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?