Category Archives: Death

The Flag Day Refrain

When I was in third grade, I was given my biggest theatrical opportunity. I was cast as the American flag in our Flag Day play. My job was to stand draped in red, white, and blue and to sway for the approximate 90 minute length of the play. My mother, in the midst of an important study section, could not attend my play. My oma and opa, however, could.

True to their German Jewish roots, they arrived 20 minutes before the start of the performance. And because my oma was practically deaf, they took front row center seats. They proceeded to smile for the full 90 minutes, as I stood swaying in an imaginary wind gust.

Then it came time for the curtain call. My opa decided to trade in his inside voice for the loudest whistle he could muster. [ed. note: my grandfather was in a choir so he actually had quite a distinct and audible whistle.] Eight years old and tired of standing on stage, I quickly came back to life. His voice had inspired me; it had reminded I was loved, and by the most loyal grandparent a girl draped in a tri-color curtain could hope for.

It is this memory that came immediately to mind as I listened to my mother’s voice mail at 7:30 am, informing me that my opa had passed in his sleep. At 86 years old, he had finally decided his patriarchal duties were complete. My oma had died nearly a year before, and he no longer had any obligations to provide or protect.

Though I had hoped he’d live well into his nineties, perhaps even see me embrace matrimonial bliss, G-d had another plan. Or, as my opa used to say, “Man plans, and G-d laughs, so why bother planning at all?”

And yet my opa and I are planners. It’s what us German Jews do best. We take chaos, and we create a systematized, often alphabetized order. We live and breathe by our calendars– his paper, mine electronic. But this time I was unprepared. There was no google calendar invite to my opa‘s death. There was no friendly 24-hour notice reminder that the start of my 2015 would be rocked so significantly. There was just life, and then there wasn’t.

Over the next few days I will be working on living in the past. Pressing pause on planning my future, I will try to think back to those moments– like my Flag Day play curtain call– when my opa proved his love knew no bounds.

The Grandma Refrain

5:30 AM Sunday March 30th, and I am wide awake. It’s not because I’m coming home from one of those nights to remember (and will likely forget). No, I’m waiting for a call informing me of a reality that I have not yet grown to accept.

7:00 AM Sunday March 30th, and my stepmother calls to tell me my grandmother has passed away. It’s not an entirely surprising occurrence. She has spent the last two months in and out of hospitals and nursing homes, her body a human laboratory for modern medicine.

Despite the inevitability of her demise, I cry. In the course of two and a half months, I have lost both of my grandmothers. And while the nature of my relationship with each of them was quite different, there is one critical commonality between them: their commitment to loving me, in spite or perhaps because of my flaws.

Each had a unique vision for my future. My mother’s mother saw me as the future of the Jewish people, and as such was committed to my matrimonial quest. My father’s mother believed in my ability to leave the world slightly better than the one I had entered. She subsequently supported me in my academic and social activist pursuits.

They collectively invested in my potential. And suddenly, in their absence, my emotions gave way to a flood of tears. I cried for the loss of my biggest fans, the ones who would attend my third grade Flag Day play, and cheer as their granddaughter stood on stage for an hour as the American flag, a wholly inanimate object.

I cried for the loss of my best friends, who every Friday afternoon would set aside time to talk to me before Shabbat and remind me that no matter how daunting the future appeared, they had faith in my ability to look fear in the eyes and laugh.

And I cried for the loss of two courageous women, who watched as the opportunities provided to them expanded exponentially for their daughters and granddaughters. Despite their sometimes confusion, they cheered from the sidelines as the women they raised began to shatter the glass ceilings they never knew could be broken.

Therefore, on the eve of my second funeral this year, I’m taking a new approach and embracing the Sam Smith response to loss:

You told me not to cry when you were gone
But the feeling’s overwhelming, they’re much too strong
Can I lay by your side, next to you, you
And make sure you’re alright
I’ll take care of you, 
And I don’t want to be here if I can’t be with you tonight