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That Time My 4-Year-Old Asked If Her Late Bubbe Would ‘Come Back to Life’

Young mother who is a fashion designer was visited by her mother-in-law in her workplace

We sit down for dinner.

Ravi, my 4-year-old, overhears my phone conversation and learns that my best friend’s grandfather has passed away.

“Tati,” she asks, “will Bubby come back to life?”

Bubby, her great-grandmother, passed away three years ago, at the age of 91.

Now, Judaism does believe in an afterlife and in a resuscitation of the dead, but for whatever reason I opt not to have that theological conversation with Ravi at this point.

“No,” I offer, “but her memory lives on and Bubby lives on inside of us.”

She eats a carrot stick.

“When Bubby comes back to life,” Ravi replies, “I’d like to have a play-date with her.”

Maybe my answer was confusing. “A play-date?” I ask.

A nod.

What is going on in that little head of hers, I wonder.

“Will Bubby be an old lady when she comes back to life?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I reply, honestly.

“Well, we won’t run together,” she says with her hands raised, holding a carrot still in one hand. “We’ll go slow because she’ll be old.”

If my Bubby could have heard this conversation, I know she would have laughed and called Ravi her “bubbeleh” and remarked at her great-grandchild’s “brilliance.”

My Bubby, Chana Mlotek, was a noted ethno-musicologist and collector of Yiddish song. A recipient of several lifetime achievement awards, she lived to be inducted into Hunter College’s Hall of Fame. She lived a full life, and this Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the first day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, marks her yahrzeit, the date of her passing.

There’s so much more Bubby could have lived for: seeing a justice of the United States Supreme Court officiate her granddaughter’s wedding (co-officiate, she would insist). She would have gotten to see a great-grandson born carrying her husband’s name. Soon she would have danced at my brother’s wedding this coming Hanukkah.

And there’s so much Ravi would have enjoyed doing with her Bubby, too. It just so happens that the apartment we moved into a year ago is on the same block where Bubby went to work for over 40 years. Ravi would have loved visiting Bubby in her office, touring the archives and waving to her building every time we walked to the Union Square playground. She would have loved that her great-grandmother could play any song on the piano if you just sang it to her once.

But Bubby’s life ended when it did, and though she did not come to know Ravi as she is today, Ravi did bring her so much joy in her final months. She got to hear Ravi call her “Bubbah,” even if she didn’t hear her later rendition of a Yiddish operetta or “Matchmaker” from Fiddler (night after night after night after night).

Azoy iz es, though, that’s the way it is. Dos redl dreyt zikh. and the circle of life continues. This month we’ll celebrate Hanukkah and another family wedding, too. And we will continue to miss you, Bubby. We sing your songs and play your word games and your memory continues to be a blessing. Now, how about that play-date?

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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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