Nobody prepares you for your grandmother’s death because it’s an implied part of growing up. As a thought-forming human being, you will realize at some point that you will outlive your grandparents. It’s the natural way of life. At the same time, my own grandmother has been around for so long, it’s hard to imagine a world without her. She has had so many experiences, thoughts, loves, and passions, how could there be something that ultimately takes her away? Therefore, when I finally came to the day that she passed, it was hard to comprehend, although I felt like I should have been ready.
From a young age I decided that I wanted no one to see me cry. I never experienced anything severely traumatic and there wasn’t a particular reason why I never wanted to cry. I took pride when I watched movies and saw everyone around me crying, but my eyes were dry. In 7th grade when my childhood pet died, our cat named Frankie, I refused to cry in front of other people. And that same year when my other grandmother died, I also refused to cry at the funeral. It was something too intimate for me to share with other people, and I refused. I didn’t want people to see my feelings, I would be too exposed. I never tried to pretend like things were OK and keep a smile on my face, it was more that I wanted to remain and seem neutral or without emotions. I would let myself cry in certain situations, but only when I felt comfortable and I knew I wouldn’t be too exposed. I thought about this pattern a lot when thinking of my grandmother’s death over her last the two years that she was extremely ill.
This past year, I have been working on becoming more comfortable with crying. Being able to cry in front of another person without feeling weak has been difficult. I used to think that it would be enough if I could get it out of my system and cry by myself, but I realized that it’s OK to let go.
I received the call at about 11pm Israeli time on Sunday, November 23rd. I had been thinking of my grandmother for the past hour or so, feeling kind of panicky. My mother’s cousin, who also lives in Israel, called me, and I didn’t pick up the phone. I saw it ring and I knew why she was calling. I let it continue and I stared at my phone for a while, mentally preparing for the news that she would deliver. When I called her back, her voice shook. At this point, I decided that I wouldn’t cry. For what reason? I’m not sure. Crying made it seem so real. I cried when I got off of the phone, and I cried on my plane ride to the United States. When I saw my mom, she cried, but I tried to stay strong. I cried in the shower, so I could to get it all out before having to be around other people.
The day of the funeral I felt numb, which I thought would be easier. We went to the service and I took a lot deep breaths. I thought the visitation before the funeral would be easy, but it was actually the hardest part. Dozens of people came up to me saying how proud my grandmother was of me and how much she loved me. I was at a loss for words and I tried to keep myself together, but finally I broke. I cried through the rest of the visitation, the eulogy, and the burial. And you know what? By the end of the day, I did not feel bright and shiny, but I did feel cleansed. Her death was hard on me, but by letting go and allowing myself to grieve, I was able get through the hard part and not keep my feelings stuck inside.
There is something about experiencing death as an adult that you don’t understand as a child. I don’t mean in a philosophical way, like ‘Why are we on this Earth?’ and ‘What do our lives mean?’ As someone who considers herself an adult (although I know I have a lot to learn), out of everything, one lesson stuck with me. To me, as a child death was not as much real as it was scary. It was something that would be kept from my mind. Once I actually experienced it up close and in person, I found it less scary. When you experience a death of a loved one, you don’t always move on, but you do move forward.
Whether you called her, Harriet, Mrs. Waldman, Mother, Grandma, or Baby, she was an influential person to her community. She was known for her signature red lipstick and nails by sight, but she had too many internal qualities to count. She worked as a preschool teacher for 46 years, at which she taught one generation, their children and then their children’s children. She was a pretty kickass party planner. She took pride in her Judaism, although she enjoyed the occasional bacon or ham salad (because those didn’t count). She devoutly watched Dancing with the Stars and enjoyed playing the piano. For every holiday or birthday she gave you a personalized card that she made herself. For every Thanksgiving she made the corn pudding, cranberries and jello; the jello was barely touched, but she made it just in case. She was a lover of life, she fell in love with the man of her dreams, had two daughters that she adored, traveled the world, and gave her life to her community in many ways. If there’s something that can be said about my grandmother, it’s that she truly experienced a life.
We celebrated Thanksgiving this year without Harriet Waldman, but not without her memory. She was a strong lady and although her death may feel tragic, her life is something to be celebrated.