My grandmother died this week.  It was expected; she’d had Alzheimer’s for years and finally forgot how to eat, taste, swallow, drink.  She’d long forgotten my  name, or how to walk, or that she once worked in the U.S. Senate.  She was ninety-four, a half-century older than me.

For my grandmother, a real life force, Alzheimer’s was a painful blow. You must understand her strength, how she captivated a room with her broad smile, the way she’d look you in the eye with brows raised and say, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.” By which she meant: that’s it, say no more. And then, because she was kind, she’d add, “Okay, sveetheart dahlink?”

She was a funny one, my Grandma Myrtie.  She said Yiddish words like “dreck” whenever she disliked something, and “What’s wrong with you?” when I disagreed with her–which made us both laugh. Later, in my dating years, she was quick to say, “He won’t buy the COW if he can get the milk for free.”  Apparently, this message of chastity was a favorite of hers; she’d also lectured my mother as well as her other granddaughters.  Turns out that she and my grandfather were having sex well before they were married. This was 1936 and she was only twenty!

My grandmother never had the opportunity to go to college. She was self-educated, read voraciously, and taught herself about politics, business and investing. The majority of the furniture in my house is hers. I stored it for years while living in Manhattan, imagining that someday I’d be able to use it, proudly. The sideboard, dressers, rugs, kitchen table, antique mirror, they’re all priceless.  Just like her.  The bargains we shopped for at Loehmann’s have since been retired, but I remember them all the same.

Because bad things happen in clusters, I wasn’t surprised when my mother phoned the day after my grandmother died to tell me my great uncle Izzie passed away.  He was 100. “There’s a third one coming, I know it,” I told my mother. Sure enough, that same morning, my friend Lisa e-mailed to say that her father had died.

There’s so much about life I don’t understand. As far as I know, there aren’t any spiritual underpinnings for the 3’s phenomenon (why is it such things happen in 3’s?).  Even minister and rabbi friends acknowledge some sort of universal truth here. All I know is that there is life and there is death. Darkness, it seems, is necessary. Without it, we’d never cultivate an appreciation for light.

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