While mourning the loss of my grandmother, Hilda Schiffman, I spend a lot of time thinking about all the times I spent with her. Of course, what remain most vivid are my memories of Grandma in the past few months. We have spent a lot of time together and I find her in my pictures throughout the course of the year.
The last day I spent with my grandma was October 24, 2010, just 2 weeks before she passed away. I picked her up on the most gorgeous autumn day, when the leaves were just beginning to change colors but had not yet fallen from the trees. It was 70 degrees outside and she was enjoying the sunshine. I was determined to find a park for her to sit and watch my 3 children play. We drove around until we found a beautiful park in West Orange that was at the top of a winding “country” road, which opened up to a large expanse of grass and trees. We walked about 20 feet and she sat down on her walker. She watched as my Arielle, Kayla and Tzvi ran and played ball, enjoying them as they went round and round. When we went back to the car, Grandma was reveling in the sunshine with her eyes closed. I remember asking her if she was okay, and she responded that she loves the sun and was happy to feel its rays on her face.
We left the park and went out to the local pizza shop where we met my sister, Leah & her husband Dovid and 2 children, Sari and Benjy as well as Dovid’s parents. We all sat and ate together. Grandma was smiling the entire time because we were all there to enjoy her company and we came to see HER. We had gotten together the previous Sunday for Arielle’s 5th birthday, but it was so busy with the entire family that there was not enough time to spend with all the kids. This day was different as we were all devoted to her and she was able to interact with each great-grandchild one on one.
And that is how I will remember her last days- reveling in the sunshine and in the kids. I am so happy that she got to enjoy my children (she even admitted being glad that I had 3 kids so close in age so that she could get to know them all!).
But it is the older memories that I will truly cherish but that take a little more time to conjure up. Some things I will never forget:
· Playing in Grandma’s backyard and sledding or rolling down the hill.
· Using the egg slicer and silver straws in her old fashioned kitchen.
· Thanksgiving dinners with roast beef because I didn’t like turkey.
· Grandma calling her cat back into the house after playing outdoors: “Patches, where are you?”
· Riding with her to visit my cousins in New Jersey, betting a dime to determine if there would be traffic at the Jerome Avenue exit of the Cross Bronx Expressway (I always won the bet).
· When Grandma gave me a dollar to hold for the toll and warned me not to let go with the window open. Oops, I let go anyway and it flew right out the window!
· Getting rides to and from school just because I had to walk past the local public school to get home.
· Mornings when Grandma slept over because my parents were away. These were the only mornings I actually ate breakfast. I knew Grandma meant business and I was not to leave the house until my breakfast was finished.
· Playing ping pong in Grandma’s basement with my older brother, Dani.
· When Grandma was determined to walk to my parents’ house from shul. When I arrived at the home she still was not there. Jeremy and I found her on Arrandale Avenue (5 minutes from the house) with a shopping cart she had appropriated from the supermarket to help her walk the distance!
· Seder nights when she read from the famous blue hagaddah. We enjoyed many Passovers at her house, then at ours, and then at the hotel. Grandma always wanted to chop vegetables, make charoses, and explain why we ate the symbolic egg. Certain things were always reserved for her.
· When Grandma came to visit me when I was in Israel for the year and we lit Chanukah candles in my apartment.
· My trip with Grandma to Pittsburgh where I forced her to travel with me a day early and though she resisted, she thanked me later for bringing her early because she got to sit with her cousin who passed away the Shabbos we were there. Being with Dorothy that day before she died meant the world to Grandma and she was happy to have been with her and at her funeral.
· Another Pittsburgh memory was when my husband Jeremy and I took her on a day trip with Arielle when she was still a baby. We travelled with her to the Duquesne Incline and took the cable car to the top of the mountain. We relished the view and took pictures, which I framed immediately for display in my home.
When you enjoy a lifetime of memories with someone you can’t really isolate memories. I am just happy to have had so much time with her. It was a lifetime of quality interactions. Grandma was an amazing personality, vibrant and personable. Grandma exuded a sense of dignity and life. She was the most vibrant person in the rehab center where she lived her last few months. Who else would wear orange moccasins and long beaded necklaces in the nursing home?
I would be remiss if I did not mention Grandma’s tremendous strength: physical strength, emotional strength and strength of will or determination. Grandma never gave up her dignity because she was too stubborn! Grandma spoke her mind whenever she wanted and she told it like it was even if you didn’t want to hear what she had to say. Grandma’s motto was: “You don’t have to listen, but I HAVE to say it.” So we learned to listen with one ear, take the criticism and advice, and follow her directions once we realized the truth of her words. Grandma always made sure to have her hair and nails done every week to ensure she kept her dignity. She made sure that she distributed her personal belongings including furniture, platters, silverware, and jewelry while she was well. She planned who would get what and then enjoyed seeing it in our homes. This brought her the greatest joy and helped her maintain her dignity despite the difficulty of disbursing her most valuable items. I am proud to light her candlesticks and enjoy sitting in my dining room, surrounded by her furniture each Shabbos.
I can go on and on, but I will close with this thought. Grandma taught me about the true value of family and appreciating each generation. She taught me to stand by your children and grandchildren no matter what life may bring. I will truly miss her and will cherish the memories and lessons she imparted.