Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘death’

When I first met J, getting to know his family was a bit overwhelming. He has a much larger family than I do, and many of them are loud and assertive. Scary. Fortunately, a lot of them are very nice people. I felt instantly comfortable with his aunt, Edna, his mother’s sister. Edna made me feel like she thought I was the most marvelous person J could have brought through the door. Her house was a warm, chaotic place and she made the best matzah balls ever.

Three years into our relationship, I decided to convert to Judaism. I made J’s parents promise not to tell Edna and didn’t phone her either, as I wanted to see the look on her face myself. I knew she was going to be delighted.

I never did get a chance to tell her. One morning at the school where she taught, Edna went to the office to ask them to call her husband, as she had a bad headache. Then she collapsed of a brain aneurysm. We got the call to drive in, as Edna was in the hospital and “it doesn’t look good.” We drove straight in, not saying much on the two-hour trip. I was still firmly convincing myself she would be fine.

She was on total life support. Her children were there, one from far away, and her sisters and their spouses. We all waited all night for the doctors to do one final test. They would take her off the breathing machine. They didn’t think she’d start breathing in her own, but if she did, there was some hope. She didn’t.

I loved Edna. We all loved Edna. I discovered at the funeral and shiva that it wasn’t just me she made feel so special, it was everyone she met. It wasn’t that she was shallow. She really cared about people and had a gift of showing it. I knew Edna for three years and she’s been dead 13 years and I still miss her, which is a pretty good example of her impact.

When J and I were expecting our first child, we came up with a boy’s name and a girl’s name, both after Edna (Maya isn’t Maya’s real name). A month later, my nephew was born and he too was named for Edna. A few months after that, J’s cousin had her second child and another baby was named for Edna.

The three cousins are very close, despite living in different cities. Not only are they close in age, but they hold pride at being Edna’s namesakes.

The fact that they don’t know Edna is weird to me, give her huge impact on this family. I was thinking about this a couple of days ago, as we reached the 13 anniversary of her death. I was thinking about how, when I grew up, the missing family member was my mother’s father. He died when I was three. I don’t remember him. I remember my mother being gone for a long time, as she spent several weeks in England during his final illness. I remember her returning with my grandmother and a big scary dog (or at least, so it seemed at the time). But nothing about him. I realize now that I don’t even know what I called him – Grandpa? Grandad?

I feel I know a lot about him, though. My mother kept many of his books, and he had a lot. I used to like to poke through them and read quite a few as I got older. My mother told me stories about him and things he used to say (one of my favourite is – and I hope I get this right – “Skinny women are for hanging clothes on and plump women are for taking clothes off.”) I have seen lots of pictures, too. My mother looks like him. He has a face that suggests a great sense of humour. I think he would have been interesting to talk to. I think I might have ended up arguing with him a lot, but I always felt they would have been respectful arguments, intellectual arguments. I think we would have understood each other.

Of course, I don’t know any of this for sure, because he’s dead. That pisses me off. It has pissed me off for a long, long time. When I was younger, going through his books, I’d feel cheated out of not being able to know this man. I had to rely on others memories because I didn’t have a single one of my own, and that really annoyed me. I missed him.

So I was thinking of Edna, and I was thinking that, as painful as it is, I wished that Maya felt the same way about Edna as I feel about my grandfather. I wanted her to have enough of a sense of the person Edna was to miss her. I’m not sure why. What has missing my grandfather gotten me? I guess it is just that my mother managed to communicate to me not only how much he meant to her, but what kind of person he was. Missing my grandfather keeps him real that much longer. I want Edna to be real to the generation of children who never met her.

Ironically, just last night, Maya and I were chatting before bed and she brought Edna up, asking what it was like when she died. Then she asked me what was so special about her, and I tried to describe her, give Maya a greater sense of who she was. At one point I paused and Maya blurted out, “Oh, it just makes me so mad that I didn’t know her! It isn’t fair!”

I told her I knew exactly how she felt, and that she was right, it isn’t fair that she didn’t know Edna. But I’m glad she feels that anger, because now I know we successfully passed on who Edna was.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »