My beloved grandmother Dina has recently passed away at the age of ninety-five. She was blessed to live a long healthy life and to see her great-grandchildren. But her life was not always easy and happy. She lived through the dark times of terror and poverty in the communist Russia. As World War II began, she was one of the brave women who volunteered for the army service. She served in the Air Force and met the end of the war in Germany with the Soviet troops. She then came back to live in the war-torn Russia, on to more years of poverty, antisemitic oppression, and hopeless life.
Many people who live through such challenges end up miserable, bitter, and depressed, yet my grandma has always been the greatest optimist I have ever seen. She had a rare ability of ignoring the negative, celebrating the positive, living in the present, and appreciating life to its fullest. She loved simple things and lived a frugal lifestyle without unneeded possessions. She loved the outdoors, the sun and fresh air. She loved humor and good jokes. She loved music. She loved life.
She was not a typical grandmother. She never brought me presents when I was a child, she never read to me and never played with me. Instead, she gave me something much better – her time and her love. She took long walks with me and showed me things or told me stories. She wasn’t good at telling fairy tales, so she told me real stories from her past life, and these stories were a lot more interesting and fascinating than any made-up children’s books. She wasn’t good at cooking, yet I think her food was delicious, because what I remember is not the smell and taste of the food, but the smell of home and the taste of love which she managed to infuse into her cooking. She wasn’t purposefully trying to be a good grandmother, she was, simply, herself – and for me, that made her the best grandmother in the world.
She was always active and strong-willed. She refused to retire and worked hard until she was well into her seventies. She would move mountains for the people she loved, sacrificing her convenience and, often, her way of life. When I immigrated to America as a teenager and stayed here on my own, she moved here to care for me and to keep me company, leaving behind her familiar lifestyle and her homeland where she had lived the entire seventy-seven years of her life. I have always admired her extraordinary sacrifice.
She was always eager to learn new things and visit new places. Her greatest joy was to ride in the car and look out the window. Before I had children, we would often take road trips – just the two of us in the car driving to some remote places, shopping, and lunching out. I would take her with me whenever I drove to job interviews. She waited for me in the car, and her presence in these unfamiliar places was so comforting and reassuring. She was my best friend and beloved companion.
Her apartment, always so cozy and scrupulously tidy, was my second home. I was always greeted with a welcoming smile and a warm meal. I would curl on a couch and read a book, enjoying the comfort, the warmth, and the quietness. That place will always remain in my memory.
I will miss my grandmother deeply. I will miss her contagious laugh, her warm hands, her wide smile and her melodic voice. I will miss all those moments we will no longer share, all these road trips we will never take, all these ice cream parties we will never enjoy.
We humans don’t appreciate those who are close to us until they are gone. Only then do we start to realize that we didn’t spend enough time with them and didn’t show them enough appreciation. The truth is, it’s never enough, so we should use any opportunity we get to show our favorite people how much we love them – because if we don’t, we might later regret that we missed the chance.
My grandma was blessed to live long enough to see her great-grandchildren and spend some quality time with them. My own great-grandmother passed away when I was a toddler, yet I still have memories of her that I keep and cherish. I am certain that my grandmother has made a similar impact on my children’s lives. I am glad that my children had the opportunity to get to know her and to learn many important lessons about the challenges and the beauty of aging.
Many families in the Soviet Russia were small – only one or two children, because life was difficult and most people could hardly make ends meet. But, even though my grandma only had one daughter, she eventually became the matriarch of a large family of loving grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will always remember her and miss her, and who will always have her in their hearts.