Observing the process of dying was not what I imagined doing this past week. Or any week for that matter.
Despite being almost a hundred years old, Baba always seemed invincible. But, the morning of September 18th, my birthday, I learned that hospice had been called to manage her pain. She was in a morphine-induced sleep and the end clearly was on the horizon. I quickly wrapped up my business and meetings in Israel and called Delta. Even with newly booked return flights, I was sure Baba would be gone by the time I got from Tel Aviv to Fort Lauderdale.
Fortunately, I made it in time. And she knew I was there. I was able to say goodbye.
As we sat vigil for the previous seven days, I had time to reflect back on my fifty-eight years of knowing her. In her unique style and fashion, Baba taught me a tremendous amount about living… and dying. By example, she offered the following:
- Have a sense of humor….about everything…even death; don’t take things too seriously.
- It’s okay to laugh and cry; preferably at the same time.
- A real laugh is one that causes you to pee in your pants.
- Be honest, even if it makes others feel guilty or uncomfortable.
- Do the right things — not because someone expects you to or because you’re trying to win points — but because you want to.
- You’re never too old to dance; at a simcha, be the one to start the hora.
- Always have mandel bread and cabbage soup in the freezer; you never know when a grandchild or great-grandchild (or guest) will come visit.
- Be ready to entertain with a good story.
- Appreciate what you have; don’t lament what you don’t.
- Fight for life until your very last breath…or two.
It is natural during times like these for people to offer condolences. In an attempt to provide comfort, some say, “You were so lucky to have her for so long.” Others comment, “She had a full life.” Unfortunately, they simply don’t understand the depth of our sorrow. We wanted her for another twenty years. Baba was the glue that held our family together. Everything we ever did, we did with her in mind. Her opinion mattered. Her approval mattered. Visiting her mattered. Celebrating holidays with her mattered. Calling her weekly mattered. (And, believe you me, she kept score!) She mattered. But now that she’s gone, the family will not be the same. I will not be the same.
Baba was brave, strong, determined, level-headed, admired, respected, and loved by all. Though her presence will truly be missed, I find a bit of comfort in knowing her legacy — one way or another — will live on through nine grandchildren, twenty-six great-grandchildren, and five (hopefully even more one day!) great-great-grandchildren.
Now, sweet Baba, since you lived a righteous life and were privileged to witness five generations, enjoy the special seat reserved for you — only you — at God’s table. Enjoy heaven.