Remembrance: Esther “Stella” Arditi Beredjick, 1926–2017

Ninety years young. (August 6, 2016)

This is the speech I gave at a memorial reception honoring my late grandmother, Esther Beredjick, on June 3, 2017. It’s not quite a eulogy and not quite a toast, but something in between.

Esther means “star,” and she was.

She was bright and gentle and fiery all at once. She could point you in the right direction when you were lost. No matter where you went, you knew she was always there, ready to welcome you home.

They say that you can’t choose your family, but in my grandma’s case, they’re wrong. Grandma hand-picked her family from dozens of people who adored her, from Tampa to New York to Bulgaria and Israel. The more, the merrier, she always said.

By blood, she had one child and two grandchildren. But by the size of her heart, she had many more than that. Of course, she loved Arthur and me, but mostly because we brought Rachel and Kaitlyn into her life.

Whenever I asked her if I could bring a friend by her apartment for lunch, she always said yes, even if she’d never met them. You could mention an upcoming vacation to another country, any country, really, and she’d produce a photo album from her own travels there. She stopped in the middle of the road to feed birds, basically every time we went outside. I tried to tell her that was dangerous, but she couldn’t be bothered. The birds won out every time.

She wanted nothing more than to be surrounded by laughter. She looked for joy in the little things. Coffee at her kitchen table overlooking the Hudson River; talking to strangers in foreign languages; stopping to smell every flower; Pavarotti and Elvis and Keith Urban; cheesecake and Eggo waffles and inhuman quantities of Bulgarian feta cheese. (Not all at the same time. But… sometimes at the same time.)

I’ve lived in New York for four years now. In that time, I’ve gone through three jobs, three apartments, changes in the world around, changes in myself. Of course, that was nothing compared to what she went through in ninety years of life, across many different countries, languages, careers and friendships. (And don’t worry, she reminded me of that.)

But I talked about those parts of my life with her. If I was struggling with something, she made it seem so easy to come to the right choice. When I came to her with a problem or a big decision to make, she would ask me simply, “Will this make you happy?” And that was it. I had my answer.

There is a Jewish tradition that when a loved one passes, the surviving friends and family members commit to carrying on some of that person’s qualities as a means of remembrance. There’s a lot to remember about my grandmother that I might carry on — her love of music, her fashion sense, her stories, her wildly inappropriate sense of humor.

But here’s what I will really try to take with me. In the last few years of her life, when I felt like I was moving a hundred miles a minute, she would remind me to slow down and enjoy everything around me. To find the people and things that make me happy, and to spend my days with them, and to take my time.

I think that’s the best thing we can do to honor her: take our time and be with the people we love. In her words: Chi va piano va sano e va lontano. “Who goes slowly goes safely and far.” And if you’re faced with a big decision and you wish you could ask for her advice, take a step back and ask yourself, “Will this make me happy?” Feel free to imagine it in her voice, too.

I’ll end with a poem that she used to share with me when I was little, that I know was one of her favorites:

I like walking with Grandma,
Her steps are short like mine.
She doesn’t say “now hurry up”
She always takes her time.

I like to walk with Grandma,
She sees things like I do,
Wee pebbles bright, a funny cloud.
Half hidden drops of dew.

Most people have to hurry,
They do not stop to see.
I’m glad that God made Grandma
Unrushed and young like me!

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Camille Beredjick

Writer based in Chicago. Writes about LGBTQ issues, mental health, family, relationships, & more.