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Diana Sevanian: Goodnight, Gracie

Out of My Head

Posted: December 22, 2008 9:11 p.m.
Updated: December 23, 2008 4:30 a.m.
"Joy is an inside job."

Each of the many funny and thought-provoking e-mails sent out by Grace Kierbel contained that signature phrase.

Taken from a book of the same title, the saying meant a lot to her.

"It's what I believe," the pragmatic Brooklyn-born octogenarian told me of her motto. "Attitude, happiness and peace of mind go hand-in-hand."

Grace lived that principle.

Despite suffering with multiple sclerosis for more than two decades and needing a power chair to get around, she remained engaged in the world, both physically and mentally.

"I am neither confined nor defined by this thing I'm in," she said through a sturdy smile.

A feisty woman with a timeless spirit, saucy sense of humor and passion for learning, Grace died shortly after 1 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 16.

The cause of her sudden exit - a heart attack.

Suffice to say, many hearts are now wounded. I know mine is.

Grace was one of those rare characters who always had a joke, a smile or a snappy comeback. She always had sound advice and insight to offer.

And always, always, she had a way of making people feel better about themselves and how they fit into this world.

A vintage model with a New Age lean, Grace believed in lifelong learning. The first of many moving e-mails she sent me was about an East Coast telephone-based educational program. She hoped to see it developed in this valley some day.

Designed for homebound seniors, it offers more than 250 courses - from poetry writing to discussing moral, ethical and philosophical issues, to money management and even understanding Feng Shui.

As Grace so perceptively pointed out, this vehicle for home-based learning was an "emotional liberation for seniors, freeing them from the four walls they must look at day after day."

If anyone understood the value of such learning and "lightening," it was Grace.

A devoted mother to her son, Doug, Grace had a long history of caring, creativity and hard work. Having been a welder during World War II, she went on to become a seamstress and expert slip-cover maker.

Eventually she and her husband owned a store in North Hollywood that specialized in quality leather goods.

In 1990 when her spouse died, a new chapter of life began for Grace at the Senior Center.

Like many folks who have lost their beloved mates, she found support and camaraderie there - as well as the opportunity to stay active while "giving back."

Grace was an integral part of the Senior Center's soul. First serving as a peer counselor, she went on to become a telephone reassurance volunteer, and for many years regularly called homebound individuals who live alone to monitor their well-being.

She also pitched in through other ways, including selling Senior Center T-shirts. A "regular" at the center's congregate lunches, she enjoyed the hot, nutritious meals, live Big Band music and excellent dining companionship.

I learned a great deal from Grace. Among lessons gained: Better insight into the aging experience and seeing how, if you maintain a working brain, positive outlook and lust for laughter, you'll always remain young.

Through her I was also reminded of that which I witnessed through my own father, a man who, like Grace, had lived with severe, chronic illness: Don't let it eat you up.

Get out there and live life while you are here to enjoy it. Remember that there's always someone out there who has it worse than you do.

Try to focus less on your own situation and more on the people and wonders that surround you. It's all out there if you use the right vision.

It is with great sadness I contemplate Grace's absence. From her smile to her wisdom to her shouting, "Beep! Beep! Comin' through!" while navigating the Senior Center's hallways, it is still very unreal.

Considering the deep loss, I am reminded of something soothing and it comes straight from Grace herself.

One day, while the two of us were having lunch and conversing, we realized that our lives and beliefs had commonalities - from our shared ancestries, to both being news junkies, to having similar ideas about humanity, government, and the need for "paying it forward."

During our meaningful chat, Grace, a non-religious but very spiritual woman, said she possessed a rock-solid belief in an afterlife. She told me that conviction was a tremendous source of strength to her.

I can only hope her faith has been rewarded. Like the dear lady said, "Joy is an inside job."

More than a phrase, that momentous mindset will always be with me - as will the sweet memory of a kind and determined woman who moved hearts, tickled funny bones and left this world a better place.

Diana Sevanian is a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own opinions and not necessarily those of The Signal.

A memorial service for Grace Kierbel will be held on Monday Dec. 29 at 1 p.m. at the Friendly Valley Auditorium, 19345 Avenue of The Oaks, Newhall. Lunch will be served following the ceremony.


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