Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Light of Family

I wrote most of this in my mind a few days before Gramps passed away. It was a Monday evening, and I had just finished a conversation with Gramps. I caught him just before he would make his way to the hospital one final time. He was in tremendous agony – and it was difficult for me to talk to him. I tried to hide my ‘pain’ as he asked about my wife and my children, his great grandchildren. He winced and breathed heavily, and I gritted my teeth. I knew he was going … “I love you my boy,” he said. “I love you too Gramps,” and the call ended. I cried. I knew this would be it …

Nonna Lea (my father’s maternal grandmother) passed away on the eve of Rosh Ha’Shana, 1992. At the time, I was in Leicester with Granny, Gramps, my aunt, my uncle and my cousins. I was extremely upset, but I also remember feeling tremendous regret. Nonna Lea passed away at the age of 84, and I can’t remember ever making much of an effort to communicate with her. I was always friendly and warm, but that just didn’t do much to lessen the regret I still feel to this day. Who was she? Looking back, I’m sure something changed in me that day.

Gramps was always a quiet figure, a gentleman in every sense of the word who was quite happy to let others talk while he listened. On our many vacations in Cape Town, I remember bonding mostly over our shared passion for sports. That was really it though – and when Granny passed away in ’96, it felt like a lot of the life and passion of our fun in their apartment went with her. The postcards and letters stopped, and much of the communication – bar birthday wishes and time spent together during the yearly vacations – stopped too.

Things changed for the better when I started University. With a cheap dialing plan available to South Africa, I was speaking to my grandparents almost every weekend. The relationship with Gramps finally began to develop as we talked about my life and obviously … sports. One conversation will always stand out for me. After a heavy snowfall in Binghamton, I went out tray boarding (snowboarding minus the board and with a plastic dining room tray) with some friends. I hadn’t dressed very warmly, and after coming home, I began feeling unwell. Shortly thereafter, I called Gramps – a doctor – and started asking for his medical opinion and advice. The doctor was there to help … it was nice to know he was always there for me with all my questions.

After making Aliyah in 2003, it was tough again to stay in touch. However, as Gramps became more comfortable with the Internet (in his early 80s!), we started corresponding via e-mail. When I began working for IDT, a Telecoms company, the privilege of calling Gramps every week was back on. Hearing his voice every week – even just for a few minutes – was a necessary part of life.

Gramps would visit Israel a few times in the coming years, including coming for my wedding and to spend some time with his first great grandchild. The relationship had come a long way from when I was a kid. I admired the many wonderful traits of the man – his honesty and the way he respected people through actions and words standing out - and I just looked up to him as a mensch.

Gramps’ condition began to rapidly deteriorate after the Monday night call. I called again on Tuesday. He couldn’t talk by then, so the phone was put to his ear. “I love you Gramps” one final time, and his thumb came up. It was Thursday night and I wanted Nissim to speak to Gramps. Nissim wasn’t keen, but when I asked him to do it for me, he said “Hi” to Gramps, and then “I love you.” An hour later, Gramps passed away.

Gramps died on the 1st day of Hanukkah, the festival of lights. Family is one of the major sources of light in our lives. One needs to nurture and dedicate time to 'it', and the light can then hopefully provide the warmth and endless memories which are the reason for life itself. I feel extremely blessed that I was able to develop such a close relationship with Gramps, and feel the warmth of his humble light.

May his dear soul rest in peace – ke repose en Gan Eden