Thursday, June 05, 2014
For My Grandmother, December 2, 1918 - June 5, 2014
Esther Estelle Katz, my grandmother, died last night peacefully in her sleep. I didn't want to let the day go without writing about her, things I now or have heard, memories of her. I hope I am not divulging any family secrets, but I've loved these stories that tell how strong and optimistic my grandmother was. The picture above was taken when I was about 3 or 4.
I did not realize how hard it is to put an end date after a birth date.
She was born Esther Muller on December 2, 1918. It was pronounced "Miller" because of anti-German sentiment. She told me she added the Estelle later because she liked it and it means "star." It was a fitting addition.
She was one of four children: Frida, Leo, Marvin & Esther. She told me that she was not a great beauty like her sister, so she had to work. Her sister Frida was 16 months older than she was. Once, when my grandmother was 7, Frida could not say a Hebrew word for something correctly and was rapped across the knuckles with a ruler by the teacher in Hebrew school. My grandmother took her hand and said, "Come on Frida, we're getting out of here." She took her out of the classroom and back home. Her mother was terrified she'd done something like that, but when they were called into the headmaster's office he said, indicating my grandmother, "This one should be a rabbi." My grandmother refused to go back. It was 1925.
Her father was challenging, and would disappear for days, coming home after a bender remorseful that he'd spent all the money and left the family without food. One day, when she was around thirteen, her father came home remorseful, stood on the landing on the way up to their apartment and said that he should just kill himself. My grandmother opened the window and said, "Jump." He didn't, but I imagine he was wary of saying anything like that again. 1931.
My grandmother didn't love to cook all that much, and would say, "I have kitchens open 24 hours all around town." If a restaurant wasn't that great she'd say "I can do better than this." She interviewed the waitstaff and knew everyone's name. Every restaurant I ever went to with my grandmother, I was told by someone on the staff how special she was. She loved hearing people's stories.
My grandmother wrote wonderful birthday cards saying things like "I am glad you're being you in my Universe." She often said she was filled with "nachas", which is a Yiddish word for joy and pride in one's children or grandchildren.
She was married to my grandfather from the age of 18 to 51 when he passed away. She was widowed, and had to get by on her own. She went to work, started a business. She struggled. She remarried. And she was always a wonderful force of love in all our lives.
She told me she had been a worrier earlier in her life, so to cure herself she wore a rubber band around her wrist and snapped it to change her habitual thoughts. She loved Jack Kornfield, particularly "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry" and Carolyn Myss "Why People Don't Heal." She took EST and self-esteem workshops. She went to elder hostel universities with Fred, the brilliant man she married after my grandfather. When she could have stopped and given up at 51, a new widow, she went further into life, continually learning and growing.
I visited my grandmother in April. As always, we spoke about life and how best to live and enjoy it. She was reading a Buddhist book about transitions. She had a spiritual counselor she spoke with, a Catholic nun. She loved Ekhart Tolle and the Power of Now. She had been watching him chat with Oprah.
I know I can't begin to touch the loss of a spirit like that. I will miss our conversations. I will miss how alive and engaged she was. I will miss that spirit of investigation and interest. At 95 she moved to a independent living facility, as she felt her social world was shrinking, and she needed to have interaction with people. We spoke when she had started to settle in, and she told me she was loving it - that what she thought she'd miss she didn't, and that she was enjoying being somewhere new, having a new experience. I will miss her unqualified love, and I will miss being seen by her.
I will miss her terribly. I am grateful to have had her in my life. I wish and hope that everyone has someone like my grandmother in their life, or if not, that they can be that person to someone else. I will think of her every December 2nd, and I'm sure much more often than that. May you all have extraordinary lives, and may your life be a blessing.