New York Times Portraits of Grief

Vivian Casalduc

Vivian Casalduc lived to make her family's eyes light up. Each December, she would bake gingerbread for a giant candy land, where the ground was coated with thick piles of shredded coconut (snow) and the houses were studded with lollipops and licorice. "She would make it the first two days in December and let everybody look at it all month long, and on Christmas morning, she'd let everyone ransack it," said her daughter Angilic Casalduc.

Five small grandchildren spent alternate weekends in her care, and would come home with cotton candy in a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes. Turns out, Grandma had bought a cotton candy machine.

A Brooklyn native who grew up in housing projects, Ms. Casalduc, 45, married at 16, had three children and divorced. Her job as a microfiche clerk at Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield moved two years ago from Brooklyn to the 28th floor of 1 World Trade Center. Her commute was longer, but the salsa concerts downstairs became a part of her lunchtime routine.

Ms. Casalduc left one prescient lesson, her daughter said: "Do everything the hard way." Why major in one subject when four would do, or take a taxi when public transportation was there? "Do it the easy way," Angilic Casalduc remembered, "and you'll never learn anything, and God forbid, anything happens, she worried we wouldn't know how to survive."