September 16 is the anniversary of the death of two women I loved: my paternal grandmother, Sara, and my mother-in-law, Barbara.
Bubbe (Yiddish for “grandmother”) died in her 80s, many years ago, after her health had begun to fail. She lived in Israel, and I did not have the opportunity to see her one last time before her death. In stark contrast, Barbara died only weeks after I last saw her, laughed with her, attended a family wedding with her. We had no earthly idea she would be killed in a car crash, of course, no time to prepare ourselves for hearing the words that rocked our world.
It was Open House at my children’s elementary school that night, and when the phone rang I didn’t recognize the voice. It was my husband’s voice, strained, hiccuping, sobbing. I didn’t understand at first; I couldn’t process what he was saying. In the same way I quizzically furrowed my brow when I sat in the basement of my daughter’s school in New York City and the principal announced on that first day as our preschoolers were upstairs, “A plane has hit the World Trade Center,” I again heard information and my brain responded with Does Not Compute.
Anticipatory grief is real. A diagnosis, a doctor’s report, an assignment to hospice– all are ways others try to prepare us for the death of our loved one. With each step, with each caution, with each added conversation we start to get our minds used to the idea that it may be the end. Like a threadbare shawl we continue to wrap ourselves in, each time we are comforted less and less by others’ words of reassurance.
When a death is sudden and unexpected, there is so much to get used to, so much to process. It is a task to make sense of the death, to integrate it into our consciousness. We must unbreak habits. I remember so clearly when my uncle Alan died, I still continued to pick up the phone again and again to share a piece of news. I had to keep reminding myself, “You can’t call him anymore.”
There are so many talks I have missed with these women. There are so many things I’ve wanted to show them, share with them. However, I am so lucky to have had them in my life for as long as I did.