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There’s a smug smile on my face, a smile wholly at odds with the somber setting and the assembly of mourners. It is the first anniversary of my grandfather’s death, and his descendants have gathered, as tradition dictates, to feast and to speak lovingly of the man who was husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. The air in my aunt’s home is tangibly wistful; a corresponding sadness is mirrored in the eyes of the guests and is echoed in their voices.

We speak of the void Zeida left. No one in the room today would sit dignified at the head of the table with a decidedly undignified twinkle in his blue eyes. No one would offer a fresh batch of witticisms, delivered in a quiet voice and chased by a dry chuckle. No one would cup an ear with one hand to listen intently to the littlest of speakers. My grandfather would have. How odd that an absence could be so obviously present!

Yet I, alone, remain untouched by sorrow. I hug my complacency to me. It's not as if I didn’t love him—I still do—but I cannot be overwhelmed by a sadness that does not affect me.

I glance at the grieving faces that I love most in the world. They don’t know, I think. That’s why they grieve. If not for terrifying circumstances of my own, I would be like them.

Whenever I think hard about the funeral, as I do now, my teeth begin to chatter. My teeth had been chattering that morning as I stood on the sidewalk and watched the procession of cars drive off to the cemetery. My swelling belly and I would remain behind. My teeth were chattering, but not from the winter cold; they were chattering because I was in a state of shock, which had set in during my father’s hesped (eulogy) for Zeida.

The steady drone of weeping, which had begun even before the first speaker strode to the front of the funeral parlor, intensified when my father took the podium. The only son of the only grandfather I had ever known spoke with respect and affection—and great restraint. Then in a sudden rush of passion, my father cried brokenly: “Daddy, please, intecede before the Heavenly Throne for a refuah shleimah for my granddaughter Blimi!”

At first I was stunned. I had been to other funerals and never had I heard a request for a refuah shleimah, a full recovery. The seeming impropriety of it worried me. Then the niggling reality, which had been hammering far back in my mind, broke through to the front. My goodness! She must really be sick! My Blimi is really sick! And then my teeth began to chatter.

After the funeral procession trailed slowly away, I walked the three blocks to the hospital, which had become my second home only two days earlier. My sister-in-law Tiffany had come to sit with the small, inert body in intensive care so that my husband and I could attend the funeral. Nothing’s changed, she informed me.

A quick glance at the monitors overhead and the draining tubes snaking from her chest confirmed that my four-year-old daughter was no less near death than she had been when she was rushed to the emergency room in respiratory distress. The rare bacteria attacking her blood and lungs waged war against a daily arsenal of antibiotics. X-rays took tallies of the skirmish six times a day, and so far the bacteria were winning. Throughout the feverish battles my daughter slept on blessedly in an induced coma.

When I had first sighted her diapered body spread-eagled on the hospital bed, outfitted only with a ventilator, catheters, and tubes, she seemed like a doll—or perhaps worse, an empty shell.

I was bemused and uneasy with this strange and sudden drama in my life. Before her pneumonia struck, I was absorbed with my grandfather’s ill health, dreading the fatal turn it seemed certain to take. In lighter moments I worried, needlessly, whether my toddler son would rejoice in the birth of a brother or a sister. Now my life revolved around simple red numbers on a monitor.

For some weeks I had been thinking about the inevitable week to come when my father would sit shivah. I would come every day, offering to cook and field phone calls. Yet three days into the actual shivah I still hadn’t shown my face in my grandmother’s home, where the family was sitting. Thoughts of the questions I would face intimidated me. I didn’t have any good news to impart, so I stayed away.

On the third day of shivah, my daughter’s unchanging condition changed. Her little lung collapsed and she needed immediate surgery.

She was awakened shortly before the operation. Still on paralytic drugs, she remained motionless, but her soft round eyes sought mine unhappily. Helplessly I held her limp hand in mine and wiped away the tears that squeezed from the outer corners of her eyes and trailed relentlessly to her ears.

“She’ll be put under again as soon as she’s wheeled into the operating room,” I was informed. The comment was meant to reassure me, but I did not relax my grip on her hand. They wouldn’t let me into the operating room. My baby girl would be conscious and afraid, and alone, without me there.

I walked alongside the gurney, her hand in mine. Her brown eyes locked with my own in mutual terror. With every step I grew more agitated at the thought of leaving her alone. Too soon the solid doors of the operating room loomed ahead. “That’s it,” I was crisply told, and Blimi was whisked away.

I felt panic rise in me as the swinging doors closed behind her, but then, curiously, a blanketing calm settled upon me. For the first time in the five days since she had been hospitalized, I was at peace.

Though the doors to the operating room were closed and windowless, I could clearly see behind them. And there, beside my daughter’s bed, his hand where mine had just lain, stood Zeida. His black homburg hat and suit looked incongruous among the team of scurrying surgeons and nurses dressed in scrubs. His quiet posture reassured me, as I am sure it did Blimi. By the relaxed pulse of a mother’s intuition, I knew I was not wishfully envisioning him. At this, her most vulnerable moment yet, my daughter was not alone. Neither was I.

It is impossible to concentrate. In the quiet of my aunt’s house, someone else who had been close to my grandfather is saying something nice about him, but my attention is fixed elsewhere. I stare at the patterned plate before me. Did we remember to tell the caterer that we wanted dishes? The dinner is tomorrow night, and I want everything to be perfect. After all, not many people are blessed with a special opportunity to thank G‑d personally with a seudat hoda’ah (thanksgiving feast).

Heart surgery, tracheotomy, and reconstructive surgery of the throat had followed Blimi’s lung surgery of the previous year. She was one in a million to contract the disease, we were told, and one in a million to have survived. I wryly wonder if the joy at her wedding will equal the joy sure to be felt at tomorrow’s meal.

At my left, a relative jostles me, whispering, “It’s just not the same anymore without—” She bows her head. “I really miss him.”

I nod in agreement, but inside I’m singing. I want to miss him. I try to miss him. But how do you miss someone who’s always there?

Originally published in The Jewish Homemaker
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Anonymous October 13, 2012

common to sight. Beautiful. Reply

Chaya Balarsky Austin, USA December 23, 2011

Zaida I was also very close with my father. My abba was the caretaker of my daughter as I attended grad school in S. Diego, CA. I think about him and remember all the jokes and good times. Though deceased, he is still with me daily! My father was exceptional in every way. Reply

Shari Silverstein Wanatick Teaneck, NJ via July 31, 2011

Zeida It will be two weeks on Tuesday that my Father passed away. As I'm in tremendous grief , my two 6 year olds are wondering why Hashem won't give them their Zeida back. Hearing that makes it hurt that much more. I know their Zeida is watching and protecting them, but the pain in their eyes and in my heart is so much to bare. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I'm so happy your precious little girl is well. Reply

Ina Reznicek new york city, NY June 30, 2011

Zeida full of wonder, how wonderful to share this blessed experience with us.Thank you. Reply

Miriam madison, WI March 30, 2011

Zeida What a beautiful story and tribute! Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma March 29, 2011

the pulling of veils This is a powerfully moving story out of a life. I am so glad your daughter recovered from this terrible bacterial invasion. I am deeply affected by the story of Zeida who was "there" for the little girl. You saw him!

I think where I am living, my dear departed mother-in-law is right here. She loved birds and this is a country place, filled with singing. We cannot see them, but surely sometimes we do, and there are myriad signs that are personal to us all.

I say to those recently bereaved. Look for a sign!

There is something more... and that something makes of death, something else, in this, a profound journey, of soul. Reply

Anonymous Longmeadow, MA March 29, 2011

Thank you for sharing your story. May you and your entire family be blessed with good health and joy from your children. Reply

Anonymous Mesa, Arizona, USA March 29, 2011

Zeida What a beautiful story. It most be a wonderful experience to have a relative who would leave such an awesome feeling in our lives.
I do not have such experience from my family. But I have Hashem, our G-d. Who, for as long as I can remember, thinking back through my life, He was there, and still is. Thank you Chani for sharing your story. Reply

Yehudis Feinstein Tzfat, Israel March 29, 2011

Your article is gorgeous. You knew what you knew, despite the "reality" which surrounded everyone else. It's a high level. Hold onto it as long as you can... It's a gift from G-d which you merited. Reply

Marion Johannesburg, South Africa March 29, 2011

Zeida What a beautiful and touching story. My heart broke for the Author at first and then gladdened so much at the recovery of her little girl. I could feel my own late father's love for me now more strongly than I have felt it before. Reply

Anonymous Melbourne, Australia March 29, 2011

Zeida Thank you. I loved this. It made a difference to my day. Reply

Anonymous Broomall, PA, USA March 29, 2011

Thanks for sharing your experience.
It is one that I too have had. I feel the same way
as you describe - singing in my heart for my parents are all ways here! Reply

Gila Rakusin-Frankl Sydney, Australia January 26, 2011

Zeida Powerful and moving, thank you for sharing with us. Reply

alex areta Marikina, Philippines February 22, 2008

Zeida heartwarming. i want to read more of this kind of story. i can feel it in my heart. Reply

lauren December 13, 2006

zeida beautiful and touching and well written. thanks for sharing. Reply

Gavin Marsden Cape Town, South Africa January 24, 2006

Believe me Dear Chani: Thank you for the inspiring and uplifting story of Blimi's recovery--Baruch Hashem! May the memory of your Zeida be for a blessing.
Your daughter also has a beautiful name. To me it sounds like--'Believe me.' G-d Bless, Reply

Anonymous January 24, 2006

Beautiful! Your story was written so beautiful and touching! Thank you for sharing it with us. It gives a new deeper prespective on death and life. Reply

charles snyder tulsa, ok January 23, 2006

teaching Thank you for shareing your intermost thoughts with me. Reply