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Sep 28 2011

A Loss and a New Year

By at 8:23 am

My grandfather died on Saturday morning. He was 97, and he was beloved.

Within 36 hours of his passing, over 100 friends and family members gathered at his country club (my grandfather wasn’t religious—the golf course was his sanctuary) to remember him, console each other, and support my grandmother. We recalled his love of pickles and bialys, his decades as a jazz musician, and his commitment to early morning lake swims, regardless of the water temperature. Most of all, we remembered how much he loved his family, especially my grandmother, his wife of over 50 years.

I’m back home with my husband and daughters now, and I’m feeling foggy, sad, and exhausted. Rosh Hashanah starts tonight, and I’m not quite sure what to do with everything. Just last week I was buying crafts for the children’s services at our synagogue. I was thinking about my intentions for the new year, and wondering whether or not my preschooler will actually try the honey this year, and how I’ll get it out of my toddler’s hair. Now I’m worried about my grandmother and how she will weather this transition. Now I’m missing my grandfather, and remembering when he sang at my wedding almost 8 years ago—the dance floor was packed, the band loved him, and no one could believe he was 90 years old.

Two weeks ago I went to a class at our synagogue about the High Holidays. Our Rabbi spoke about traditional greetings for the new year, and she reminded us that while we may wish each other a sweet or good new year, we don’t usually offer greetings for a happy new year. She was only partially joking when she said that we all know it’s not going to be a happy year, so why even say it?

A few years ago, I might have laughed along with everyone else, but I wouldn’t have really understood what she meant. But now, now that I am a mother, now that I have spent the night in the hospital cradling a croupy infant and praying that the meds kick in quickly, I no longer expect an entire year of happiness. Now that I am a member of the sandwich generation, now that I have spent hours trying to get comfortable in the waiting room outside of the intensive care unit, I know it’s unlikely to be a happy year. Now that I have said goodbye to my grandfather, and I worry about my three living grandparents, I’ll be content with a year without more trips to the hospital.

I understand now what my Rabbi was saying, and it’s not as morbid as it sounds. Once we truly appreciate that happiness is fleeting, and that life moves by more quickly with each passing year, we can be more present and more grateful for the good moments, the sweet moments. And I am. I am grateful to have had 34 years with a grandfather who always greeted me with a tremendous hug, a kiss on the cheek, and a smile so genuine, I was sure I was his favorite grandchild. (My 18 cousins would probably disagree about that last part.) And as Rosh Hashanah approaches, I will hold my grandfather in my heart, my grandmother in my thoughts, and my husband and daughters in my arms. And I wish you all a sweet and healthy new year.


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