We recently lost a very beautiful woman, my grandmother, Florence Katz. She lived a long, full life and recently passed away after 100 years of truly living life to the fullest. She was the most loving, generous and kindest person I have ever met. At her memorial service, my brother David beautifully summed up our thoughts about a truly incredible woman that I wanted to share below. We were fortunate to be with her during her final days. She truly embodied the meaning of being present, being kind, being optimistic even when facing great hardships, and living life to its fullest. (After this was posted, a beautiful tribute to my grandmother was published in the Herald Tribune, see More Than 52 Million Minutes, and She Made Them All Count)
My Grandma. How does one summarize the life and meaning of a person. One does not. I can only give you a feeling, a glimpse into the life of Florence Katz by telling you what she has meant to me and my family. I have written several speeches throughout the years. Some speeches were challenging, others were not so hard. With a subject as beautiful and colorful as Grandma Katz, this one pretty much writes itself.
The last few days of her life were heartbreaking. But as so much was in her life, there was beauty everywhere, every minute. She was so frail, so tiny. She could hardly breath. We saw her like this so many times before. She always seemed to defy the odds and bounce back. We could not help imagining her bouncing back again. She seemed to realize that this was the end before we could. Without her contacts or glasses, she recognized everyone around her. With every stroke of her hand, with every kiss on her cheek, she simply said "thank you". She told us how much she loved us and how proud she was of us. She would be our glowing, proud grandmother with every last breath she had. She said her goodbyes, she told us to remember how wonderful her husband was. When she was somewhere between life and death, she called out to him, to her son, Nathan, and to her mother. It was somehow a relief to believe she would soon be with them. She held our hands, seeming to comfort us as much as we were trying to comfort her. She heard Karen's piano playing from the other room and a smile formed on her face. "Beautiful", she said. She was at peace, surrounded by family, listening to music just as she wanted and just as she deserved.
You all might know the famous line from Elton John's song "Like A Candle in the Wind." Her flame seemed so delicate and easily blown out with a gentle breeze. Well, anyone who knows Florence Katz knows she was more like a blow torch in a hurricane. Nothing was going to blow out her flame. And we all know that she came close too many times to count. I think that after she lost her sight and her ability to go out with friends and family, she was ready to leave, and, as usual, on her own terms. She was going to leave this world from the peaceful quiet of her sunroom surrounded by family while listening to her granddaughter playing the piano from the other room.
We were privileged to be able to laugh with grandma even as she was fading from us in her sun room at the Sarasota Bay Club. We told her we loved her. She told us to take her piano. We told her how special she was. She ask who is going to take the piano. We told her we would miss her. She made us promise again that someone would take her piano. We laughed. Through our tears, we laughed and grandma smiled. She knew that in life, no matter how great the sorrow, there was always room for laughter.
Look around and you will see the great joy and love she brought to the world. She touched everyone she knew in deep and profound ways. People look for the meaning of life as soon as they can ask the question. People climb to the peaks of mountains, meet with the Buddhist monks in the east. We read, we pray, we fast. If you have looked into the eyes of Florence Katz and spent any amount of time with her, you have learned the meaning of life: To live, to love, to laugh, to cry, to play music, to listen with your eyes closed, to conduct an entire orchestra. Or, to teach your great grandchild to create art in your kitchen, one tiny shell at a time. She taught us the meaning of life whether we knew it or not.
As my sisters and I grew bigger, my dear grandma seemed to be shrinking. No matter how small grandma got, she still seemed larger than life. No matter how softly she spoke, her words were loud and clear. How could someone so small carry so much weight. How could someone so tiny bear so much pain. How could someone so petite leave such big footprints. We have learned and loved so much from you. "Take care of each other." "Family comes first." "Always live each day as if it were your last."
- David Vigder, December 30, 2015