad’s boats- either The Intuition or The Nephron

Mom and dad at my brother's wedding in 2006.

Att my brother’s wedding in 2006.

Mom just after giving birth to me. Kind of unreal. With her sister, left and her mother, right. I need every piece of clothing in this photo, btw.

Just after giving birth to me. Kind of unrealistic postpartum beauty! With her sister, left and her mother, right. I need every stitch of clothing in this photo, btw.

 

Becoming Greener

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Greetings dear VVP Potluckers! Hope you’re not full-up on smoothies yet-  I beseech you to give just one more a go. Our featured ingredient (by way of orange) sings along with spinach, pineapple and coconut water in the recipe below my “green awakening” story. Enjoy, and happy potlucking!

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I was scared of green smoothies until just this past summer. Kind of hard to believe, considering the fact that I love greens, I love my Vitamix, and I’m a vegan nearly-nutritionist. Thankfully, all this has changed, and I have The Seed and Victoria Moran to thank.

The Seed is a plant-based nutrition expo/ conference based in New York- this years’ was held in early August in Soho. Dozens of vegan luminaries gather to speak, give demos and generally inspire us all. There are also scores of vendors showcasing their foods and services. I was lucky enough to attend both days thanks to my friend Sarah, amazing creator of the unparalleled Rescue Chocolate.

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Over the course of the weekend I was awed by incredible speakers, among them were Victoria Moran, JL Fields, Jenny Brown of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and Dr. Robert Ostfeld of the Montefiore Cardiac Wellness Program. Each of these lecturers left me feeling inspired and re-invigorated in my own plant-based nutrition mission. Months later I still revisit their talks in my mind.

So what does this have to do with green juice? I began my Seed experience at Victoria Moran’s talk on the subject of aging gracefully inside and out. If there’s anyone who is an authority there, it is Ms. Moran, as she is gorgeous, eternally youthful and full of vitality. Each time I hear her speak I hang on her every word- she’s not only entertaining but oh so wise. And she’s one of those women who simply glows. Seriously, her skin is just luminescent.

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During her talk, she lauded the power of green juice. “When you’re feeling like that latte at 3pm- get yourself a green juice instead. And then if you still feel like the latte, have that, but I’m pretty sure you won’t.”  Yes, I love my soy latte. But if Victoria’s regimen has anything to do with that unbelievable glow, I’m willing to give it a shot.

So I started drinking green right after her talk. (I went for the smoothie and not the juice, but I still drank my veggies. More on the difference to come) It was a pineapple-orange-spinach coconut water blend and it was my epiphany. I chased that with several other juice & smoothie samples over the two days at the Seed, I particularly loved the Green Mustache orange mango smoothie.

One of the fragrant green smoothies I sampled at the Seed. Orange mango and greens, another combo I need to make at home!

One of the fragrant green smoothies I sampled at the Seed. Orange mango and greens, another combo I need to make at home!

Still I didn’t believe that this sweet green elixir could ever replace my latte or sundry caffeine/ chocolate fix. But wouldn’t you know, it eventually did just that. There I was yesterday, late afternoon, standing at the refrigerator, poised to eat a piece of chocolate when it hit me. I don’t really want chocolate, I want ANOTHER green smoothie! Yes, two green smoothies in one day- I’m still in shock.

(btw, this is not to say there’s anything wrong with chocolate, but when I want chocolate it’s generally because I have low blood sugar.  Chocolate isn’t going to fix that in the long run.)

 And then miraculously, I actually went for two days in a row without coffee. So yes, Victoria was completely spot on.

The inaugural green smoothie at the Seed

The inaugural green smoothie at the Seed

Why should we drink green smoothies & juices anyway? The same reason we need to eat our veggies. Most Americans eat less than one serving of fruits and vegetables daily. No wonder we are so sick- vegetables are really not optional. The micronutrients and phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables are integral to so many of the basic metabolic processes our bodies perform everyday.

We may not initially see the damage we do our bodies by depriving ourselves of these vital nutrients. But it catches up with us eventually, and may manifest in any number of forms from obesity to osteoporosis to cancer.

In fact the risk of cancer decreases with an increased intake of fruits and vegetables, and the earlier in life one begins eating large amounts of these foods, the more protection one has. So really, we should try to get in as many servings of fruits and veggies as we possibly can. Even the five a day recommendation is really conservative.

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Here’s why smoothies are so amazing. If you really tried, you could probably get in 10 servings of fruits and veggies into one 12 oz glass. My smoothies have at least four or five. I try to get in at least three servings of green veggies along with a fruit or two. Your green smoothie will provide you with iron, calcium, protein, and so many other important vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.

And why am I touting smoothies and not necessarily juice? Juice is great too, I drink juices now and then when I’m out and about. But I chose to buy a Vitamix because making smoothies retains all of the fiber, and phytochemicals work synergistically with the fiber to which they are bound.  Drinking the vegetables and fruits in their whole forms can be even more powerful than drinking the nutrients stripped from the fiber, which occurs in juicing.

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And fiber is incredibly important of it’s own accord- it helps in cancer prevention, in maintaining good cholesterol levels, a healthy weight, and healthy blood sugar levels. And remember, we only get fiber through plant foods.

Another plus for the smoothie side- many nutrients are fat soluble, so they are more bioavailable in the presence of healthful fats. Adding a little coconut or almond milk to your smoothie will help your body soak up all those vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from the fruits and vegetables. But please, don’t add cow’s milk (or any other animal’s) as dairy inhibits our uptake of phytonutrients.

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Nowadays my first stop in the morning is the Vitamix. Even before I have my tea! It took a wee bit of experimenting but I’ve arrived at my favorite combination of ingredients. I do vary it a bit, but my eye opening smoothie needs a base of pineapple, spinach and coconut in some form. I suggest:

2 or 3 two-inch slices of pineapple (roughly 1/8 of a medium pineapple)

3 cups baby spinach

1 small orange

1/2 cup coconut water

3 coconut water ice cubes (just pour coconut water into an ice cube tray, and voila!)

30 seconds in the Vitamix and there you have it- delectable green power.

For variation, sometimes I’ll add some mango or some frozen organic berries. But beware! Berries will turn your juice brown. While it still tastes divine, it makes me sad to lose that green hue.

So thank you Victoria- I’m finally on team green. Hope you, dear reader, will join us!

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YOU Can Help Reverse Climate Change- Don’t Pass the Buck

400,000 people turned up to the People’s Climate March on Sunday here in New York City. The consensus is clear- we don’t want to drown under rising oceans or burn up under depleted ozone. But how many of those marching really want to do what it takes to turn this thing around?

I salute the thousands who took to the streets. The vegan contingent was impressive, and I sincerely hope that their signs were a beacon to the rest of the march. But sadly, my vegan brethren were just a fraction of those marching. The majority ate the very meat, dairy and eggs en route that are responsible for an estimated 51% of greenhouse gas emissions.

I don’t doubt that the marchers are concerned for the state of the planet. But I do question whether the majority are truly willing to be part of the solution.

From Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary's Instagram feed

From Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary’s Instagram feed

The marchers wanted to inspire the U.N. to take notice of the environment. But to me this seems like passing the buck. Rather than acknowledge their own respective roles in the environment’s decline, it was simpler to blame climate change on “world leaders.”

In any case, giving the U.N. this task does not absolve us of responsibility as individuals. Any potential U.N. action would mean little if the rest of us are unwilling to affect change. Activism does not end with holding a sign. In my mind, activism implies taking real action, and in the case of the environment, the most important action we can take is abstaining from eating meat, dairy and eggs.

 While it’s hard to avoid hearing of animal agriculture’s devastating environmental consequences, few seem to make the connection that their personal food choices impact our planet. Perhaps it is denial, perhaps laziness. Nevertheless, throughout the day Sunday I saw countless posts from proud meat eaters on the march. In some cases, literally holding a picket sign in one hand and a burger in the other. Anti-fracking signs notwithstanding, they simply continued the behavior that keeps climate change on it’s current, deadly trajectory.

The Cowspiracy team, a new documentary on this very issue

The Cowspiracy team, a new documentary on this very issue

Which is why Sunday left me feeling skeptical. This is the same skepticism I reserve for campaigns like pink ribbons adorning buckets of chicken. KFC wants us to think they’re fighting breast cancer, but in reality they’re selling carcinogens (like PHIP and HCAs) in big greasy buckets. The same principle applies to many of the marchers. Saying you want to rid the world of a scourge is great, be it breast cancer or global warming. But back up the idea with action. Don’t sell or consume the product that contributes to it’s very creation.

In other words, if you want to affect change, BE that change.

photo: Marisa Miller Wolfson

photo: Marisa Miller Wolfson

But who knows, there could be hundreds of thousands who went to the march and didn’t have an inkling about the dark side of the meat, dairy and eggs they eat. So let’s just say you went to the People’s Climate March for the fun of it. And perhaps, for the first time, you made the connection- it’s not just the transit sector, fracking, the factories and generally other people in other places far beyond our control. Suddenly you realized that global warming is the result of our collective behavior, beginning with what we eat every day. That’s a lot to take in. So where do you go from here?

Where to go next? How about your local farmer's market! Photo: Lauren Krohn

Where to go next? How about your local farmer’s market! Photo: Lauren Krohn

Look at it this way. You’re in a really powerful position- you can play a part in reversing climate change RIGHT NOW! You can contribute to a better world by voting with your pocketbook as well as your fork. It’s in our hands, and the longer we tell ourselves it’s someone else’s problem, the bigger the problem gets.

And if you’re reading this post when it’s hot off the press, you’re in luck. It’s Monday, which means it’s Meatless Monday! Clearly there’s no better place to start. So try one meatless day, or one meal if that’s all you’re ready for. (mind you, there’s no sin in making it a Meatless Tuesday if that’s the day you’re reading. Or you know, in general.)

Yes my friend, vegan pancakes exist and they're even better than the other kind. Photo: Lauren Krohn

Yes my friend, vegan pancakes exist and they’re even better than the other kind. Photo: Lauren Krohn

And don’t forget, while animal-based meat fuels global warming at an alarming rate, plant-based meats such as Tofurky, Field Roast, Beyond Meat and Gardein are sustainable foods that use a tiny fraction of the resources used for animal-based “foods.”

Listed below are some of my all time favorite food blogs, each of which demonstrates that animal-free food is diverse, decadent and fun. It’s not all salad people, believe you me. In this day and age, any dish you can imagine can be made vegan.

Virtually anywhere on earth, you can find phenomenal vegan fare. I had this coconut curry  on a tiny remote island in the Florda keys. Photo: Lauren Krohn

Virtually anywhere on earth, you can find phenomenal vegan fare. I had this coconut curry on a tiny remote island in the Florda keys. Photo: Lauren Krohn

Not only will you help our earth by ditching animal flesh and secretions (yup, that’s what eggs and dairy are,) you’ll be helping yourself to a life with a lower incidence of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and so many other diseases. There are quite a few other reasons, including ending world hunger, and, oh yeah, the welfare of billions of exploited animals.

So let’s eat. If you want to get lunch right now, check out Happy Cow. Find vegetarian & vegan food anywhere you travel, or right at home!

Or get cooking with some of my favorite

Recipe Blogs:

www.ohsheglows.com

www.olivesfordinner.com

www.kblog.lunchboxbunch.com

www.forkandbeans.com

www.theppk.com

www.thesweetlifeonline.com

www.bittersweetblog.com

www.veganeatsandtreats.com

www.veganricha.com

www.meettheshannons.com

Or maybe your interest is piqued on this issue, and you’re ready to learn more about animal “agriculture”‘s place in global warming. Then check out the powerful documentary Meat the Truth.

Here are some great places to learn more about veganism, the why’s, how’s, and who’s-

www.joyfulvegan.com

www.vegansociety.com

www.farmsanctuary.com

http://www.ourhenhouse.org/

Home

Nutrition& Health

www.theveganrd.com

www.veganhealth.org

www.PCRM.org

www.nutritionfacts.org

www.drfuhrman.com/library/articles.aspx

www.veganforher.com/nutrition/the-plant-plate/

I leave you with a great video from the people at Chomping Climate Change, where you can find everything you need to know about the link between animal agriculture and the environment. For our planet, for our future, for the animals, for health- so many reasons, just one solution. Be that change. What do you have to lose?

Questions? Please feel free to ask in the comments! 

All Gone

All Gone. Those were Grandma Ruth’s words as I spooned chocolate pudding into my mouth. Her melodic voice and proud smile made every spoonful feel like an enormous accomplishment. While I was a picky kid, it wasn’t tough to finish off the contents of that footed dessert glass, particularly one topped with Cool Whip. Grandma made some amazing concoctions from boxed Jello. It all started with plain chocolate pudding, but she eventually graduated to create elaborate pies in neon colors- my favorite at around ten years old was the pistachio- pineapple dessert she made for our Florida visits. Because of it’s green hue,  it was affectionately known as “Grandma’s Slime Pie.”

My grandparents, departing for their honeymoon, in 1935.

My grandparents, departing for their honeymoon, in 1935.

The house where my Dad grew up, in Sheepshead bay. My grandpa on the left, Mom in the pink shirt with me, Grandma on the right. When asked about the apartment house behind, put up ten years after they moved in, my Grandma used to say, "What apartment house?"

The house where my Dad grew up, in Sheepshead bay. My grandpa on the left, Mom in the pink shirt with me, Grandma on the right. When asked about the apartment house behind, erected ten years after they moved in, my Grandma, ever the character, would say, “What apartment house?” Click and you can zoom this photo in big to see faces.

When I was thirteen, my Dad told us that Grandpa Sam had died in the night. He delivered the news through the first tears I had seen him cry. On a grey morning this past March, my mother called to tell me that my Dad was gone. This morning, it was my brother’s turn to let me know that Grandma Ruth died last night. Suddenly, all gone.

All beaming proudly, after my Dad's medical school graduation.

All beaming proudly, after my Dad’s medical school graduation.

For the last fifteen years, Grandma had been in a state of here sometimes, gone other times, but she was still here, a loving and permanent presence, her thoughts firmly attached to the events and everyday moments of her family, whether those thoughts were in the present or in 1935.

Grandma died just five days shy of her 99th birthday. Earlier this month, my brother and I talked about sending her story to The Today Show’s centenarians announcements, the goofy segment on which Willard Scott touts the talents and accomplishments of those who’ve lived to 100- now fortunate to be seen plastered on a jar of Smuckers jam. Max was given erroneous information that 99 year olds were eligible, but I’m glad I didn’t know the rules, otherwise I might have missed out on one last visit and an excuse to photograph her for a last time. So last week I visited Sarah Neuman, her nursing home in Westchester, with a mission.

Where I learned to play piano, Salem Drive in Scarsdale. Although I was more interested in a cookie here. My brother is beside me, my cousin, who Grandma also loved dearly, in front.

Where I learned to play piano, Salem Drive in Scarsdale. Although I was more interested in a cookie here. My brother is beside me, my cousin, who Grandma also loved dearly, in front.

The elevator doors open on the second floor and I see the familiar backs of thirty-odd white heads, staring up at a small television from their respective wheelchairs. Five years ago, it was easy to pick out Grandma’s trademark bouffant hairdo, but recently, it has lost it’s volume and deliberate shape. After failing to find her in the crowd, I discover her in a narrow hallway, asleep in her wheelchair, lunch staining her face. A nurse obliges my request to clean her up, and we roll off toward her room, she in her chair, I in the scooter I use to travel longer distances.

During these visits, our conversations are pretty one sided, and often I am unsure if she knows me as her granddaughter. Nevertheless, I operate under the assumption that she knows, or at least that she senses I am a person who cares. I tell her all the news about the family, about what’s going on in my life. I show her the family photos facing her bed, shrine-like, adjacent to a stuffed badger and sundry objects, no doubt left over from a previous resident. She looks at me, as if there is something she wants to say, but the words never come. She might fall asleep, or look away, as if I’m not there anymore. These times invariably recall my father’s last days, six months ago, in his respective nursing home, when the brain tumors impeded his thoughts, perceptions, possibly sight and hearing. And I wonder if she knows my Dad, her only child and near-daily visitor, is gone.

In her room at the nursing home, last week.

In her room at the nursing home, last week.

I had awoken her from a post-lunch slumber when I arrived, so it is no surprise when her eyes close softly as I point my lens toward her. But several minutes later, while shooting interiors, I look over to see her quietly smiling at me. It was as if she were somewhere else when I arrived, and was back now. Dad took these journeys as well- he would travel elsewhere for days, then return to us.

Grandma gives me a kiss when she awakens- on these visits, that one kiss is a gift, and the silence and surroundings shrivel in their importance. In her more conscious days, my Dad called her signature the “machine gun” kiss- not one, but a series of rapidly successive, waxy orange- colored kisses in the same spot. Difficult to remove, but easy to love. These days, all she can manage is one soft peck. The lipstick, once a rule (I was often chastised for appearing in public sans lipstick, even if public meant an emergency room) has been long gone from her mouth. Gone as well is the fancy shoe collection, accumulated from every flea market in South Florida. And her trademark gold baubles that once adorned so many limbs and appendages, clinking musically as she moved.  And of course, her impeccably manicured, two inch long nails are no more, the nails I heard clicking on the piano keys as she imparted the wisdom of her Julliard training.

That smile. The hair, poofed on the right, covers a large benign tumor on her head.

That smile. The hair, poofed on the right, covers a large benign tumor on her head.

The quiet smile I now see through the lens is one of remembrance, one of a different time and place. It is the state I had hoped to capture and preserve. It feels like pure Grandma, one without judgement, without  expectations, without constraint. It was the smile behind her voice as she read me The Little Puppy at three years old. It was grandma, who loved me, just as I was.

I click the shutter. She returns to sleep.