To honor Anita’s full life I’d like to share the story of her last month. How she met this challenge reveals her previous 84 years.
We had had our family Chanukah celebration. As always she brought something for the meal, and had a gift for everyone. We lit candles had latkaes and she said as she always did “Cyd I don’t know how you have the time.” She wasn’t quite feeling her self at the party, and the family said she should see the doctor. Henry tried twice “you’ll be the healthiest person the doctor sees all day, I’ll take you.” The next day she said she was feeling better and went on with her busy schedule.
That Sunday night she called Jay and reported she had a wonderful time out with her very good friend Bruce. They had gone to an Italian restaurant and listened to opera, something she loved. I don’t know what she wore but I could imagine her in a colorful print, with a necklace, pin and earrings and red lipstick and definitely with a smile. And perfect skin and perfect posture. Jay said she sounded the happiest he had heard in quite a while.
Ross was supposed to see her that Tuesday morning before he went back to school. And in a world of busy schedules, that was important to him. Her grandsons called, emailed and saw her on happy occasions. When Jay would say he spoke to his mom that was one of the first things he’d report, which grandson she had spoken to or had received email from.
Ross called Grandmom twice that Tuesday morning and when she didn’t answer he called Jay who found her in her apartment having had a stroke. In just a few minutes Roselle and Jay were by her side at Bryn Mawr Hospital.
When she could barely speak at first, Anita in the ER said over and over I love you, I appreciate it, thank you. Humble and asking for little only living with a stance of appreciation, these were her phrases with a crooked mouth and a straight heart. Anita told Roselle she was so proud of her many accomplishments including her new job which was going to be blocks from Anita’s apartment.
At first Anita was prepared for the fight to get back to her apartment living the full and interesting life she had made for herself.
Not surprisingly the family that she has shared every holiday, birthday and occasion with surrounded her at the hospital, Roselle and Henry, Jay and myself and Gary, Kabeera, A &N (Underage so I won’t put their names) Alex, Ross and Sam. A called her Great Grandmom Anita and had made a beautiful picture with a message that remained in her hospital room. Adam, Rebecca, and Anastasia joined the Grandmom vigil.
More surprisingly to us than our gathering around her, was her very full cell phone. Every day another friend was calling asking where are you Anita? Some of her friends we knew from her days as a school girl, and some we hadn’t heard of .But without question the cell phone, that rang with Havana gila ring tone every day with another friend looking and starting to worry about Anita. Flowers were delivered from a neighbor and from Bruce. The nurses told us what we knew, she was so kind.
Within a short week, we thought Anita was going to rehab and would hopefully be back to her full days studying, taking public transportation or off to a concert, or as Jay noted, “doing her own taxes.” And then things changed with Infections and flu on top of her stroke. And though her speech became clearer she became more sleepy.
No mother would want this, but the children who she raised were so devoted to her, feeding her spoon by spoon, talking to her and holding her hand. Roselle and Jay, sat by her side, and spoke to her with compassion. She’d open her eye to say, I love you. Both of them were professionals who have been trained to care for people at this phase of life, and yet both are very simply children with breaking hearts.
The true character of who Anita was, one that would inspire each of us, and be a role model is when she had to face that she wasn’t going to get better. Gary, both grandson and doctor, gently helped her understand what was ahead.
When we spoke to her about hospice and said, we’d like her to come to our house, she didn’t have a word about herself, she simply said, “I don’t want to be a burden.” And that was like her.
Anita understood hospice because in the last year, Jay took her regularly to see Bud, her dear companion for the past five years, in hospice. “I want to be comfortable,” she said, “like Bud.” We never saw Anita cry in the last days. We saw each other cry, but not her.
When she was told about hospice, I said to her, “Do you want to speak to a rabbi?”
“No” she said clearly, “this is my decision.”
Again this is who she was, she did what she had to, independently, organized and took care of all the details. Her directions and wishes were “in the red folder,” “in the drawer” “in the back, on the left.” She had everything arranged. About her funeral she was clear she wanted it here.
And she said, “I want to look pretty.”
The night before she came to our house, we all sat around her signing songs and prayers. “We’re going to sing Yedid Nefesh Grandmom,” Ross said, Do you know what that means, “Beloved Soul,” she said from her sleepy state. “Where did you learn that?’ “At a class at Federation,” she said. Gary and Kabeera sang her Yedid nefesh at her bedside taking shifts from working in the hospital and caring for their children.
We sang that night in the hospital the song we sang every Shabbat, Shalom Aleichem and all of a sudden from her sleepy state, she was singing with us. Anita celebrated many Shabbat Dinners at our house, and it is our custom to say something that happened good in the week. Without exception, when it came to Anita’s turn she would say, “Coming here, being with all of you for Shabbat.” At her bedside we read Eshes Chayil, a Woman of Valor, at the end of the psalm that describes a woman who cares for her family, keeps them clothed and cared for, has the love of her husband, she said from her sleep state, Amen.
Her last night in the hospital Ross slept by her bed and heard her say, “no more shopping, no more cooking.” She was making sense of what was happening.
Every night Anita was in our family room on hospice, we gathered around her and sang song after song. She loved music. Like Fridays nights when Jay and Roselle were young she and Saul had date night. They made cocktails and played music and danced together in their house. I remember Saul regularly bringing fresh flowers to Anita at the end of the week.
Alex and Sam led the song describing the angels that surrounded her
On my right is Mic-ha-el, “who is like G-d”, Alex said, “you are Grandmom”, on my left is Gabriel, “God is my strength, the strength you have given us and we are giving you” Alex said, in front of me is Uriel –“God is my light, just as you have been light guiding us” and behind me is Rapahel , “God heals and for all the doctors and care providers who are healing” and above my head is Schenicha.
Sam sang the contemporary Israeli song Hazelana hazelana save me.
We couldn’t save her. Anita asked for very little in her life, but she gave a great deal and in turn she was given the full love of her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Gemilut Chasadim, means acts of loving kindness, they are acts that you do knowing that you get nothing in return. Every hour of hospice was that kind of loving kindness. And The very last act of gemilut chasadim that Jay and Roselle did was to buy her a beautiful outfit to wear. As Roselle said, “she never splurged on her self, I want to do that.” And it was easy for Roselle and Jay to pick the colors the style. Classic and bright. They were fulfilling her wish, “I want to look pretty.” You’ve never seen a brother and sister, so respectful and loving of one another, so respectful in the way their mother had taught and modeled.
As her daughter in law I want to give testimony to all that she gave to her grandsons, countless hours of babysitting, attending their graduations, concerts. I know our children have known the great love of their grandmother and the last days of her life, I watched them each with their own tears, their own songs, their own tenderness, give her the greatest of love.
Sam shared quote that he said told Grandmom’s story, “love so strong without ebb and flow or crests and troughs, indeed lacking any sort of motion so that it had become invisible to him these years..part of the order of things outside his head which he had taken for granted.”
We just expected Grandmom’s love to always be, did taken for granted..and now gone. Now her family and friends will carry her story and love in their heart.