Ninety-nine and Still Counting

I’ve often written about my grandparents. The reasons are pure and simple. Holocaust survivors, they set examples of resilience, courage, faith, hope and love. They were not superhuman nor did they have a crystal ball to reveal what lay ahead. They are imperfect people who simply worked hard and did everything possible to keep their family together.

More importantly, over fifty-five years, I learned that I could talk to them about everything and count on them for anything. Though I never actually felt judged by them, I always felt — and still feel — pressure to make them proud and to not disappoint. No matter what, however, they always were there for me. And all they ever wanted in return – and still want – is a weekly phone call or regular visit. I only can hope my grandchildren will say the same of me one day.

*     *     *

My grandfather will turn ninety-nine in less than a week. It’s so hard to believe that he has lived for almost a century. It’s difficult to comprehend how much change he’s witnessed and experienced across the decades. And yet, through his lifetime, he at his core has remained the same…a quiet, thoughtful, introverted man who dwells on what was and on what could have been. There’s an important lesson in this.

For years now, we’ve treated each birthday, holiday or event as if it could be “the last one.” But I, as the eldest grandchild, know I’ve taken each get-together for granted. He’s been on “borrowed time” for so long now, it really seems at though he will live forever. But he won’t. His strength and his will to live are waning. His days consist of small meals, followed by long naps, and the occasional outing to a restaurant or medical appointment. He cannot travel or venture far from home. The only things that break up the monotony of daily existence and bring a surge of energetic enthusiasm are the faces and voices of visitors…especially those of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There’s an important lesson in this too.

*     *     *

I have learned, when someone close to us dies, we often mourn for ourselves. We deeply feel our own sense of loss. We regret the time we no longer have together, the things we should have done or said, and the reality of our own mortality.

And so, we must learn to celebrate…celebrate people (especially those who are close to us), achievements and life. We must make the effort to show up and not squander the time we spend together. Time is fleeting. “Someday” can’t compete with “today.” Let’s embrace each moment now…before it’s too late.

*     *     *

Happy birthday, Zaydie. May you live to a hundred and twenty. Hang on….I’m on the way to celebrate.