It was a frigid New England winter night, the kind of night where the wind stings your lips as you dash from your cozy heated house outside to your car. I had just jumped into my friend’s minivan to drive home after our girls’ basketball game. Somewhere deep in my bright pink backpack, I heard my cell phone ring. I found the phone just in time to pick up the call. Not surprisingly, it was my mother on the other end of the line.

Miriam, how was the game?” Mom asked.

“Great,” I answered. “We won 14–12.”Bubby fell and she broke her hip. She’s in the hospital now.”

“Miriam . . .”

“Yes, Mommy.”

“I have some upsetting news for you: Bubby fell a few hours ago, and she broke her hip. She’s in the hospital now. After she recuperates, she will have to go to the Hebrew Home to do rehab.”

My heart sunk. “Mommy, that’s not good news.”

“I know, Miriam. G‑d willing, everything will be okay. We just have to pray that she has a complete recovery. You know it’s been a hard time for Bubby with her dementia, and perhaps it will be better for her to be in the home.”

The Hebrew Home—that’s where I used to visit my Zayde, who had long since left this world. In some ways it conjured up warm memories in my self-focused mind: the gift shop where my parents would buy me goodies, the yearly carnival for children, and my Zayde’s aide, who had always been so kind to me. But to be honest, the Hebrew Home was a sad place too. When I visited Zayde, he could no longer speak because of the many strokes he had suffered. The “Home” was full of old, and many sick, people who needed to be there because they could no longer live on their own. And no matter how many times it was cleaned daily, there was always that strong medicinal smell that seemed to cling to elderly people. Will Bubby get stuck there too?

I pressed the end button on my phone and burst into tears. “What’s wrong?” asked my friend Sarah.

How can I explain to her what’s wrong? Her grandparents are younger. They don’t have dementia. And they all live nearby.

“My Bubby . . . she has had a harder time remembering things lately, and now she broke her hip. She is going to need to go into rehab and move to the Hebrew Home for a bit,” I said as I wiped the tears from my face. How I wished at that moment that I could be home already with my family, and not stuck in someone else’s car.

“Oh, that’s hard,” my friend answered, and went back to her conversation with her mother.

Sarah doesn’t get it; until your grandparents are sick, you just don’t understand. Bubby’s health has been slowly deteriorating. She began “forgetting things” years ago, and the situation has progressed ever since. Repeated conversations on the phone, diminished long-term memory and less ability to take care of things at home. The coaxing it took for my grandmother to finally get some help at home, the family search to find the aide, then to keep the aide, and to manage the doctors and medications—all from a distance. And those are only the practical parts of the whole situation, not to mention the fact that my grandmother’s dementia is sad, depressing.

The days, months and years trudged forward for my grandmother in the Hebrew Home. Death and dying were forbidden words that were pushed away by focusing on the present. To Bubby, after all, there was in many ways no place but today, and we needed to make sure that she was taken care of on each of those “todays.”

I didn’t live near my grandmother, but we would travel to New Jersey to visit every few weeks. The visits wereThe visits were intense intense—not because of what took place, but because of what didn’t. Bubby could hardly converse anymore. Some days she was more coherent in her speech; other days, not at all. There were times when my mother and I would sit in my Bubby’s room for hours, and she would be resting the entire time. But just as the family needed to leave, she would wake up, as if to say “Don’t go.”

People would ask me, “Does she recognize you? Does she still know your name?” I didn’t know the answer, and I didn’t know what to answer them. What was the point in answering in any case? There is a bond between family deeper than words, deeper than names, deeper than speech.

During the many days each month when I was not by my Bubby’s bedside, I would call her every day after school. I did most of the talking. Her dementia and overmedicated body made it hard for her to speak and pronounce words properly. Her speech was slurred. There were noises that emerged from her lips, but a coherent sentence of words failed to come often.

Amazingly, there were a few words that she never forgot. Each day as I would speak to my Bubby, I would sing Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad, “Hear, O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is One.”

A prayer said morning and night by Jews around the world for thousands of years. A verse that mothers teach their little toddlers to say before going to sleep. And a proclamation of faith by Jewish martyrs over the centuries.

Bubby, who had such trouble articulating any words, would somehow sing along with me. This was the prayer she had learned as a little child back in the alter heim—the old world, the world before the war.

Some might explain it by describing a neurological reason why patients with dementia are better at remembering tunes to songs rather than other information. They might suggest that my Bubby would have remembered any number of songs if asked to sing them. I, however, saw a deeper meaning to it all.

Bubby was a Holocaust survivor. She had grown up in an idyllic small town in the Carpathian Mountains, in a house right next to her grandparents. They were a close-knit family going about their normal daily lives, just as each of us do.

My Bubby’s world fell apart as she was takenBubby didn’t speak much about her experiences in the Holocaust from her home shortly after Passover. Her grandmother, who uttered my Bubby’s name in her last breath, died on the way to Auschwitz. Once there, Bubby was torn from the rest of her family—her mother, her sisters, adorable nieces and nephews. Only she and her sister survived the concentration camps, in addition to one brother who had fled to Siberia.

My Bubby saw the flames in Auschwitz, the fire of burning flesh; she smelled the rotting flesh of family members and neighbors, of rabbis and teachers. But in her matured state, and even with her dementia, when she forgot almost everything else, she still did not forget the Shema. She sang it to the same tune that she always knew.

Bubby didn’t speak much about her experiences in the Holocaust; I have no idea what questions my Bubby had about her faith in G‑d after her experiences in the war. But, to me, my Bubby’s ability to remember the Shema showed how basic her faith in G‑d was. Even when so much else was forgotten, this central Jewish prayer was not.

Warm soft blankets. Cozy pajamas. Hugs and kisses.

The years have passed, and I am now a mother myself, who lives not in Europe but in Israel. As I tuck in each of my children and do the daily last-minute water/tissue run, give kisses and help each of my children say the Shema, I sometimes think back to my Bubby. I recall all of the Jews over the centuries who had said Shema Yisrael during easy times and during hard times. I hope that my children—who haven’t experienced the suffering that my Bubby had, who have barely met any Holocaust survivors—will understand the depth of the Shema not through personal painful experiences, but through a deep emotional connection to the prayer rooted in Jewish history and faith in G‑d.