aging

This Birthday My Mortality Clock is Ticking Extra Loud

Too early that March morning, my mother came into our bedroom and told us, “You don’t have a Nana anymore.”

My sister and I sat up in bed, sleepy-eyed, and shocked into silence. We knew Nana had been in the hospital, but we had no idea she could die.

Although it is contrary to today’s thinking about children and death, I am still grateful that, at 9 years old, I did not go to my grandmother’s funeral. I know that forever after I would have thought of her suffocated in a box. Despite the trauma, at least my memories are of a smiling, well woman who delighted in me and whatever I did.

I had always heard that Nana “died young.” But whoever thinks their grandmother is young? She was a grandmother and that made her old.

But she was young. And as I approach my birthday next month, the age she was at her last birthday, she seems even younger. This is the birthday which stopped time, the birthday which marked her last year, the age at which she never grew older.

I admit I am a little freaked out about the whole thing.

I embrace my wonderful life and all the wonderful people in it. I am surrounded by a loving, growing family. My friendships are close and deep. I can’t stop thinking that Nana must have felt that way, too, at my age.

But then, she died. She had a stroke and after a few days in a coma, she was gone.

She missed way too much.

She lived to see eight of her 10 grandchildren but is remembered only by one–me, the eldest. She didn’t see us grow up. She was not at family seders, Hanukkah parties, bar mitvahs, or weddings.

So now, with eight grandchildren and, with God’s help, two on the way, I know for sure that she died young. Like my other grandmother, she should have had 35 more years of life and lived to see her grandchildren become adults, marry and give her great grandchildren. She didn’t.

I approach this birthday, as I always do, with joy, gratitude and hope. But this time, mortality’s clock is ticking a little more loudly.

Dear God, give me years. Bless me so that my husband and I will feer (Yiddish, accompany) all our grandchildren to their chuppahs (Hebrew, wedding canopies) together in good health. Let me delight in great grandchildren. And then, when I am really old, take me quietly, quickly, softly. And, eventually, let the silence I leave in my place be filled with the sounds of joy and laughter from those I’ve loved and left behind. Please.


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Renee SeptimusRenée Septimus is a social worker and Jewish educator. She lives with her husband Joe on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and is the very proud mom of four married children and a savta (that's Hebrew for grandmother) to a (growing) bunch of absolutely perfect grandchildren!

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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