My Dearest Bubby,

I was 13 years old when you first told me about your older brother—the brother who disappeared. I know you can’t remember the details anymore, so I’ll remind you. Your mother died young, and your father remarried a woman who never had children of her own. She was jealous of the attention your father gave to youYou never knew what happened to him children, and eventually, your oldest brother fled the house, never to be heard from again. It was only a few short years later that everyone in your family perished in the Holocaust, with you being the sole survivor.

Or so you assumed. You never really knew what happened to your oldest brother, Chaim. Did he, too, perish in the war? Perhaps he survived and changed his name? All earlier attempts to locate him were met with futility, and I fear with the passage of time, even had he survived the war, he would no longer be alive today.

But one thing you dreamed of, Bubby, was for someone to be named after him. That’s what you told me one afternoon. We were sitting on my bed, and I was listening to you tell me fascinating stories about your childhood. I never tired of listening to your stories—even though they were about a time in history to which I could never relate—because of your ever-present feelings of gratitude and optimism when none would have been expected. You told me how thankful you were to have others named for your husband, parents, brother and sister, but your one brother, Chaim was unaccounted for, and this caused you much anguish.

“Bubby, I’ll use the name!” I told you earnestly. “I like it. Why not?”

“Oh, Sarah, you are such a good girl. But you’ll have a husband one day who will also have a say in a name. Who’s to say he’ll like it?”

“Oh, I’m sure he will!” I told you, with the eagerness of a child wanting to please.

If only it were so easy. What did I know as a young teenager? Indeed, my husband came into the marriage with his own relatives to name for, and understandably, his own grandparents took precedence over your brother. And it didn’t help matters that he didn’t like the name anyway. Nor did I have the opportunity even if I would have wanted to since I gave birth to several girls.

In my last pregnancy, I rejoiced when I found out I was going to have a boy. By then, I had lost my beloved grandfather, Josef, and longed to have a boy to name after him. My husband graciously agreed, knowing how much I missed him. I’m embarrassed to tell you, Bubby, that I didn’t even think about the promise I had made you so many years before.

And then the baby was born. Unlike his older siblings, he was born with several medical issues that would require extensive surgeries with an unclear future. We were devastated.

During this time of upheaval, we needed to name our baby. I still wanted to name after my grandfather, but felt that something was missing. This baby needed something extra.

“Maybe we should add the name Chaim?” I asked my husband quietly while yet another medical test was being administered.

He thought for a moment. “Yes,” he said pensively. “I agree with you.”

Later on that day, my husband toldI was itching to call you, Bubby me what a perfect fit the name was for our son. “Josef comes from the Hebrew word ‘Yosef,’ which means to ‘add on,’ and Chaim refers to ‘life.’ We want G‑d to add on a long life for our son.” I couldn’t help but tear up thinking about the long road we had ahead of us, and how appropriate the name was for our little newborn.

After we gave the name, I was itching to call you, Bubby, and tell you the news right away. I imaged the surprise and excitement you would experience after learning we named our baby after your brother. But inside I worried. In the last few months, your memory has deteriorated. My greatest fear was that one day, when I called you on the phone, you would say “Sarah who?” I wasn’t sure if you would even remember your long-lost brother Chaim and your desire to have someone named for him.

I dialed your number with tentative hands. Thankfully, you remembered me, your oldest (and may I say favorite?) granddaughter. But your voice was very hesitant. Was your hesitation because you had heard about my baby’s medical issues, and didn’t know what to say? How badly I wanted to only please you and shield you from any suffering. I certainly wouldn’t tell you of the torment in my own heart.

“Bubby, did you hear we had a new baby?” I tried to sound bright and happy.

“Yes, I did, Sarah. Mazel tov.” I could hear the nervousness in your voice.

“Bubby, he’s a really cute baby. And he’s not at all fussy like the girls were. I can’t wait for you to see him.” My words were true, but the excitement in my voice was fake. My act worked because you sounded much calmer then.

“Oh, I’m so glad to hear that!”

“Bubby, did you hear what we named him? Yosef Chaim.”

“It’s a very nice name, Sarah.”

Come on, you have to remember!

“Bubby, we named him Chaim for your brother. Remember your oldest brother, Chaim, who ran away before the war?”

“Yes, I sort of remember something like that.”

My heart sank. Could you really have forgotten?

I would try another avenue.

“Come on, you have to remember!”

“Bubby, remember when I was a young girl, I told you that I would name a child after your brother. And see, I did!”

“Oh, Sarah, that is so nice of you. What a good granddaughter you are!”

You put on just as good an act as me. But Bubby, I knew the truth. You didn’t remember anymore. It was too late. How I wish I could have fulfilled my promise to you sooner.

But even now, in your confused state, I know that deep down my efforts have penetrated. You might not remember the details of who Chaim was, but I know you feel loved by my gesture.

May Hashem help our Yosef Chaim grow into a person who will make us both proud.


Your Beloved Granddaughter