Wednesday, March 24, 2010

From slavery to freedom...maybe a little closer this year

Passover, Pesach - פֶּסַח  in Hebrew, also known as Chag Ha'Aviv - חג האביב the holiday of spring is quickly approaching.

Our children come home from school singing -"Simcha Raba, Simcah Raba, Aviv He'Gia, Pesach Baa!!" - Much Joy, Much Joy, spring is here, Passover is coming!!

It is the holiday we celebrate the Jewish people's journey from slavery to freedom. Three years ago next week my joy and excitement of Passover coming was taken from our family in a tragic way....it has taken away our freedom to rejoice in what had historically been my favorite holiday.

Traveling back to a more naive time, April 1st 2007. For a lack of a better way to describe - my dreams were coming true. I had always dreamed of hosting passover that included my husband and our four beautiful children, my siblings, our parents and their parents! And it was happening.

How blessed was I, 31 years old, married to a wonderful man, 4 healthy children, loving parents...and all four of my grandparents healthy...the doting great-grandparents.

After 30+ years of Grandma B making her own seder for all the family - she finally agreed that the rest of the family in Florida could do it on their own - that she was going to be with us.

On Thursday, March 29th my mom's parents came into town - Grandma A (to the kids Bubby) and Grandpa J (to the kids Zeide) spent Shabbat with us and start to prepare for Passover. (they were staying with us)

On Sunday, April 1st J went to the airport to pick up my dad's parents - Grandma B (to the kids Savta) and Grandpa Fred (to the kids Grandpa Fred). (they did not want to put us out by staying with us; I made arrangements for them to stay at a local hotel). It was a beautiful day. Big blue sky - light breeze, great day for playing outside.

For about an hour everyone was at our home. Grandma A and Grandma B were playing with the kids. Grandma B commented on how wonderful Grandma A's borscht smelled. Grandpa J was reading, Grandpa Fred enjoyed the garden and the new blooms. Grandma B insisted that we had to put her to work the next day, she was not a guest but a contributor...she convinced me, even twisted my arm to let me let her do my ironing!

I tried to get Bob, who was in kindergarten at the time, to read to Grandma B...who spent 50+ years as a teacher, most of that time 1st grade. Bob wasn't having it, it was too nice outside. Grandma B said, Oh L, leave him alone, we'll have plenty of time tomorrow.

We planned to go out to dinner. Changing over the house and preparing for 27 people for two seders left little to feed our family of 6 and 4 grandparents that wasn't kosher for Passover...who wanted that more days than necessary? Grandpa Fred wanted to go to hotel, he didn't want to go to dinner...and Grandpa J wanted to just eat a "light dairy meal" at home. We changed our plans from the usual dinner place - to one across the street from the hotel - just in case Grandma B and Grandpa Fred wanted to join us at some point during dinner.

We weren't all going to fit into one car, so J drove our kids to the restaurant and I drove G and G to hotel. During our 5.5 mile drive Grandma and I talked about a lot of things, her sister Aunt T, her sister Aunt S, my cousin L, my cousin K...our kids...how excited we were to all be together.

I dropped them off. Telling Grandma where the restaurant was...to cross at the closer light because it had a crosswalk.

J and I went on to a harried but great dinner with the kids...and then home to put them to bed.

The phone calls from the rest of the family driving down from NY started.
Our family tends to do the "where are you now," "we are at the (insert popular I95 landmark) now" calls.
They are incessant, overwhelming and endearing all at the same time.

Unc had started on his journey down from NY in one car. Lolo too had commenced the trip with her boyfriend in a second car. Mom and Dad were driving down a "new" to us car that no one knew what the color to call it...it would be a surprise.

The phone rang a 20th time in two hours. I finally told J NOT to answer it, that the kids were tired - we had to get them to bed and we had a long day ahead of us tomorrow.

The phone went to the answering machine. It was a woman, with an accent asking for an Elizabeth. She said she was with my grandfather and my grandmother had been hurt.

I turned and looked at Grandma A and Grandpa J in the room and shrugged my shoulders.

J said, "L pick u the phone!!"
I said "No, it isn't for me, my name isn't Elizabeth, and Grandma and Grandpa are right here...it is a horrible April fools joke!"
J looked and me and with panic in his eyes and voice said "Grandma B is at the hotel!"

I picked up the phone...but it was too late, the caller had hung up. I redialed the last call. The woman answered the call, and she stared to tell me that she was there with my grandfather, that my grandmother had been hit by a car...I heard my grandfather calling my name...crying.

I grabbed my shoes to put them on as I kept saying..."I'm coming Grandpa, I'm coming." The good Samaritan said she didn't know where they were taking my Grandmother, but they should know by the time I got there...what do you mean they don't know where they are taking her, I said to myself...the hospital is only 2 miles from the hotel?

I drove back the 5.5 miles - 4 turns from my house - that seemed to take hours...rather than the few minutes it had a few hours before.

I needed to call my parents, but I didn't know what was happening...how could I call them while they were driving....I couldn't do it.

I called my Uncle (my father's brother) in CA, my Aunt answered...she was so calm. Knowing how close her relationship with my grandma (her MIL) was...I got strength from her voice. I hung up and called my best friend NES - I told her what I knew...and I cried. She cried with me....but also made it clear I needed to call my parents and tell them before I got to the scene.

I hung up with her and called my parents. It was one of the most difficult things I've ever done in my entire life. I called my dad to tell him that his mom, his rock, had been hit by a car...and I was on my way to the scene...that I knew nothing else.

I was still on the phone with them as I approached the last turn...and while I turned that last corner...the night sky was as bright as day with the all the flashing lights from the police cars, fire trucks...ambulances.

I hung up the phone to try to find my Grandfather in the chaos...to find out what happened and where by Grandmother was.

I parked my car on the road and ran across the median to find out something...anything.

I saw where the car was that hit my Grandma.
I saw yellow police tape.
I saw my Grandma's shoes.
I saw my Grandma's purse.
I saw the blood.
The rest I still see in my dreams sometimes...but I'm not going to go to that place here.

I found my Grandfather...I found out what hospital my Grandma was medivaced to.
NES had called our friend H and they wanted to come get us to take us to the hospital...but it was 32 miles away from where we were. And I couldn't wait the 25 minutes for them to get to us, and then start our journey...
They said they would meet us there.

I called my friend JK and asked her how to get to the hospital...as she works there...and I had no idea how to get there...my wonderful friend JK stayed on the phone with me the entire drive...kept me talking...kept me grounded as I sped to the hospital....with my Grandfather next to me in the front seat...I don't know if I told her how much that meant to me...how I couldn't have made it through that horrific ride without her.

Unc had gotten to the hospital first, as he was the one who had left NY first on his way down that day...but they wouldn't tell him anything. Then Grandpa and I got there....followed by NES and H...then Lolo and her boyfriend, my dad's cousin and then my parents.

We were all together...those who wanted to go up and see her got the opportunity...and then they took her into surgery. We kids took a few minutes to get a drink...I called home to update J.

As I came back down the long dark hallway, I saw my mom...she was crying...she told me that Grandma was gone.

I remember the sound I let out...the sound...it was a sound that came from my core...a sound that I felt from the tips of my toenails through roots of my hair.

__________

A few hours later we each left...each in our own cars.
I drove back in the rain....my head pounding...I thought it was going to explode...in hindsight I really should not have been driving...

I remember screaming at the top of my lungs... and saying over and over again..."I'm sorry Grandma, I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry Grandma, I'm so sorry!"

It has taken years...three years for me to be able to write just these parts of this story.
Put into words the guilt I have felt for choosing the hotel, for choosing the restaurant...for pushing them to come.
Not to forget the "if only's" - If only I had chosen a different hotel, or a different restaurant...not told them to cross at one light,maybe the other light...If only she got to have one seder together with her great grandchildren...if only...I hadn't pushed them to come.

I know in my mind it is not my fault...but the heart is a strange and wonderful organ...it has a mind of its own.
_________________

We have amazing friends....an amazing community. Somehow, my parents, Lolo and Unc, Grandpa Fred, J and I, Bob and Belle left our home, our two youngest children Bean and Puppy who were only 3 and 18 months at the time and my elderly grandparents to go to Florida for the funeral.
My best friend SAS and her sister J came over that morning and took care of us all day. JK and her husband R came and sat with my Grandfather for hours. NES and H were back to help and organize others to help. My friend B and her entire family including mother and step father pitched in, my friend Karen who had just found out she was pregnant with triplets, my friend R and countless others from our community (forgive me if I missed anyone - email me so I can add them)...
We all went, without worry about the things we left behind, and were able to only focus on what we needed to do.

________________

As we approach this third yartzeit - anniversary of her death - I try to move past the "if only's" - to the legacy she left.

In her memory I created a Sabbath library at our synagogue - called "Sifrei Savta" - (Grandma's Books)...the dedication reads:
This Shabbat Library was created in memory of
B_____ M_______
A loving wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother –
a teacher to all who knew her.

May her memory be a blessing to her family and all who were blessed to know her. May this year bring our family out of the oppressive memories of that night and closer to the freedom of celebrating this amazing holiday with less of a heavy heart. May we some day truly feel Simcha Rabba...


__________________
 Below is the eulogy I gave at her funeral:

When thinking of Grandma B, we think of a woman who could do anything. Our father already spoke of her as a teacher, a teacher of all she met or who crossed her path. Grandma taught by example, by leading the way. With her honesty and humor she always told us how she felt, and if we were following the path she wanted for us – but always without judgment, and always with love and understanding.
We as her grandchildren learned much from her – countless nights we sat and read stories from her special collection of books with yellowed pages, sang songs by the piano and listened to her tell stories from when she was a little girl, or from when our Dad was a little boy.

She took pride in our education and listening to what we were learning about. Report cards were an important time of year – when we started to get letter grades instead of numbers it was awesome! She not only rewarded us with her praise for good grades, she rewarded us financially - $4 for every A - $3 for every B and even $2 for a C (nothing for less). For Lolo, Unc and I who went to Jewish Day School and had 8 classes – this was right up there with our birthday and Chanukah!

Grandma valued continuing education, she never stopped learning or striving to know more – she learned Hebrew and then to lane torah as an adult, the excitement in her voice when she called to read it to me over the phone was one I’ll never forget.

As the mother of 4 of her great grandchildren, I took such great pride in watching her read to my children the stories that she read to me – on the floor, mind you, at 80 years of age. Each birthday or Chanukah a “new” yellowed page book came with the gift she thought the children would like. When Ping came this year – I cried with joy as I read it to them, and told them how my Grandma B, their Safta, read it to me when I was their age.

Grandma cherished her Jewish heritage and helped instill in us pride for ours. When Lolo and Unc were younger, we used to close up our house, pack up the 9 passenger station wagon and drive to Florida for Pesach. This year, she was to have Pesach at my house, with my children…to pack up her house and let me do the work for a change.

Sunday, April 1st 2007 was such a beautiful day – J picked Grandma and Grandpa up from the airport and they came back to our home. Grandma got to play with Bob, Belle, Bean and Puppy – and spend a beautiful time outside in the backyard looking forward to Pesach together. But she was sure to kasher her house in time to bring her mandel bread in for our seder, Aunt K’s seder and send some to California to be there for Uncle M, Aunt D, R and M.

Grandma B could do anything she set her mind to – my wish for my children is that her love for life, her love for learning, her love for Judaism and her love above all for family is remembered and carried on in her memory.

2 comments:

aunt_becca said...

what a way to honor your beloved Grandmother. This must have been very difficult to post. Thank you for sharing this with all of us. *hug*

bySarah said...

I feel sad, and I miss you guys. Hope the packing goes well, and that you have a good trip to NY.