Image: My Bubby and me, August 8, 2013
There’s nothing romantic about death.
You say goodbye to someone you love, or someone you’ve known or someone you didn’t know so well or someone you wish you’d known better, or someone you liked a little or liked a lot or really didn’t like very much at all. And when there is no life left in their body, when, in an instant, it becomes a temporary mass of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus, you are slapped with the reality that our bodies are only vessels and that’s one thing that is completely clear.
And where does the person go? Where is she now? Moments after her death? Days, years, centuries afterwards? Some have no idea, some have theories, others think they know.
I woke up 20 minutes after my grandmother died. It’s one of the things I’m struggling with, as though I should have been awake, even if I was thousands of miles away. Either my soul should have sensed it or I should have been told she was leaving so I could cry about it while she was still here. I am laden with guilt following my grandmother’s death, almost as though it is a way to hold on to something, instead of letting her become simply a memory. She is a weight on my shoulders, as though that will give me some control, an occupation, as though, if I feel guilty enough, maybe she’ll come back to let me finish the job of good granddaughter.
But I keep thinking about how Bubby herself dealt with death. The death of her beloved parents. The death of her beloved husband and her best friend in one year. The death of her second beloved husband. The death of her son in law which left her daughter a widow, just one month after she had become one for the second time. The death of other close friends and relatives…
And I think that that thing that takes me fully into a task, into a moment, the great joy I feel in my accomplishments, my laughs with good friends, my good times with my family… That thing which makes me revel in life and my heart burst with love… I can feel it moving me onto this next stage in my life and I think it is what kept my Bubby moving on, time and again.
The one time I heard my Bubby curse was the day I called to tell her I don’t keep Shabbat. I didn’t want to lie to her about my shabbatot in Vancouver and so I told her that I drive to synagogue on Shabbat and she got so angry at me. She said, “That’s bullshit!” and then she asked me to write her a letter explaining my choice.
And then we continued on in our relationship. She took immense pride in her personal, authentic relationships with her grandchildren and I took immense pride in my part in that.
And with all the realness, she cherished me. I was a far from perfect granddaughter but she just loved me.
It often felt as though Bubby possessed some kind of deeper understanding of the world than I do. Her “simple faith,” something I observed with awe, respect and envy from the other side of the chasm, gave her an aura of romance and beauty that made her very attractive.
And I think that her “simple faith” was one of the things that kept her consistently determined to put one step in front of the other with a smile.
Bubby wasn’t always easy. I think most of us who were close to her had many times that we felt frustrated with her. But I’m not upset with her today because those memories fall away and I just recall her love for us, her beauty, her constant singing, her great pride and her contagious enthusiasm. I suppose, if she’s also thinking about me, she will be thinking of the good, which is what she always did. She’ll be remembering our conversations, going out shopping together, eating together, praying on the High Holidays together… And she’ll be feeling great pride for the person I am, as she always did.
It’s hard to let go of the guilt. There is no one to blame my shortcomings on but myself. There is no one to apologize to. And I don’t want to kid myself into thinking I would have been different given a second chance. Saying that would mean disregarding the complexity of what was and the reasons behind how I am.
Life is a great balancing act and it’s full of stumbles, falls, scraped knees and scraped hearts.
But it’s also full of getting back up, of hugs and kisses and singing together and holding hands and laughing and reveling in life’s experiences together, and I’d like to think that if I were to say, “Bubby, I’m sorry for the times I got upset at you. I’m sorry for not calling more often during the last year of your life,” she might say, “I don’t remember you getting upset at me. And that last year was hard on us all. But Deena, why are you thinking about that? Don’t you remember all the times we laughed together? And you looked hysterical in those curlers. And you’re the best.”