HH- this post was not written to mitigate your pain or your loss, and I hope you and your family find comfort amidst your sorrow. However your post did inspire me, for it was bittersweet, yet sentimental. I cried and was elated simultaneously. I was elated, that your sister got her big day, but was reminded of my grandmother, whom, Ezzie never got to meet. I don’t think I have ever shared my feelings about my grandmother, or her death, with an audience. Heck, I don’t think I have ever written a post on this blog, and it’s even half mine.
My grandmother Edith (Yehudis Eeta) Luchins (ZL), lived her life to the fullest. When she died, however, at the age of 80-81, no-one expected it; everyone thought she would for sure outlive my grandfather, her husband, who was 8 years her senior. People say, "Oh, 81, that's old, she lived till a ripe old age", but for my grandma, that was young. At 75, she "retired", as a math professor at RPI in Troy, NY. Retired for her meant she was no longer on payroll, but no one could stop her from still working. She still went into RPI after she retired, until, all her children and their spouses decided they just couldn't make the 2 hour plus trip to Albany every time my grandmother or grandfather slipped or fell in their house (that they had lived in for the past 40 years).
So, in 2002, my mother and father, along with my fathers siblings and their spouses, moved my grandparents to a beautiful; facility (not a nursing home, but an independent living facility), that was 15 minutes from my house and in close proximity for the other siblings. That’s when my grandmother’s life changed.
Although she lived her life for her family, she couldn't stand the change. My grandmother was a social butterfly had a sense of humor and a sense of style that was so youthful (she was a size 8, her entire adult life, until she got osteoporosis in her late 60's). If you looked past the osteoporosis and the (beautiful and sentimental) wrinkles, you would think you were speaking to someone your own age. And that's how grandma made everyone feel. She was well beyond her years in wisdom ,earning a PHD in math at the age of 30, and co-writing many books and papers, with her husband (Dr. Abraham Luchins, PhD in clinical psychology). She was also extremely growth oriented, in fact, she started covering her hair only several years before the wedding of her oldest son. Grandma never made anyone feel intimidated or dumb. I was and still am horrible at math, so Grandma focused on other things when she conversed with me.
Well for grandma, the move was just too much of an adjustment. It's pretty ironic that when my grandparents moved to the facility they "switched roles". My grandfather, who was the resident grump, preferred a book and a quiet room ( he was also deaf in one ear due to a bomb that went off in his line of hearing, when he was a WWII solder). My grandmother preferred people, chatting, and chairing organizations and relief funds.. She was the first woman on the board of the OU (orthodox union), helped found the mikvah (ritual bathing house), in Albany, and was the first female full- professor at RPI ( Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute ), where she taught for over about 35 years and was honored to have a portrait of her hung in their halls. So when they moved, my grandfather became "buddie-buds", with the other residents there, had heated debates, conversations and actually enjoyed going to lunch and dinner so he could converse with the other people there. My Grandmother became less socially-inclined. She was depressed and unhappy. A woman who was independent and unrelenting for over 70 years of her life, and here, her children made her uproot and move, away from everything familiar and ritualistic in her life. We tried to cheer her up with our visits, but she still wasn't the same bubbly, humorous, best- advice giver, Grandma, that she used to be.
So, about a year after the move, maybe it was less than that, My parents and aunts and uncles, decide to make my grandparents a 60th wedding anniversary. Everyone thought that would cheer my grandmother up. The big day came, and for the first time, in a long timed, we saw my grandmother (or as I liked to refer to her, my grandma LuLu), revert back to her old self. She laughed, made jokes and even made a toast, to her 5 children, their spouses, her 22 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren. My aunt even had a great idea and hired a professional photographer, for the big day, so that my grandmother, the matriarch of over 40 people, could delight in the joy of seeing that family photo, for years to come.
That was the last (full) family photo. Two day later she was rushed to the hospital with pneumonia and a month later she passed away. A day or two before she died I went to visit my Grandma in the hospital. I had never seen her like that. I cried because I knew my future husband and children would never get to meet this amazing woman. I held my grandmother, and tried to keep a positive and happy demeanor, but instinct took over and the tears flowed. My grandmother could hardly talk, and I'm sure she was in a lot of pain. as lying in a hospital bed was not the most comfortable position for anyone with osteoporosis. I turned to her amidst the tears and said "Grandma I love you, you have to get better, for you're a matriarch of over 40 people and you're going to be a matriarch of so many more". All my grandmother did was something she did her whole life; she smiled at me. In that moment I truly felt my grandmother saying to me, everything she had ever wanted to convey to me since I was a little girl, - be happy in life! A few days later my grandmother died. I think it was during the Shiva (week of intense mourning following burial) when I realized just how many people my grandmother had impacted during her lifetime. If I recall correctly between the various children sitting shiva there were over a thousand people who came to pay their respects.
At five, I knew about the comic strip the “Lockhorns”, because everyone compared my grandparent’s relationship to it. My wise grandmother convinced my grandfather she couldn’t cook, so he did the cooking (I think the same held true for cleaning too). And although he wouldn’t openly admit it, my grandfather loved my grandmother tremendously. Heck, they were together for 60 years. My grandfather had been in and out if the hospital, since before they made the transition to the facility, and moved to the dependent living, with an aide, after my grandmother passed. Three years after my grandmother died, to the day, he was brought back to the hospital. I visited him, reminded him that he had something to look forward to, if he lived till his birthday, for I was pregnant with his 22 great- grandchild. The same smile that I got from my grandmother 2 years before had appeared on off my grandfathers lips. It was déjà vu. That it was , a few days later when I got a call from my father, that my grandfather would no longer be calling out in his sleep, for his wife, for now, he would be sleeping along side her. His passing, was sad, but unlike my grandmothers was not tragic, for he truly had lived a full life; passing at 92, as a patriarch of 22 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren (almost).
I am left with no biological grandparents (though Ezzie grandparents do a great job, as surrogates, And I refer to them as grandma and grandpa and I consider myself and Elianna lucky to have them, and have them reside nearby).
There is so much more to write about my grandmother. There are pages and pages dedicated to her on Google, in the RPI library, and amongst the memories and very thoughts of so many people. What I am left with is memories, some, which I have shared with you, others that I will try to share and dictate to my children. One thing I am left with is the smile, and the message it has conveyed since the day I saw my grandparents lay frail and immobile in their hospital beds- live every day with a smile, live happily- we did!
(On a side note- People ask me, if I was so close with my grandmother why I didn’t name Elianna after her. I never told this to anyone, but I feel like, no-one can replace my grandma Lulu, no one can live up to her potential, or live life to the extent she did. However, Elianna - in literal terms, G-d Answered, is in fact after my grandmother, For G-d answered me in many ways, one significant one, was by giving me a girl, who had that same smile as my grandma Lu- Lu, and I can look at her, nostalgically and always remember my grandma, not through her name, but through her – live every day, happily, -smile)!
This post is dedicated to two very special people who impacted my life greatly, and helped me realize that although I couldn’t be a math genius, like them, my husband could be! Thank you Yehudis Eeeta bat Devorah Leah and Avraham Shmuel ben Chana Risa.