Wednesday, May 20, 2015

on mortality

My grandmother passed away on Monday.

She was 96 years old. She lived on three continents. She raised two children and had six great grandchildren. She survived World War II. She worked as a neonatologist when the survival rates for preemies were dismal. She raised us when my parents had to work. She was always in the kitchen, cooking, or fretting about food. She had recipes which said to "add enough flour for the dough to take it in," and "knead until the texture feels right". She cooked by feel, and she fed from her heart. She spoke up her mind, and it was not PC. She had wonderful stories of studying for exams at a cemetery across the street because her dorm room was too noisy. She was super emotional, drawing people into her emotionality and getting them to feel what she was experiencing.

In her last years, when dementia kicked in, and then slowly her body deteriorated further and further, it was clear where things were going. I was honest with my kids about her condition, but since we do not live near, they did not see her recently. When I told them that she passed away, I had all three older ones run off crying in different rooms. I was unprepared for such an emotional reaction. One child told me that he wished I did not say anything about her passing, ever. Another said that he wishes someone else would die in her place. A third was just crying because everyone else was crying. 2 yo came to sit with us, unsure of what just happened. One boy wanted to go to the funeral. I had to inform him that we will not be going, as I cannot fly with a 3 week old baby. My daughter suggested driving, and I had to tell her that I'm not driving with a 3 week old baby, either.

When we hear about a late term miscarriage, we are sad. When we hear of a child dying young, we are sad. We are sad for the potential that never happened, for the parental hopes and dreams that are crushed.

When we hear of a young adult, we are sad. That person was just starting to live, spreading the wings. They had the whole life in front of them, and are no more.

When we hear of a someone dying in the prime of their life, we are sad. When we hear of someone dying in their middle age, we are sad. There is family to consider, spouses and children, elderly parents.

But even when we hear of someone dying in the deep old age, we are still sad. There are no friends attending the funeral, there are no age mates to reminisce about the deceased. There is comfortable existence of someone who was always there, but now that lull is gone.

We are greedy. We all want to live forever, to save the contemplation of death for another day. We all want all those we know, all those close to us, to be switched for someone else. When death does come, we all want to "do something", so that we can focus on the rituals and avoid thinking about mortality. So we arrange meals, drop off food, help with household tasks.

We are, and then we are no more.

I have been a nervous wreck right before my grandmother passed away. Maybe it was a spiritual connection getting severed, maybe it was the stress of hearing how things are deteriorating and being unable to do anything. Maybe it is being hormonal after the birth of my daughter. The newborn is named after my grandfather. Maybe it is feeling that by naming my daughter after my grandmother's husband I unleashed the memory train. He will not be forgotten; he will live on, so she can go.

With five kids, I have a new worry. It might sound delusional, but in not such distant past, not every child made it to adulthood. Many did not live to have offspring. When you have one or two children, you have the luxury of assuming that this is it; the odds have been beaten, the statistics are in your favor. We in the west believe in 100% baby, 100% of the time. With five kids, the statistical odds of everything being just dandy change. It is plain impossible that nobody will end up in an accident, or be perfect, or just simply be OK. Somebody will have a problem, Somebody will get hurt.

These are not pleasant thoughts. These are not the thoughts that I want to focus on. Yet now, helplessly sitting miles away from a funeral that has to happen because everyone's time to die comes sooner or later, I am flooded with this feeling of time marching on, and life unfolding.

May we know no suffering.

May we experience only simchas (joyous events).

May my grandmother's neshama have an aliyah.

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