Dina N.

The Hundredth Birthday That Would Never Be

I was going to sit and talk with him Thursday night.  I watched him being buried Wednesday afternoon.

It was my second funeral, but the first funeral where I actually remembered the person who died.

It seemed so surreal that he wasn’t going to be there when I landed, that he was truly gone.  On the flight to Israel I felt drugged, impossibly tired and completely disoriented.  Driving down the newly built highway, I was flooded with memories.  I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I would never see my grandfather again.

Within twelve hours of arriving at the Kibbutz I walked with my dad to the cemetery.  It had been raining, now the sun peeked out shyly from puffy gray clouds.

I stood amongst relatives.  He had no living friends.  He was ninety-eight and one half years old.  I had thought it was a given he would reach one hundred.  We would go, the whole family, and celebrate his centennial.  I was told to throw a rock in his grave.  It’s the custom they told me.  I didn’t want to conform.  My grandfather was the antithesis of a conformist.  But I was being watched.  I felt obligated.  So I picked up the first rock I saw and placed it down lightly on the dirt covering the pine box he lay in.

And then it was over, short and certainly not sweet.  The walk back felt excruciatingly long.  We mingled, but mostly I remembered.  He was ninety-two and swimming with us in the pool, ninety-three and I chased after his bike.  Just two years ago I sat and played cards with him.  I should have emailed more, called more.  The clichéd regrets intruded into my memories with surprising force.  Our relationship had never felt inadequate before.  Now I blame myself for not being closer to him.

When everyone left, I figured the emotional distress was over.  I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong than I was at that moment.

This trip was meant to be a vacation, I kept telling myself, but I knew that was a lie.

Sitting on a ragged chair in his dusty apartment and sorting through all of the things that meant the most to him, questions surfaced in my mind.  I wanted to ask him about his sculptures, about his service in the British army.  I wanted to ask him all about moving from what was then Czechoslovakia to Israel.  I wanted to know who all the mysterious faces in the photographs were.  I told myself that I will ask him later.  Eventually I realized that later would actually be never.  A mess of sculptures, documents, books, and CDs covered almost every inch of his bed.  Some were to keep, some to throw out, others to give away.

We filled up carts with endless stacks of paper.  We wheeled those carts to the recycle bins and threw out the papers.  Some were letters, others were mathematical theories he worked on, and yet others were mysterious documents whose purpose we would never know.  Soon all of them were lying at the bottom of the recycle bin.  It was as if all the life he had put into them was sucked out.

I knew we couldn’t take everything back home, but to just throw his belongings away seemed like an impossibly huge waste.  I wish I had known which papers were the most important to him.  The apartment was completely rid of his most meaningful possessions and barren.

The trip continued, and the heavy weight of emotions that I felt began to weaken.  Smiles broke out on day trips.  Laughter even erupted in the presence of two eleven-day old puppies and a baby cousin.  Before I knew it, the trip was over.  The experience in Israel had been a true whirlwind of emotions.

I knew when I left Israel that we wouldn’t be back for a while because my grandfather was one of the main reasons we went.  It pained me to think I wouldn’t be returning soon to the places I always went with him.  I wouldn’t see the trees where I picked pomegranates with my grandfather, I wouldn’t see all of the gardens he planted.  Maybe when I return, the trees will be withered, the gardens replanted.  Maybe everything will be different, and there will be no trace of my grandfather ever having been in the Kibbutz.

There are so many aspects of my grandfather that I will never forget.  I will always treasure his wrinkly smile and how everything I said was important to him.


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