I Missed My Jewish Grandmother, So I Impersonated Her on TikTok – Kveller
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I Missed My Jewish Grandmother, So I Impersonated Her on TikTok

Channeling the badass women that helped make me who I am allows for me to grieve in surprising ways.


It started on a whim. I came home one night from a friend’s son’s bar mitzvah and decided to imitate my deceased grandmother on a new TikTok account. I did a classic riff on my beloved grandmother — one where she is frantically rushing to the synagogue in her home town of Knoxville, Tennessee, to pick up kosher meat that was shipped from Chicago. 

To this day I can see her cheeks pulsating in and out, feel her infectious anxiety that the meat might defrost before she got there, and the palpable fear that she might lose a substantial sum of money she tied up in kosher standing rib roasts. 

I got out my phone, opened up TikTok for approximately the second time in my life, and channeled my grandmother and her Georgia drawl. 

Shockingly, I got over a 1,000 views and comments like, “I need more of this.” So I gave the people what they wanted. I named the TikTok account Suthern Bubbe Worldwide Inc. and described the account as “Channeling the badass Jewish steel magnolias that helped make me who I am.” I regaled random TikTok users from the world over with impersonations of my mother, my grandmother and several other beloved relatives. Funny stories, mispronunciations of words, just their general affect and energy in some cases. 

The common thread? Every single video I made was of someone I loved who had died. 

My mother died just over two years ago. and my father died six months ago, so grieving is front of mind. Weirdly, TikTok made me feel like my loved ones were still with me in some way. 

I posted family classics such as my grandmother’s absolute conviction that Starbucks’ placing of milk jugs near sugar packets will lead to their eventual financial demise because people would just take free milk. I shared the mundane, such as my grandmother rushing to get me a “co-cola” when it was extremely hot outside or my mother yelling at my father to wear a shirt when walking out front to get the newspaper in the morning. I included deeply seared memories of the chaos around my mother and grandmother preparing for Passover. I even channeled them responding to my use of TikTok, complete with my mother yelling at me to stop wasting my time.  

Friends and relatives kvelled, saying I sounded so much like my mother and grandmother and how I really captured them. And even more exciting, I got to introduce my relatives to new people who never knew them. Seeing comments like “Shirley forever” and “Team Ike,” references to my mother and grandfather, generated immense satisfaction. It felt like I was keeping these family members alive in a way. And having other people laugh with me about all the good times provided a huge dose of dopamine after every post. 

Soon, my sister and husband got in on the action. “Remember the time Mom did this?” “Don’t forget the time Grandma said that.” They helped me generate content and critiqued my performance. We all watched the views roll in and reveled in the likes, comments and designation of some as “favorites.” It brought us immense joy to see others love our family. 

But lately, it’s taken a slightly darker turn. Some of the videos make me miss my mother and grandmother desperately. While my mother died more recently, my grandmother died over 15 years ago. While some of these videos make it feel like she is back with me — completely alive and vital — I am also reliving an old loss and opening wounds long closed. My sister confessed one of the TikToks made her cry; it felt like our mother was so real and present that it hurt. 

But that’s grieving for you. There are times when I feel thankful, at peace and secure knowing those I love are coursing through me, even if they aren’t physically here anymore. Other times, the sadness wells up and there is little I can see but the yearning for them to still be physically with me. My brain is continually learning that I will be OK, that I will move forward. But it’s not a straight line. Even something fun like a TikTok account has become an emotional mess. 

Grief comes in waves and sometimes when you least expect it. I feel fulfilled that people I don’t know love my grandmother and mother. It’s a powerful feeling to be able to bring them back for a 45-second stint on social media. This TikTok experiment has also revealed those we love are never really gone. We hear their voices. Hell, I have gotten others to hear their voices from beyond the grave (Shirley forever!). We remember the stories and the fun and the worries and the annoyances — all the things that made them real and complex people. 

Despite my mixed sentiments at times, I think I’ll keep it up for a while. For now, it feels good to know these regular folks — not famous or noteworthy — are being seen as the wonderful and extraordinary people they were. If I achieve that through an app better known for displaying makeup tips and dance moves, so be it. Grief doesn’t fit in the lines — ever.

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