It’s been eight months.
There are days, moments, milestones in our lives that brand us or change us or impact us in a permanent way. Whether happy or sad, they are the times that leave their permanent mark upon us, and propel us into a new chapter in our life’s story. And as with all chapters, they deserve to be written.
So, here goes……
It’s been eight months – time enough to avoid, deny, or hide. That season is over. Now it’s time to share.
My Medzma, my grandmother, was one of the absolute most important, influential, amazing, beautiful, strong, incredible influences on my life. She was, literally, a force of nature and explosion of life, love and energy. No one who met her could ever forget her. Anyone who spoke with her was instantly mesmerized. Everyone who knew her was completely in love with her, none more than I, her first grandchild and namesake.
She was unafraid.
She was unconventional.
She was uncontrollable.
And she was unapologetic.
It’s taken me this long to write about her, not only because my heart was completely broken by her death, but because she was such a funny, interesting, charming individual that I wanted to be able to communicate that in writing and to do her vivacity and sense of humor justice.
I’m not sure that is possible.
How do you explain such a colorful character? How do you adequately paint a picture of an indomitable spirit? Someone who lived a fascinating and tragic history – born in Jerusalem, child of Armenian immigrants, survivors of genocide; raised by a widow as the middle of six siblings (one who died in infancy); married at age 17 by arranged marriage; bore her daughter a year later only to be widowed a year afterward; survivor of the Israeli Wars; who moved across the globe to Uruguay and found a way to start a new way of life and bring her family over. She worked and fought and saved, making sure her daughter had the best possible education – so much so, that the child in question went on to become a Fullbright scholar and was sent to the U.S. on an exchange program upon completion of her time at University.
She had big plans for her child, my Medzma did, and those plans did not include an American upstart with a Texas address. So, when my mother began to write home about a guy, Medzma hopped on a plane, flew to Texas, and made her presence known. When the young man in question invariably asked for his love’s hand in marriage, her answer was, “No”, followed by a promise to live with him permanently should he dare to persist and marry her daughter.
He thought she was kidding, tossing out empty threats.
She moved in after the honeymoon, and remained a member of their household for the next forty years.
A lady always keeps her word…..
My entire life, I was blessed to have her near. She was my third parent, the one who often advocated, begged and cajoled on my behalf when I really needed extra fire power for that fabulous outfit or concert tickets or special treat. She interceded to decrease sentencing for grounding or punishment. She was a fabulous negotiator, and lived for fun, laughter and adventure. No wonder I was so in love with her.
She was tireless in her work ethic and drive to improve, both herself and those around her.
She had a sharp tongue and soft hugs.
She had a wicked sense of humor and quick wit.
She had a temper (oh, did she…), yet she forgave and forgot with enviable ease.
The stunts and stories of her youth were the stuff of legends. One in particular resurfaces often in our family. I won’t share too many details here, since I am unsure of the statute of limitations on international incidents. Let me just say it involved matches, a Jewish national monument, and a headline in the then-Palenstinian papers.
Her poor mother.
And my poor mother, sandwiched between us. Bless her heart, truly. We must have totally exhausted her with our drama and clashes and shenanigans.
Boy, did we have fun.
I wish she was still here. The fact that she lived a full, beautiful, long life is wonderful and I celebrate that. It doesn’t make me miss her any less, though. I’d give anything to hear her laugh one more time. Her laugh was one of my favorite sounds on this earth. Life isn’t the same without it.
And that’s the thing….the thing about grief.
The thing about grief, I have discovered, is that it always involves a one-two punch. First, there’s a loss. It can be anything, really, anything dear to your heart – a person, a relationship, your health, a dream, an expectation, a job, a house, a vision of what should have been….the list goes on. Regardless, it’s someone (all too often) or something that is taken from us in some manner. And from that point on, our life is changed forever. The second punch comes in the form of change, because nothing is ever the same and our path veers away from what it was, whether we want it to or not. We don’t get to choose the what, when, where, or how. And somehow, we are expected to move forward, because life stands still for no one.
Sometimes, the changes brought about by a loss are good ones. Sometimes, we see the big picture, grow from the circumstance, and get our “a-ha” moment in this lifetime. We can embrace our new path with gratitude and forge ahead into the new opportunity afforded us.
Sometimes, but not always.
The loss of a loved one rarely leads us to react with gratitude. Because that loss, that grief, just plain hurts.
The thing about this grief is, it’s part of the human experience. There are no exceptions. We all live through it. We all take part in it. No one gets a free pass. Jesus himself grieved during His time on Earth. We know that when his friend, Lazarus, died Jesus wept (John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible). He knew, knew without a shadow of a doubt what was waiting for Lazarus in Heaven, and how much better off he would be. Yet, He still grieved. Because loss hurts, and change is hard on our hearts. It makes us uncomfortable, and resets our definition of “life as we know it”.
We adjust and we grow because we don’t have a choice. There is an ebb and flow, and no matter how slowly or quickly we make our way through the stages, eventually finding our way to acceptance, our hearts beat a little differently going forward.
We spread Medzma’s ashes on what would have been her 86th birthday, releasing them into the river we all love as our final overt act of closure. As we sat on the banks together, a family bonded by love and grief, we sang one of her favorite hymns.
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well
It is well with my soul.
She lived that, had that ability to find peace and joy and unassailable faith in all of the circumstances and seasons of her incredible and eventful life. For us to do any less would be an insult to her legacy, a stubborn refusal to learn from her…..and would infuriate her beyond the telling.
Because the thing about grief is, it teaches us. It molds us and grows us. It pulls us along, and once we step out from under its crushing weight, it reminds us step into the sunlight where we belong. After all, this is also a part of the human experience, isn’t it? The tentative beginnings of hope and healing that bloom when we least expect them to. The reminders that we are loved and a part of something bigger than ourselves. The ability to smile through our tears, and find joy through our pain. Our hearts demand it, with their resiliency and need to laugh and love again. Our memories pave the way, easing us back on course.
I sat that day, on the banks of the river, and I saw my Medzma there. Not in the dust that floated away, returning her earthly body to the physical cycle of our planet, but in my mind, surfacing as one of my favorite mental and literal pictures of her.
She had come to visit, shortly after my wedding, and somehow convinced Gregg that she absolutely needed to sit out in the middle of the river. Bless his athletic and insanely coordinated heart, my eager new husband carried her across the rapids on his back (how they made it without incident is amazing, and was a sight to behold, especially given how hard she was laughing the whole time) to set her up for sun and water fun. There she lounged, happy and carefree, as tubers floated by, toasting her at the top of their lungs with various beverages held high.
That woman knew how to have fun.
She created it everywhere she went.
And that is how I see her.
I see her dancing and singing in a multitude of settings.
I see her holding each of my babies, tirelessly rocking them as infants.
I see her, head flung back, hands wildly gesticulating as she tells a story with dramatic flair.
I see her laughing until her tears run when something struck her as truly funny.
I see her hugging, kissing, loving and living, fiercely and fully focused on every moment under the sun.
She lived. In her 85 years on this planet, she lived at a higher capacity then most of us could in two lifetimes. Her life was a gift and a blessing, and she knew it with every fiber of her being. She never lost sight of her self as a child of God, and she never lost clarity of her faith.
I miss her…..some days to the point of physical pain. That’s the thing about grief. I celebrate her every time I talk about her, or write about her, or laugh or cry at her memory. That’s the thing about the gift. May I always know the importance of both.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 4
There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die
a time to weep and a time to laugh
a time to mourn and a time to dance.
Solidarity, sisters. May God bless you in each of your seasons.