Monday epitomized, be careful what you wish for, it’s the kind of day I dreaded, when I joined. One where I am forced to learn to be alone, to learn to be my own support system, without the comforts of home, without ready access to my trusted network of family and friends. Dealing with death during my Peace Corps service, my Grandmom, Florence is dead.
It seems unreal and I am awash in memories of her I thought I had forgotten. Her death is not necessarily unexpected; but somehow that doesn’t make it easier. I’m still trying to process it. I came into work Monday, after a weekend away to emails from my father, updating her condition as it worsened over the weekend, ending with her passing away Sunday night.
The last time I visited her, she had no idea who I was. She remembered my father, she knew her son, but me, she couldn’t quite place me, although in true form she was always friendly, welcoming and like any good Jewish grandmother, always trying to get me to eat more. The visit before that, she could still place me, she still knew I was her granddaughter, but she couldn’t seem to understand that my brother was not my uncle; she kept introducing my father as her son the lawyer and my brother as her son the doctor.
I remember her with me on the morning my brother came home from the hospital. I remember her in our house in Virginia, before my parents’ divorce. I remember her apartment in, the Tiara in Florida – we loved going up to the restaurant on the top floor, looking out over the ocean, especially when there were shark warnings – we’d go up there and try to spot the sharks.
I remember my Grandmother’s knish bread, her rugelach, her challah, her matzah ball soup. I remember all her clip on earrings, how horrified she was when I got my ears pierced – that now I could never be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
I remember after the hurricane hit her building in West Palm how she moved to the Carlisle, the most beautiful retirement home I’ve ever seen. I loved going to services there with her, I loved the way she lit up reading a prayer for the congregation, I loved the way she lit up reading. I loved that in these moments she was alive, in these moments I was given a window into the woman she was before she needed a walker and a full-time nurse. Even the last time I visited, when she had no idea who I was, she still wanted to go to services and still read a prayer for the facilities’ congregation.
I remember how charming my Grandmother was. I remember how every person who found out I was her granddaughter, would light up and wax on about how much they adored my grandmother – what a doll she was.
I remember when she was moved to the assisted living side of the facility, when she got a full-time nurse, when things started to get worse, when it became almost impossible to have a conversation with her on the phone. I remember calling her in college, crying sometimes when I’d get off the phone having repeated the same conversation with her five times and her still not understanding that I wasn’t living at my parent’s house anymore or that my parents were no longer married.
I remember the way her face looked when she was annoyed, the way she so often was with my father or us not listening to her. I remember her talking about my Grandfather, I remember her never being able to keep all the grandkids and greatgrandkids names straight. I remember her always asking about my mother, always making sure I told her hello, even after the divorce.
When I was younger, before she moved to the Carlisle, I remember my Grandmother always saying, “I love you from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the sky.”
I keep slipping into these moments almost without warning, awash in these memories with her that I hadn’t thought of in years. I can feel the Florida sun, see the beach at the Tiara and I have to remind myself that when I step outside, I will still be in Moldova.
I’m not sure how to grieve here, how to grieve alone, how to grieve without talking, without crying. I feel a million miles from my life here and a million miles from my world at home. I’m caught on some strange island, some no man’s land.
I think maybe a run will help. I’m hoping sheer physical exhaustion will be enough or maybe, somehow that the beat of my sneakers in the dust will somehow give me solace. An old song comes on towards the end of the loop and I stop. I sit by this lake in Moldova and I cry a little, not a real release. I realize several songs later that I’m still sitting here, on this bench, overlooking a lake, in Moldova, but I am no longer alone. There’s a Baba washing her feet in the lake, I watch her for a minute and eventually walk home.
I go out onto the balcony, my favorite place in the apartment and I know need to say it out loud, I need to talk about it. It’s not my support system at home and I don’t need it to be, but I do need to hear myself say these words. I say it all, it comes tumbling out, I’m not sure it had an order; I say what happened, the guilt and I sob.
I’ve already had the conversation with myself, but I need to cry, really cry and say it all out loud. I know that in the past few years I didn’t call her as often and that maybe I didn’t handle her dementia well, but I also know that I never stopped loving her from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the sky.
My family held a small funeral this Wednesday, in Palm Beach, Florida. My Grandmother, Florence was buried next to her husband, Irving. I was not in attendance, but across the world around the time the service ended and my family was sitting shiva, I said a kadish in an old soviet apartment in Moldova.