No one I’ve ever really known or truly loved has died. Lately though, I feel like it’s been circling closer and closer to me, and it’s only time when I will experience it profoundly. My great aunt and uncle were niftar more recently, I loved them, because of the connection and impact they had on those I loved, my parents and grandparents, but did I know them, or they me?
I knew about them from anecdotes, like Uncle Yitzchak recommending one to cross their legs while trying to relieve oneself – it helped it along. And Bobby Blimchu, classically leaving out crucial ingredients when give over recipes. But my relationship with them started and ended with me going over to them by family wedding, purim with shalach manos, and chanuka parties, wishing them mazal tov, freilechen peedrim or chanuka and them responding,
“Vey minz tuchter bist du.”
“Frdaideez” I’d answer in their accent.
It hurt, because my mother was hurting, and I was sad more for my mother’s pain and loss, than mine.
They called the family to my grandfather’s room in the ICU last night, and I fear I may have finally drawn the short straw. He’s still with us, but I experienced enough in that crowded room last night.
On the way in, my brother and I didn’t know if we’d make it in time. The updates we received while navigating the NJ Turnpike read “Heart-rate changed, there’s a minyan and tefillos are being said.” We asked the Sheila if we’d have to reis kriah if we were present at the time. And I tried to figure out how what would be the easiest angle to tear my new turtleneck.
Part of me wishes I hadn’t gone – that I can still remember my grandfather as I knew him – the quick wit, strong-minded, righteous, and loving man he is, instead of the intebated body lying stiff on a bed. I was able to handle his face, he was sleeping, mouth open in a snore, his body shuddered every once in a while. Then they tried finding a pulse, taking out, what I associated as being a fetal monitor. What gives me such joy and hope for the future these days, hearing my unborn child’s heartbeat strong, filled me with fear and anxious anticipation.
The technician pulled back the blanket, and exposed his feet; they looked dead. All stiff, and course, nails gnarly and thick, I couldn’t look at them. And all you could hear was the empty “Chwow” as the technician moved the monitor around trying to pick up a sign of life. After a few minutes of futile attempts, he moved to his hands. The fingers that pinched my cheeks in love were blue, and taut, lacking oxygen, but they found a pulse. And we all breathed for a moment, it wasn’t just the machines that he lived by.
I tried to keep together, but the tears leaked without my permission. And when I thought I was done, I’d make the mistake of looking at someone else, and the tears would start again.
“It’s ok,” my sister reassured me. “Took me a while too.” But I didn’t stop crying until I left.
We said a lot of tehilim together, and Shema. We even sang “Mizmor L’Dovid” in our family melody together. That was actually quite beautiful, and comforting – for me. I looked around the room to see how everyone else was doing, coping in their own way. My oldest uncle, a paramedic, was all official business, talking to the technician and dealing with the cold hard medical facts. My father, the next one, stood against the wall, a little isolated from everyone else, stoic. Another uncle cracked jokes, the youngest brother lead tehilim, my two aunts hovered over my grandparents, one stroking my grandfather’s hand, the other clutching my grandmother’s hand, who was sitting quietly in a corner chair. All the other grandchildren (who were able to make it in – there are over 50), stood in clusters, davening, lip biting and averting their eyes.
It hasn’t happened yet, and I’m preparing myself. Things can change I keep thinking, you’re Jewish, this is not the proper attitude. He’s not gone yet, why are you crying – daven. I just think it’ll hurt less if I’m a pessimist.
In some ways I’m lucky, and blessed that I never experienced a loss in my 24 years – none of my friends have all their grandparents. They were young though, adapted and grew up. I never had to grow up, and I now I know what I’m going to be missing, for the rest of my life.
Please say tehilim for Shmuel ben Chaya Malka
Baruch Dayan HaEmes