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Lifetakes: More Than a Thousand Words

Rivka Streicher

As her body waned, her spirituality came through. But it was hard to watch her memory fail, to see Bubby struggling with the simplest tasks

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

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Sometimes we get back so much more than we give. Visiting Bubby was like that.

My great-grandmother’s blue eyes burned bright even as the candle of her life was waning. Late in life, she made aliyah to marry a second time around. Bubby still dared to hope and dream and give when most people her age would resign themselves to dreams unfulfilled and turn the pillow the other way.

Bubby went to live in the seaside town of Netanya. She loved the Land. She would inhale deeply, inviting us to sniff the milk and honey in the breeze. I never smelled either, but she said she did and was determined that her last breath be a milk-and-honey breath.

It was not to be. After two decades of a wonderful life together, her second husband passed on. My grandmother had outlived two husbands; would she hope and dream still?

I imagined she would, but then the Alzheimer’s that had been a niggling presence in her life took hold. Bubby had to return to England to live in a nursing home.

As her body waned, her spirituality came through. But still, it was hard to watch her memory fail, to see Bubby struggling with the simplest of tasks.

I never knew how long a visit would be. Some days she would caress my fingers in her translucent hands and I would listen to stories of the war, of life in London’s East End, of Israel, for hours. Other days, after a peck on the cheek and ten minutes of chit-chat, she was wrung out and disoriented. I couldn’t stop coming though. This was my great-grandmother and I knew I was touching the end of an era.

My mother arranged a rota of visitors so that every day, Bubby saw a different grandchild. The rota took a lot of phone calls, rearrangements, and time, but my mother looked at it as her calling. Bubby became part of the everyday conversation in our house — “Who’s visiting today?” “How is she feeling?” — and despite her weakening state, Bubby was a strong, secure presence in our life.

And then she became ill.


And just about then, I got engaged.

They said her body was too weak to fight. Chemotherapy would be too much for her and would just bring on the end, but doing nothing meant death, too. I sang to Bubby as her weight dropped and her eyelids drooped. She would squeeze my hand as I hit a high note and try for a smile. She tried, my Bubby, still tried when the doctors and family knew that nothing could be done but wait for the inevitable.

As my wedding day approached, I visited Bubby often. I hoped against hope that she would make it to my wedding, but I knew it was crazy to even entertain the thought. Bubby hadn’t left the home in years, she’d missed three years’ worth of simchahs. The familiar rhythms of the home soothed and supported her when her mind was not a safe place to be. And now, she was physically weak and had lost most of her mobility too…

She wasn’t there when I stood in white lace with a bouquet in my hands, accepting mazel tov wishes but wanting hers most of all. Then my chassan walked toward me for the badeken and I was swept away under the chuppah, to another world.

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