My Great Aunt Sally died a few weeks ago. It was a stroke and she was able to stay goodbye to her close family on FaceTime through a silent, but conscious, hand squeeze and eye blinks as people appeared on the screen to share love.
I heard this from my cousin who told me how hard it was to say goodbye on the phone, that she could not be there in person, was killing her.
AND at the same time she was so grateful for the technology to be in the ICU room and see her face and say goodbye.
We were able to watch the burial on Zoom and since the Rabbi was running late, my Cousin Nate and my Uncle Alex took us on tour of the cemetery to visit some other family members, My Grandfather, My Great Grandparents, and My Uncle Sam, Sally’s husband, My Grandmother’s brother. We heard the prayers and blessings on the screen. We watched the ceremony. I sat in my bed, my cozy place. I cried. I wanted to be there hugging my family. I was so grateful to have seen the burial.
We are all holding so many opposing feelings right now.
On one hand, I’m so sad I could not be there. On the other, I’m so glad I was able to watch it and feel a sense of closure in some way.
Later that night, we had a Shiva service on zoom that was so beautiful. So many memories shared of her 85 years. The beginning felt like a Saturday Night Live skit, all the people trying to figure out Zoom and mute and not knowing if they were on video or audio, it was wonderful. 100 people showed up to say goodbye. We shared stories and tears of her life. My Aunt Sally was one of a kind, in many ways, not always an easy person to get along with and definitely set in her ways about many things. She was obsessed with her family. My Grandmother and My Aunt Sally had very long lives together growing up in the same town, knowing the same people, raising families, shifting career paths, family trips and vacations and yes, both losing their husbands. Sally and Elaine were close, always complaining about each other, thick as thieves, rivals, and Shabbat dinner & temple dates. The classic yin/ yang friendship. Talking everyday and then when my Grandmother was moved to a Nursing home, My Aunt Sally was always fraught that she was in the wrong place.
“ Plezzy” My Aunt Sally would call me. “ I don’t understand why Elaine is…….” name the issue. This went on even as My Grandma moved places, nothing good enough for her, My Aunt Sally would argue.
And now, with my Aunt Sally gone, My Grandmother is the only elder left.
My Grandmother’s dementia too developed now to be able to attend the calls for Aunt Sally, too progressed to truly know Sally is gone.
It’s a weird feeling as your family lineage starts to change and shift where your parents generation become the wisdom keepers, the story tellers, the historians of the family, feels too young, too soon but I know that’s not really the case.
Yesterday, I broke down thinking of my Grandmother as the last one standing.
Her mind is not clear anymore, not as sharp as it once was. She gets confused. She forgets. She repeats. And She always answers her calls with “ Plezzy, so good to hear your voice. I miss you.”
And so, again- holding two emotions at once, I think of her in memory care, not really understanding the dynamics of the world, missing her- wanting to hug her and talk to her and feel the loss with her AND I’m at peace with the fact that she is not aware to all that is happening. She is not thinking of us all day every day, wanting us to be with her or longing for us. I know deep down she loves and adores us and that her mind right now is deep in dementia, the unknown reasons why or how that actually don’t matter. She is okay. More than okay. She is well cared for, well fed and spends her days in activities and with friends.
For my Death Doula training we have been asked to reflect on our own wishes for dying, to look back on relationships, pivotal moments, regrets, challenges, how to make meaning of our lives, especially when we are facing the end.
It’s been an interesting time to take this training and contemplate my own history/ lineage and themes of life.
As my Grandmother’s mind drifts further from the woman who taught me so much about travel, motherhood, education, Judaism, forgiveness, family, service, community, integrity, humility, I can’t help but just appreciate all of the time I had with her, I know she lives through me, I feel her every day. As her mind wanders away from the “Elaine Lowengard” I knew and loved, I can feel myself calling her in, her spirit, her wisdom and yes, even the things about her that were beyond frustrating, annoying and very difficult. It was not always an easy relationship.
Today starts the month of Av in the Jewish Calendar, the most intense, emotional and sad month of the year.
I hope that you find some peace in the pain you might be experiencing this month. I hope that you are able to get some time to be with all the realities of your shifting life. I know we are all going through it.
And so, I move through today smiling, breathing b/c the truth is we are never alone, never just one. The comfort I have been able to find in knowing this love for my Grandmother and My Aunt Sally is why I know there is never just one.
We can hold on to that love, share it, spread it, live it and find it everywhere. May you find some today.