My bubbie died on Sunday. We got the call from my dad late Saturday that she'd taken an unexpected turn and likely wouldn't make it through the night. I booked a flight home for the next morning. She died just before my plane landed.
I know it can take months, even years, to fully process this sort of thing, but I'm finding myself at a strange crossroads in my own head. It's hard not to think about Bubbie's death without coupling it with Zayde's about 7 years ago. See, my grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and I was their first grandchild. That fact has always been a cornerstone of my identity, both Jewish and personal. The loss of my grandfather was notable enough, but now they're both gone, and the severed connection feels that much more profound.
I've had the last 7 years to make sense of the kind of person my Zayde was, the truth about his life, and his influence on me. It's Bubbie's turn now, and in spite of my 32 years with her, I feel woefully unprepared.
What's working so far is that it's easy for my family and I to tell funny stories about her, recounting our happy memories, and most especially all the hilarious things she used to say. A non-native English speaker, I think my bubbie cornered the market on malapropisms. Any common phrase could be made funnier through her attempt at using it. And she loved laughing, especially at herself in these cases.
"Life is full of a bowl of cherries," she used to say, among other things. The words may have been a little silly, but you knew what she meant.
That expression—mangled but still meaningful—was just so Bubbie. The bubbie who didn't lead a rich or easy life, but knew that childhood (hers, her children's, and her grandchildren's) should be full of fun adventures and joy—and made sure that happened. The bubbie who experienced the worst atrocities humanity can suffer, but somehow managed to have a sense of humor about her survival—to the point of using the numbers on her arm to play the lottery from time to time. Even when she had no good reason, she maintained an exuberance about life. So much so, I think we all thought she could live forever.
I know everyone's grandmother is special. But mine? Well, she was mine. There was nobody else in the world like her. ("I don't want to be anyone else," she told my sister once. "I want to be me. People need someone like me around."). And I miss her like hell.
I hope I can capture, and maybe even adopt, even a little bit of her outlook. In the meantime, I may just start keeping a bowl full of cherries in my kitchen.