I’m so sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye, oma. I love you. You passed away peacefully, at home, in your sleep, at the age of 95, surrounded by family. You were fairly healthy up until last year, when you started deteriorating, your systems systematically shutting down. The past couple of months were rough, and I scheduled a flight to Tel Aviv, hoping to see you this Thanksgiving holiday, but I didn’t make it. You didn’t make it. Which I am told is a good thing, because you were suffering. It was your time and you had to go.
I am crying as I’m typing this, thoughts swirling in my head, and as always sadness turns to anger and I’m angry. I’m angry that although death itself is often very peaceful, the end of life that leads to death is so violent, degrading, vile, and entails so much suffering and loss of dignity. Even in the case of someone like you, who simply died of old age, those last few months were horrible.
I’m angry at myself that I didn’t come to see you sooner. And that I’m here in the States, as much as I love this country, and my dear family is back in Israel, so many miles and hours away.
I can’t understand life, and death, and how is it that we all must age and die, everyone, no one can escape, and the end is ugly, so ugly that it sometimes erases what was before, the good, happy years. Trapped in these bodies that are destined to perish, we are helpless against a process that we have absolutely no control over.
Haven’t you suffered enough, anyway? You were a young woman during the holocaust, everything taken away from you, including your dignity and your little daughter. Wasn’t that enough suffering for one lifetime? Couldn’t it have granted you eternal life, just to spite Hitler and his supporters, past and present?
I pause for a second and realize that now that you’re gone, I don’t have grandparents anymore. I think about grandpa Ya’akov, who passed away in 2009. My beloved grandpa Ya’akov, nothing was fair about your life or death. You had an incredibly tough life, growing up in poverty and never really managing to build a better life for yourself. You fell in love with my late grandma Chava when you were just teenagers, and despite your families’ resistance, got married. Three daughters quickly followed, and with your small income and grandma a stay at home mom, things were rough – so rough, that you often fought, and it was usually about money. I still remember those fights.
But grandma was the love of your life, and when she suddenly passed away at the age of 59, your life ended. You still existed, in fact you existed 26 more years, but your light had been extinguished. You no longer lived. At the end, “thanks” to modern medicine, you existed several years of pure hell, your body barely functioning. You too had lost your dignity during those final years, and for that I am angry at modern medicine that keeps people alive even though they are no longer truly living.
I miss you, grandpa. I miss sitting next to you, stroking your arm, and listening patiently as you showed me photos of the younger you and talked about your past. I wish your life had been easier and I wish you didn’t have to suffer so much at the end.
I also wish grandpa Ari didn’t have to suffer the indignity of having his diapers changed in that hospital bed. I remember being there, and the nurses coming in, asking us to step outside for a moment. Grandpa was so helpless, groaning and moaning as they did their job, “easy, boys, go easy.”
All the nurses saw was a sick old man needing a diaper change. They didn’t see the faithful, loving husband; the successful businessman; the dashing, elegant man who always dressed to the nines – even on the weekend.
Poor grandpa Ari. You too had suffered quite enough in the holocaust – I can’t imagine why that did not give you immunity against further suffering.
Maybe grandma Chava’s quick death at a young age wasn’t such a bad thing after all.