My grandmothers are alive.
I know that’s a big deal, a privilege and a blessing. Yet I am grieving my grandmothers. I went to a funeral for my friend’s grandmother and everyone was celebrating her life and talking about what a light she was. What a love. What a treasure. And tears were shed, because to know her was to love her.
I don’t want to wait for a funeral. I want to tell you now, because the grandmothers I knew are no longer here, and for me, the mourning process has begun.
My grandmothers were born in 1929. They are from Hungary and Czechoslovakia. They were taken to Auschwitz and we don’t quite know what happened after that. One has numbers and one doesn’t. Neither has ever told us about her experience there.
My grandmothers came to America and married and raised families. My grandmothers are loving and kind and wise. Each has her little sayings; each has her signature foods. Stuffed cabbage. “Bobby cookies” – also known as sugar cookies.
These women were pillars of faith despite being robbed of formal Jewish education. Their homes were their education, and they passed on what they knew: God knows best; it’s all for the good; it’s always about sticking with family. Each lost too many relatives to count, yet both plowed forward.
My grandmothers were full of hugs and kisses. Compliments and adoration. We were the future, the hope. We were everything. We were adulated and admired and shown off to friends and relatives. We could do no wrong.
Thanks to my grandmothers, my self-esteem flies high. Thanks to them my Yiddish is alive and well. Thanks to them my faith is strong even in the face of despair. They loved me, so I shall love. They believed in humanity, so I will too. They shared the Jewish wisdom of their ancestors, so I treasure it and pass it on further.
My grandmothers are very different. One believes in beautiful homes and clothing, in makeup and nail salons. The other is simple and unmaterialistic. Both have shaped me: beautiful things are a gift and a joy; they are not what define a person.
My grandmothers no longer know who I am when I visit. Phone calls bring more confusion to us collectively and more sadness to me personally, so I’ve guiltily backed off on making them. Without understanding who I am, both tell me repeatedly that I am beautiful and loved. One keeps asking when is candle lighting for Shabbat. Every day, it seems, is Friday.
Even in their slipping away, they are teaching me. I love you. You are beautiful. When is Shabbat? When the sophisticated cognition and social skills are stripped away, this is who they are at their core.
Bobbies: I miss you. I miss our conversations and our jokes. I miss you knowing me and my husband and children. Although you’re here, you’re somewhere far away. I cry every time we get off the phone, but feel it somehow unseemly to mourn the living.
But it’s because of my deep, deep love for you both, strong beautiful women who created me. Without blogs or platforms or columns, you shaped my thinking and my identity. As a Jew. As a woman. As a human. I love you. I miss you. And I’m so glad you’re still with us.