Thursday, October 13, 2011

Grandma Elaine

Because of the somewhat unusual elements of my childhood, several cousins by marriage adopted us, and turned us into one large, close extended family.

Grandma Elaine, the mother of my mother's sister's husband (did you follow that) was one such woman, as were her parents, Papa Teddy and Nanny.  Papa was the great-grandfather I always wished I'd had, and died a painless death when I was already an adult;  Nanny lived two years after Papa died. 

I admired Grandma Elaine for her zest for life.  A more aggressive New York driver than any taxi on the road.  A person who once a year went to Atlantic City with the sole purpose of blowing money and having fun doing so.  A woman who lost her husband early on due to a tragic accident, and dedicated her life to her children and grandchildren, both biological and acquired. As a college student at Barnard in The City, she took care of me when I got sick, and I cannot remember how many times we would simply sit together while we treated ourselves to a spontaneous manicure.

The last time I saw Grandma Elaine, she attended Raphaela's Simchat Bat,  and though not at the peak of her health, I felt glad and honored that she could be there and meet my daughter.  She had gotten quite ill in the last year, and while her death was not unexpected, it was relatively sudden.

Here's where Judaism makes me squeamish:  her son (my uncle by marriage) died at the age of 52 from a rare cancer.  Her only son-in-law, and by extension his sons, are Cohanim and could not go to the cemetery to attend the funeral.  Relatives who live outside the Metropolitan area could not afford to be on the road when the holiday started, and could not come as well.  Because she died Erev Succot, there will be no official Shiva, and I feel like that is a cheat, and a dishonor to her memory.  Grandma Elaine deserves to be remembered, and her family deserves to be visited by those who loved her.  We human beings are not machines,  and you cannot go to a funeral, sit Shiva for ten minutes before chag, and then go into Succot and not have a sense of supreme loss and mourning.

Right before I made aliyah, my father's father (my grandfather) died on Erev Purim.  The funeral took place on Purim morning, and because my father's side of the family is Ultra Orthodox and follow the rules to the letter, the whole entourage trouped back to my parents house (100 plus people) and immediately sat down for a festive Purim feast, as the law of the day requires.  I remember feeling uncomfortable, awkward and sad, that my grandmother, my father and his siblings had to put their grief on hold in order to perform that mitzvah.

Tonight, after Succot ended, I tucked Raphaela into bed and started cooking preparations for Shabbat. With a chicken soup on the stove and birthday cake in the oven, I had to fight the image in my head of the "house frau," the woman stuck in the kitchen, always serving her family's needs.  Then I remembered Grandma Elaine, and felt proud to be in the category of mother and care taker.


Ariela said...

My father died a 8 days ago, but because of Yom Kippur, we sat shiva about 16 hours. I totally get what you wrote. I feel cheated too.

Doc said...

I'm so sorry for your loss Ariela.