“You know Ruthie . . . ,” I spoke quietly to my sister on the phone, “the older lady I would always go and visit . . . ?”

“Yeah,” she answered, “what about her?”

I paused.

“She died?” she asked.

I was silent. I didn’t know what to answer.

The question didn’t make sense.

People don’t die.

They always live somewhere; sometimes it’s elsewhere.

We would chat. We would laugh. We would commiserateI first met Ruthie a number of years ago, when I was visiting my family in Los Angeles. My mother had been driving her often to her frequent doctors’ appointments, and I was glad to take over, once. And then twice. And then to other appointments. And then just to visit.

There was something compelling in the way she would ask me, in her strong Austrian accent, to accompany her. Something that made me feel that not only did I have to go, I wanted to go.

“Take this twenty-dollar bill,” she would tell me, hand outstretched, when I would pick her up. “I want to pay you for your time.” She could take a taxi, she would repeatedly explain to me, but she wanted the company. My company.

We would chat. We would laugh. We would commiserate.

Ruthie was brazen in public. Sometimes it would leave me uncomfortable (“How many company pens do you need?”), sometimes it would make me laugh. She taught me not to be afraid. To argue for what’s right. And to smile. Always to smile.

I think of her bright eyes, her bright clothes, her bright nails. Her hair always done perfectly.

It makes me smile.

Ruthie always exuded life.

Though a harsh and tragic life she had been given, a joyful and generous life she created.

When I wasn’t in town, I would call her periodically from my different stations around the world. She knew I was thinking about her in New York, Jerusalem, Oslo, S. Thomas . . .

How can I describe the deep worry, dripping with thick love, that would characterize her tone when asking about my welfare? She was always concerned if I was being treated right and getting paid enough. I had to reassure her plenty of times that there was kosher food in the markets, and that I was comfortable enough to take food myself from the kitchen.

She’d shower me with blessings every time I’d call.

“You should be gebentched [blessed], you should have good mazal [fortune]. Hashem [G‑d] should open the gates of brochos [blessings] and shower it down on you. Chava’le, I beg by Hashem that you should have only good. Good, good and more good. The best. Only the best. You deserve the best. You should be happy, so happy, with so many things to make you happy. I love you, Chava’le, I love you. You are so special to me. You are a light, a shining light. You should always be a light. Hashem should give you riches and health . . .”

All in one breath.

I’d tell her that her blessings alone were sufficient paybackShe’d feel bad when I had to pay for an overseas call. I’d tell her that her blessings alone were sufficient payback. And I meant it.

I always hung up feeling that I got the better part of the deal.

And I always hung up knowing I’d call back a few months or weeks later, and we’d make each other smile again.

Today I saw them lower her coffin into a glaringly empty space on the grassy hill.

I saw the men scoop up shovelfuls of orange-brown dirt and heave it in her direction.

The traffic in the area was loud and busy.

“So typical of our Aunt Ruthie,” remarked a niece wryly. “She would never go for the quiet, secluded area.”

I looked around, expecting her to be pointing, laughing, nudging me in the side with a harmless piece of gossip. I scrunched my eyes, focusing, sure I heard her call out something in her high-pitched voice.

“Look at those meshugoyim [crazy people]!” I could almost hear her call out to me. “They’re burying an empty box!”

Ruthie dear, you didn’t die.

People never die.

They always live somewhere.

And you, you will live in many places now.

You will continue to live in Los Angeles, as the countless number of women and girls roam the streets, your blessings shining on their heads, illuminating their paths.

I thought I was special, your “favorite,” until I met and heard at the funeral about all your other favorites. I felt a tad disappointed, until I realized that feeling like the “favorite” amongst so many others was an indication of the enormousness of your love. And being loved by someone like that, someone who can make everyone feel like they are the only one, is even more special.

You will also live in heaven, Ruthie.

I realized that feeling like the “favorite” amongst so many others was an indication of the enormousness of your loveYou will feel secure near G‑d’s throne, and you will feel delighted near our Matriarchs.

I see you scurrying around, hair and nails perfect, making sure everyone in Heaven is well-cared for.

I hear your blessings, gushing forth as always, embracing all with their love and power.

I see you sitting down at the end of the day, rocking merrily in a chair, chatting with the other holy women up there.

There is nothing to make you anxious now, nothing for you to fear.

You are with your family and with your Creator, and they are hugging you tightly.

There were so many weddings you were waiting to dance at, Ruthie. I know you are finally dancing now with all your might, shaking the heavens, kicking up sand, causing the holy academies to tremble with your energy, with your desire to bring joy and success to the ones you care about.

Yes, Ruthie, you will live in heaven and in Los Angeles, and you will live everywhere in between. Every corner where your outstretched hand has touched will now be your home. Every city where you’ve sanctified G‑d’s name, you will now call yours. Every place where a mitzvah is done in your honor will now welcome you. And every time I think of your bright pink nails, you will be standing near me, in countries you only dreamed of traveling to, and I won’t even have to pay for an international call in order for you to hear me.

Ruthie dear, you are as alive as you will ever be, more alive than you ever were.

Ruthie, you will never die.