Death can be a funny thing.
I don’t mean funny ha-ha. I mean funny strange. Peculiar. Complicated. Sad. Or not. Relief. Indifference.
When we lose someone significant from our lives the rainbow of feelings may span a sky as vast as a lifetime – dark and stormy, light and airy, angry red, bluest blues, nostalgia, memories, regret, peace. Everything at once or nothing at all.
All four of my grandparents passed away when I was old enough to remember them, and their passing. I was eight, then 13, 25, 36. I had a special relationship with each, but was closest to my Granny Mary who died six weeks after my youngest was born. Granny was a real baby whisperer – adored infants, loved to hold them, to feed them, change them, burp them, to rock and sing to them for hours – but she never got to whisper to my littlest guy. He has no tangible memories of her and no photographs with her to trigger any.
Losing all those grandparents was devastating. Some were expected – one grandfather had Parkinson’s and was 81 when he died, both grandmothers were clearly near the end of their lives – but my gruff Grampa Sonny was younger than my parents are now, and his heart attack was as sudden and swift as his legendary temper. He was quick to anger and loud to yell, but that weakened heart of his was as gentle and fuzzy as a puppy’s underbelly.
It’s hard, losing loved ones, no matter the relationship, the circumstances, the distance both geographic and emotional. Grandparents’ passing is sad, but usually expected given their age and their life experience in relation to our own. Sometimes more complicated to deal with is the loss of parents, children, friends, people we haven’t seen in a long time. And often, in that difficulty, are surprising feelings, unexpected reactions, blindsiding memories that bring tears and laughter.
I last saw her about 12 years ago. She hadn’t worked for my family for years, but my mother still kept in contact with her, checked on her wellbeing, knew her whereabouts. She had diabetes and her failing health was evident over the many years she was part of our family, but she was always laughing, always happy to help us kids find what we had misplaced right in front of our noses, always roasted a chicken for lunch every Saturday.
We each had our own relationship with her – she and my brother would joke and tease each other, and even before my boyfriend became my fiancé became my husband he joined in their fun, easy banter. She told my sister and I about her happinesses and disappointments, the pride and difficulties she felt with her children, her parents, the gossip and drama with her friends. My parents took care of her, and she took care of all of us.
She was at my brother’s bar mitzvah, saw the three of us graduate high school and college, knew all our friends and their parents, and all my parents’ friends. She knew how both grandmothers took their tea and that my aunt always had black coffee after a meal. She prepared the candles to light every Friday night, and kept the kitchen more kosher than any of us. She joyously danced with Ryan and me at our wedding, and I couldn’t wait to introduce her to my own not-yet-one-year-old twelve years ago.
That was the last time I saw her. Life happens, and we lost touch.
But all my children know all about her. And Ryan and I often share a “Sina memory.” My sister and I talk about her now and again, and smile thinking about things she said and the way she said them.
And in this strange, very connected world we live in, an email found its way to my father this week, with the news that she passed away a month ago. Her funeral was on my late grandmother’s birthday, which feels significant and I don’t know why.
More emails followed between my mother and her daughter, the last 12 years of her life filled in like a picture quickly and brightly drawn on a blank poster board: a grandmother of five grandchildren, great-grandmother to two. What was clear from that drawing was that she loved us as much as we loved her.
An emotional rainbow of sadness, regret, tenderness, laughter and memories.
“Zichrona levracha – may her memory be a blessing,” we say in the Jewish religion, when talking or writing about someone who has passed.
Sina z”l: truly a blessing.