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The Grandmother They Never Knew

The Grandmother They Never Knew

“Bubbles” with her grandson Yonah.
“Bubbles” with her grandson Yonah.

Dear Yonah and Akiva,

I’m writing you this letter in honor of your grandmother’s 58th birthday. Three years ago today, your “Bubbles” was in Jerusalem, praying at the Western Wall. She could have asked for anything she wanted: lots of money, a big house, fancy trips, a new car. But she didn’t ask for any of those things. That year, she had only one birthday wish: to live.

That year, she had only one birthday wish: to liveBy then, Bubbles had been sick for almost a year. She had spent a lot of that time in bed, because the medicine they gave her made it hard for her to do very much. Many nights she would get fevers, and Zadie would take her in a black car straight across New York City to get to the hospital. She had surgeries on her kidney and her arm, which the doctors hoped would help make her better. But after all that, they still weren’t sure what would happen.

So Bubbles asked Zadie to take her to Israel, where she could talk to G‑d about it herself. She went to the Kotel, where G‑d is closest to us, and she cried, begging Him to help her. She wanted to watch her children finish growing up, get married and make families of their own. She wanted to play and sing with you, and to walk with you on the beach.

But G‑d decided that this birthday would be her last. Bubbles died a few months later.

You might think it was unfair of G‑d not to give Bubbles what she wanted. Would it have been so hard for Him to let her stay with us? Why should we have to be sad from missing her for all these years? I asked myself these questions for a long time after she died; but the truth is, my little souls, there is no answer. I don’t know why G‑d decided it was time for Bubbles to go, just when her children were almost done growing up, and you, Yonah, were not even a year old. I wish I could give you a story with a happy ending, but in this life, not every story ends that way.

I wish you could have known your BubblesOne night, after a visit to the doctor, Bubbles crawled into her bed, pulled the covers around her lap and told me what the doctor had said: She didn’t have much time left.

“Are you scared?” I asked her.

“I’m angry,” she replied. “But G‑d has a plan.”

That, my boys, is what faith is. We don’t always have to like what G‑d is doing; we can even be angry at Him if we need to be (don’t worry; He can take it). But underneath all of that, we can believe that G‑d loves us and knows what is best for us—even if it hurts, even if it makes us cry for a long time, and even if we never understand why He did it.

I wish you could have known your Bubbles. I wish you could have seen how much fun she was, the way she threw her head back when she laughed or pursed her lips when she danced, like she was kissing the air. I wish you could have watched her bake challah, kneading and braiding with artful hands as the house filled with the smell of yeast and cinnamon. I wish you could have felt her gaze on you, full of wonder and love, making you feel protected and cherished, as I did throughout my life. She would have thought you were little miracles, just like I do.

It is customary on your birthday to give a blessing to those who celebrate with you. Bubbles isn’t here to give you her blessings today, but I think she wouldn’t mind if I did it for her. Yonah and Akiva, you should be blessed with long, healthy and happy lives. You should know how much you are loved, and you should always love yourself. May you always be willing to learn and grow from your mistakes, and to ask G‑d for help when you are unsure. In the end, she did get to live: in youMay this life be a joyful journey for you, and may you walk knowing that you are protected and guided always, and that everything that comes in your path is for the good.

Your Bubbles liked to say that her legacy is her children. Perhaps G‑d answered her prayers in a way she didn’t expect. In the end, she did get to live: in you. You, my precious ones, are her birthday gifts.

Happy Birthday, Bubbles.

With Love,

Rea Bochner is a writer, musician and mother of two. She spends her spare time writing for various publications, whipping up gourmet sugar-free muffins and studying to become a midwife.
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roby israel December 8, 2013

sad indeed Nature is so hard. Persons die without seeing their grandchildren. youngs die of wars and terror. are you really there God? Reply

Helaine Chersonsky Franklin, MA July 3, 2012

A Tribute to Your Mother, Bubbles Your mother gave you a loving spirit that you can share with your children; this story is so wonderful and loving; your mother, Bubbles, must have had a loving heart; I pray that you and your family treasure the love that lives in all of you today. G-d bless you all; what a wonderful tribute to your mother. I'm sure she is smiling upon all of you today, this very moment. Reply

Naomi Jerusalem, Israel July 2, 2012

Beautiful letter Dear Rea, YOU are the link to let your children know "The Grandmother They Never Knew". And you're doing it beautifully. They will grow up feeling the love from her through you, mum. But your story is so touching and to the point... I have so good feelings for you and your children. But reading some of the comments, I really got more tears in my eyes...I'm not a grandmother yet, but one of my sons had a great wedding in Israel last week, and the two other children are step-toes from marriages as well. I'm ready for grandchildren! Lots of love to you and yours, Rea. Reply

Anonymous Montreal, Quebec July 2, 2012

The loss of a grandmother Your story is very sad indeed. However your mother lives on within you and as long as you share your memories with yr children your mum's memory will be lepr alive.

I trust that your inlaws will be allowed to nurture and see your children for they too are their grandparents and must love them so much. Reply

Nathaniel Warshay Oak Park, MI July 2, 2012

The dead do live My father was 7 when his father died in pre-state Israel. Even though they moved to Brooklyn and my grandmother eventually remarried after my father had moved out of the house and was married himself, my grandfather, who had been gone for a generation by the time he would have become a grandfather, was a presence in our lives and continues as one to this day. My father, himself in his 80s, talks about him as if he had just seen him, but not obsessively. So, your boys can have their grandmother in a way without having to witness her decline. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA July 1, 2012

anon in Adelanto, such pain in your message. I'm so sorry about that. Do you know what has caused the rift? Perhaps there are things they don't feel comfortable explaining to you, and somehow you need to make them realize they can tell you anything without them getting angry. I hope and pray you succeed in breaking though to them. Have you seen a therapist who could give you more insight and help than we can? What does your Rabbi say? Unfortunately , many rabbis will answer your questions with other questions and it feels like they don't really give advice. A therapist may be more helpful with this, particularly since the therapist can keep religion out of it. Reply

Mileen Kirkpatrick Satellite Beach, FL/USA June 28, 2012

The Grandmother They Never Knew Beautifully written. I think your Mother would be very proud of your ability to share your insights. Your children will remember her through you. Reply

Anonymous Adelanto, CA June 27, 2012

sad to the core I have 3 daughters, they got married and moved away and I rarely hear from them. the youngest don't even send me gifts for mtohers day, or my birthday. I dont' get calls from my grndkids and how this hurts. I dont' even get photos anymore. why dont' they love me or show they care? sometimes it gets so hard to think about it. I stop thinking about it now because it hurst too much. I found my Jewish roots a few years ago and that made things even worse. I raised them in church not knowing that I was Jewish. they don't understand and seem to have cut me off. Will you pray that Gd will create a love and desrie in ther hearts to see me and spend time with me. I am getting older and who knows how many more years I will be here. Shalom. Reply

etty Ben-David ormond, vic Australia June 27, 2012

Dearest Rea With a wish and a prayer May you Never see sorrow again.
Rest in peace Bubbles Reply

Lone Jerusalem, Israel June 27, 2012

Missing Bubbles I cried while reading this as I have been following my daughter through thick and thin for the past 13 months getting over her Hodgkin's Lymphoma. She will please G-d have many years to live and see her beautiful children grow up to be special people like their Mum. As Grandma I can't stop thinking what shall I do more that G-d will listen to our prayers and give "refua" (healing) to my daughter and hope to everyone who is suffering for the moment and looking forward to thank Him. May we all have no more predicaments and in the future have strength to overcome difficult times.
My own mother and my father suffered a lot before G-d took them in his arms and it is a wound that has not passed till this day, I will never forget and will continue daily to think how wonderful people they were and grat examples of love and passion to all family members! Reply

Hanalah Houston, Texas June 26, 2012

Sad I am sad for you that you lost your mother so early. I am sad for your children that they must grow up without knowing her. And I am sad for me that my own mother is gone and my own grandchildren will never know her.

I am sad that I lost my own Bubia when I was still a teenager and that I never knew my other grandparents. I am sad for my baby brother that he has no memory of her. I am sad for my brother's children that they have no memory of ANY of their grandparents.

I am sad for my father that he saw his mother murdered in a pogrom.

For all this, I weep. Reply

Annette Boise, ID June 26, 2012

Your mama had a great big heart Thank you for sharing the letter to your children. I also lost my mother; for me; it seems so unfair to her that I did not have children. She used to always tell me she wouldn't go until she saw her grandchild, but G-d took her away. I am now unable to have kids, wish I had not missed the opportunity. Family dysfunction, fear of sister's disapproval, thoughts of my career -- whatever the reasons, I was always ambivalent. (She used to always say, "What good is a tree without fruit?" Now, I finally understand,) Having children would have been a wonderful gift to my mama, and to this world. Glad your mama is able to live on in spirit with your children. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA June 26, 2012

Oh, Rea, how wonderful was your mom. In writing this letter to your children, what a wonderful mom you are. G-d bless you and your children always with the blessing you created for them as having come from your mom. It does make me think of my two youngest grandchildren, as I, too, am not in the best of health. I would say exactly what you said your mom would say, and I am sending this letter to my son to read to his children when they are no longer babies and after I am gone. On a side note, I don't believe is ever G-d's will that someone should get cancer, or die of diabetes, or have any tragedy; however, I do believe G-d is with us through these events. The rain falls on the just and the unjust, but Go-d is always there with us, even through the rain and tears. Reply

Richard Appelbaum Ft. Lauderdale June 26, 2012

A grandma's death Stated beautifully. We have been through the same tragedy and learned to make it meaningful for our very young grandkids. Whenever my two young grandchildren ask about their grandmother, I relate beautiful remembrances; then, I go off and cry on my own.
Thank you for sharing your story. Reply

Ellen Goldman Naples, FL June 26, 2012

A beautiful tribute to your beloved mother.... Be well... Reply

sherry coral springs, FL June 26, 2012

one wish I understand your sadness, her anger, and the element of emptiness that you have turned into something positive by looking at the half-full and not the half-empty.
My grandmother's parents were killed in the Holocaust when my grandmother was young. My grandmother, in turn, didn't live to see my mother turn 50. My mother didn't live to see ME turn 50.. My wish is to live long enough to see my daughter turn 50...which is a long way off... Reply

Anonymous Lakewood, Co June 26, 2012

The blessing you've shared with us all Rea,

Thank you for giving us a snapshot into this wonderful person's life and how she has blessed many. I see the light in her eyes, the warmth of her smile, and read over the words you have written. You've given us all the opportunity to know "Bubbles."

Thank You Reply

Debby June 26, 2012

I agree with Alan from Long Island Very tender loving thoughts. Thank G-d. Reply

Shlomo Rosenzweig Toronto, Canada June 26, 2012

Thank you What a beautiful zchus (merit) for Bubbles! I personally gained from this and will share your message with my family. Thank you! Reply

Julie Durham, UK June 25, 2012

celebrating I love the way you celebrate your children, yourself and your Bubbles. This is a true legacy indeed; deep special and EXPRESSED!! Wonderful. G_d's plan unfolds.
PS(I think you will make a wonderful midwife) Reply