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Safe Harbor

Good morning from the 28th floor of the Grand Hyatt hotel in Hong Kong, overlooking the bustling harbor of this ever-changing city. It's been four years since we've been here, and in that time, the landfill project has clearly advanced so much so that what was once water on our last visit is now dry land, and a nonstop construction site.

I have not written much recently, as our family was immersed in the process of saying goodbye to our beautiful mom, Gloria. We kept things pretty private, mainly because we honestly didn't know where things were going from day to day. A visit to the emergency room for pneumonia turned into a 3 week hospitalization, which ended up with her losing the battle against all the stuff that's part and parcel to the toll that pneumonia can take on, let's just say, not a spring chicken.

The choice was hers to go out like a lady, one that enjoyed golf and bridge and martinis til the very end. Even at her weakest, my dad would show up in her hospital room at 6 o'clock with vodka and vermouth for their evening cocktail together.

I am fully aware that we are the lucky ones. She spared us the agony of a long decline. For that we are incredibly grateful. I keep telling people that while this was certainly unexpected- my grandmother lived well into her late 90s, albeit in a diminished capacity- the anguish of this loss has been tempered by an equally unexpected peace of mind. The end was so quiet and peaceful- and all the stuff that we had to do in the aftermath of her death happened rather organically, as if we had a carefully thought out game plan, which we did not. Maybe one day I'll write a guide book, in the interest of helping others through this.

My personal guide book was, ironically, a book that I haven't seen in decades, but know from cover to cover, as I poured over it constantly as a freakishly precocious child. It was "Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette"... a big black tome on the shelf in my parents' paneled library, with those little thumb tabs for each chapter. I know that it was an engagement gift to my mom from our very prim and proper Aunt Mildred, a formidable gal who resembled Julia Child- tall, erudite- first a schoolteacher and then a high-powered executive secretary, like the Katherine Hepburn character in the movie "Summertime." My favorite chapters were "Living With Help in the Home" (jeez...) and "The Ceremonies of Life." There were also those fascinating little diagrams of how to set up a proper cocktail buffet, which should explain a lot to those of you who know me well.

Pretty much everybody loses their parents, at least hopefully, as any other course of events is pretty damn cruel. And no, I do not think that applying the word "lost" is a cop out, regardless of what a certain famous comedienne said... "A lady told me recently that she lost her husband. I said, 'Where? In the mall? At the supermarket?" Lost is exactly what I'm feeling, but with time I also know that "found" will enter the picture- finding one's new identity as a slightly more grownup individual, finding one's position in the family as the keeper of certain traditions, and in our case, finding a new role not just as a son to our father, but also as a confidant and friend, as he finds his new identity.

At the reception following Gloria's memorial service, a small, poignant gathering on the shores of the Jupiter Inlet, where she and my dad walked every day, I gave a little toast. "No matter how much you sugar coat this with all that 'celebration of life' hazerai, it still stinks," I said. But with each passing day, that "stink" is turning into "smell"- the smell of the roses my mom loved, the Norell perfume she wore back in the day, and the very sweet smell of success for a life extremely well lived. Who could ask for anything more?

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