This post originally appeared here on September 28, 2010.
I lost my grandmother in 2007.
Bubby, as I and everyone else called her, was the greatest force and brightest light of my life.
Bubby was a reader. Just one of the many ways in which I am so much like her. Put her (or me) in a quiet room or on a comfy chair with a good book and we are taken care of for hours, probably forever if that were possible.
She preferred history and biographies and atlases (she would read books of maps like some people read Danielle Steel novels). My mom (her only child, who died nearly a decade before Bubby) used to say that if my grandmother had been born in a different place or time, she would have been a spy or translator or even a cartographer.
The history preference was kind of obvious. It wasn’t just any “history.” It was her history. As a Holocaust survivor, words and places like Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen that we may have learned or read about in a removed way were very real pieces of her life that, due in part to her uncanny memory that boggles my mind even today, she remembered in excruciating and exact detail decades later.
Then there were history books about the Kennedy era, the books about all things Elvis, those “exposing” current-day political figures she either hated or adored (no in-between). There were the Yiddish books and the Jewish bibles and prayer books of all shapes and sizes, and a few books here and there in German or Polish, both languages that she read and spoke fluently. Books and books and more books.
To her, as to me, books were precious. Books were almost living things in our world, supporters on our worst days, companions always. In my family, books were extensions of our hearts, of our minds, really of our souls…not things to get rid of easily or carelessly.
All of this is why, though she has been gone nearly three years already, I am only now starting to say goodbye.
When she died, I was able to quickly and efficiently gather and give away her clothing and empty her closet. I donated her beautiful bedroom set to the wonderful woman who helped take care of her for the last year or two of her life. The same woman donated all of the clothing and shoes to her church.
Easy and done. Gone. Not much attachment to that stuff. I felt good about it on many levels.
But that was almost three years ago.
Since then, nothing.
Well, not much. Since her apartment is just four miles from my house, and I am the only family member who lives in this state, I am the one who goes and checks on her place every once in a while (one of these days my dad will sell it).
Each time I am there I take something home: A set of drinking glasses, some letters, a photo in a frame, napkins (she had a napkin, paper towel and tissue hoarding obsession – I am pretty certain this was Holocaust-related).
Also every time I am there, I pick a book or two off the shelf, thumb through it or just hold it, thinking of her and imagining her sitting next to the shelves on the brown leather sofa just reading, maybe quietly, maybe with CNN blasting in the background. (She never heard the phone ringing when I called because the TV was on so darn loud!)
I feel her in those books. I feel so close to her with those books. I remember her with those books. I can hear her voice talking to me through those books. From the biggest life lessons to the smallest details and observations, I can hear her. Of everything there in that apartment, those books may be the most tangible connection I have to someone I loved so very much who is now gone.
But I can’t keep them sitting there forever. They are taking up space and energy. They are doing no one any good and, now, it is time.
I know my grandmother would want me to keep them (you read that correctly – keep them) and I have lots of guilt around the idea of not keeping them. I can hear her ask me with her accent,
“Alkele, in that whole big house, you can’t find any room for the books?!” Yea, there is some guilt there.
Which is pretty much why they have sat around all this time in no-man’s-land.
But it is time.
Time to say goodbye.
Not to her, but to them. To the books.
And because once I make a decision, I don’t stop until all is resolved, I delved into this one. After some research and asking around and loads of awesomely helpful people in my life, I found a library here in South Florida that is willing and excited to accept the majority of the books.
When the nice librarian I emailed with (who told me she is also the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors – something that comes with lots of “stuff” that is hard to explain to someone else if it isn’t part of your own life) offered to include my grandmother’s name in all of the books, I almost lost it.
Knowing that her name will live on in her books, that the stories and histories and maps and photos and lives that she read about day after day, year after year, decade after decade, may now help someone else or teach someone else or be appreciated by at least one other person is something that brings me comfort in a way I can’t even put into words.
It makes me feel that this person whose story defied everything you have ever thought about life and luck and heart and the beauty and tragedy that are our lives will live on even in this small way. It makes me feel that I am doing the right thing by donating these books. It’s what I needed to know and hear right now. It is tiny and nothing, yet it means everything.
So on Friday morning I am off to pass on this piece of the woman who loved and adored me in a way I don’t know could ever be replicated. I do it because I loved and adored her as much, and maybe now even more. I do it because it may be the only way I have left to show my love for her. I do it because, maybe in some silly way, I hope that her story will continue to touch people. I hope that I, in my ok-but-still-inadequate way of passing it on, will be a tad off the hook now that I have let these books into the wild of the world to do their own telling.
I do it because it is time for goodbye. And when it is time for goodbye, well, there aren’t that many choices.
Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes.
I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again.
~ Billy Joel