Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Remembering my Zayde

Not so unexpectedly, but still too soon, Sunday morning my Zayde (grandfather in Yiddish) passed away.  He was almost 88, and had endured about two years of dialysis, among many other health problems.  I knew I would speak at his funeral, but had refused to think about it until I absolutely had to.  That meant sitting at breakfast Monday morning, just hours before the funeral drinking coffee and wiping my tears.  
Without further ado...

It’s been since my Bat Mitzvah that I stood up and spoke to a crowd like this...I’m not sure how many of you know or remember, but Bubby and Zayde drove their camper van to my Bat Mitzvah and parked in the shul parking lot so they could be within walking distance to the shul.  My Zayde never flew anywhere, because, “I wasn’t born with wings.”  Thankfully, he loved to drive, and distance was never a hindrance.  He even drove his beloved camper van to Alaska!  But, most importantly, they would frequently drive in to Columbus for quick visits that consisted of performances, recitals or baseball games, and when I got married and moved to New York, they continued their driving tradition.  They visited during Thanksgivings, graduation, and the births of Moshe and Dovy, and a few times after.  Growing up, I always heard of the story where Zayde took the kids to get milk, and they ended up in Cincinnati.  I’m not sure if that’s true, or just a myth, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was true.  

If I could think of a few words that describe my Zayde, one would be selfless. The definition of selfless is, “concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own.”  When my Great Aunt Hi had a stroke, my Bubby’s older, unmarried sister-Zayde insisted on taking over her care.  He coordinated round the clock care from a distance-actually I think sometimes  he was a little too happy to have a reason to excuse himself from family dinners.  “Gotta go check e-mail…” he’d say, because at every shift change the caregivers were to check in with him.  But it didn’t stop there!  In addition to coordinating care from afar, Bubby and Zayde would cook all of her food because her caregivers didn’t know how to keep kosher, and they would drive up to Michigan every day to check on Aunt Hi.  I want you all to know, that Zayde still knew in his last days where all the caregivers were and what they were up to.  Another example of his selflessness was his love for his community.  For as long as I can remember he was the videographer for the Yeshiva, videotaped shul dinners, and even a community member’s wedding, and he did these jobs with pleasure. I remember I was in a production at Stern College and I volunteered him to take the video footage and make 50 DVD copies, and he did it with no complaints.  To be honest, I don’t remember a time where he ever put his concerns before Bubby’s, or who ever he was with.  His most common response to a question that required an opinion was, “whatever,”  and no matter what “whatever” got him, he never complained.  Yesterday on the way here we stopped at Rita’s Italian Ices because they were giving away free ices and I knew, had he been there, he would have said “whatever,” to the flavor choices, gotten what I got, and probably eaten it in about three bites and been happy. Even on his deathbed, he was more concerned with how he was affecting us, and he kept telling everyone, “sorry to be a bother.”  

Another way I would describe my Zayde is that he was always grateful.  If you ever asked Zayde how he was doing, he’d respond with, “terrible.” However it wasn’t until things were actually terrible, that he responded with, “I’m fine.”   Over the past few years, little by little, the things he loved were no longer attainable.   First it was his camper van, then it was his ability to drive, and then it was his eyesight which robbed him of what was left of his pleasures.   Zayde loved his laptop, and then he became inseparable from his ipad and we would frequently get Facetime requests from him at all times of the day.    When his sight became so bad that he couldn’t go on the computer and couldn’t go on the ipad, he didn’t really complain.  In the end, throughout his constant pain and aggravation, and dependency on others, all he really wanted, was to see his grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Thankfully, 4 weeks ago we traveled here for a week and we had a great visit with him.  We had many conversations around the kitchen table drinking coffee, laying in bed in the mornings, and he even shared his secret lemon poppyseed cake recipe.  I was sworn to secrecy, so my apologies, I won’t be able to share the recipe for what is now called, Zayde’s cake.  

Another way I would describe Zayde is that he was so funny.  He didn’t come in contact with a single person he didn’t make smile. His jokes, his sarcasm, his wit, made him unforgettable!  I have friends who hardly knew him, but would ask, “how’s Zayde?” Because in short time, he could make a lasting impression. As Bubby would say, “he’s just so loveable isn’t he?!?”   In his last few days, countless jokes passed his lips,When I spoke to Bubby on Thursday, she told me, “he’s just so funny talking about his own death!” Ephraim and I were not surprised in the least to hear this.  Last night we sat around reminiscing and laughing about his jokes from the past few days.

I want to publicly thank a few people for their true acts of kindness to my Zayde and our family. First, I’d like to thank the Gerwirtz’s for always keeping an eye out for my Bubby and Zayde and in the final days, being such a support to the family and arranging last minute details.  I’d like to thank Joyce Mishkin for her friendship to Bubby and Zayde, and of course her chicken soup which Zayde loved. I also want to thank Dr. Ephraim Hollander, my husband, for his constant medical advice and countless phone calls to Zayde’s doctors to help manage his care.  I want to thank our Columbus “friends that are like family,” for making the drive today and bringing food and their love.  Lastly, I want to thank Katie.  Katie was Zayde’s caregiver, and in his final days she hardly left his side.  On Thursday when things weren’t looking good, I called and spoke to her, and it brought me such comfort to know that she was there with him.  On Friday she texted me asking how I was, and I got updates on Zayde’s condition throughout the day.  She even recorded him singing our song Does the Spearmint Lose it’s Flavor on the Bedpost Over Night.  Before Shabbos, she helped me talk to him one last time where he told me, “I’ll be ok…” that he loved me, sang me our song one final time, and of course, apologized for “messing it all up.” If Zayde had a choice, he would have continued on forever with his pain just to continue living.  Katie, you’ll never know how much comfort it gave me knowing you were with him at the end, and I know he loved you and is looking forward to seeing you again one day.  And I just have to add, that after all, as Jean Rubin’s granddaughter, I have to continue his tradition of keeping in touch with the caregiver, as you’re part of the family now, so I hope you don’t mind!  

In our second to last conversation, Zayde said to me, “soon you’ll forget about me.” Zayde, I’ll think of you often, especially when I make your cake and take it with me to my doctors, just like you did.  We recently discovered that, just like Zayde, I also frequently take baked goods to my doctors and to work.  At Moshe’s recent school production, the principal asked the parents to “set their cell phones aside, and just be in the moment,” and  I actually turned to Ephraim and said, “he acts like this is something new, but my Zayde always walked around with his big video camera on his shoulder!” Over time the cameras  got smaller, but your love for recording did not and because of that, we have an anthology of VHSs that you recorded from my childhood that you know I always loved watching, and I’m thankful I have countless pictures and videos to remember you with.

Well, I know you’re off to “get some milk” now in your camper van, with some 

wonderful four-legged pals. Aunt Ellyn thinks Blondie is with you in the front seat, but I 

know Zeke and Gracie, and Shemp and Spike and Pal are with you too.  I know we’ll 

meet again, but I hope it’s not too soon, because as you always said, “it beats the 


Alternatively, Zayde requested the funeral be recorded, in typical fashion, and you can watch the video by clicking on the link below. I'm the second speech...

In an ironic twist of fate, the same day we buried my Zayde, I also began my injections for my upcoming frozen embryo cycle...the epitome of the circle of life...

Monday night I began 10 units of Lupron, and I go back on Tuesday for my endometrial biopsy, and the polyp removal.  I went last week and thankfully did not need any cysts  drained.  

Perhaps they are not stars in the sky but rather openings where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy.

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