I didn’t know it at the time, but April 11th, 2015 marked my last visit with my last grandparent.
Joseph Achtman (Zaida) died two weeks later, and I am so grateful not only for my final visit with him, but also that I took the time to journal about our visit right after the fact.
Here is an excerpt from exactly what I wrote in April 2015.
On Friday I flew to Calgary. Mom picked me up. She offered to take me to a restaurant, knowing it’s my usual preference. I opted, much to her surprised delight, to go home instead. She made me some incomparably delicious matzo ball soup and then my dad made me tea, in the way that only he does. With these two gestures of loving care from both my parents, I really felt at home. They hugged me and they listened to me. I returned to them so that they can see the ways in which I grow from all the seeds they planted in my soul and from the strong and formative family roots. And it is good to return to give thanks.
On Saturday morning, I went to visit Zaida. This was my purpose of the trip. He nearly shook with joy when I entered his room at the Chinook Hospice, as though my presence was a great surprise though, in fact, he’d been expecting me. He looked well. I leaned in so he could kiss me on both cheeks and he took my hands together and squeezed them, as he always does. It’s a grip that clings by one who is, at once, weak and strong.
I sat down at his bedside. He passed me the Boogie Board, encouraging me to begin writing to him. But I explained I wouldn’t write on the erasable board; I had a notebook [from Florence] and I would fill it with our conversation so that he could keep it and look back on it. He was pleased.
For two hours, I sat with him. A few times he said, “I’m very happy” and “It does seem quite a miracle that I am alive at this age.”
He expressed gratitude for being so well taken care of. When the nurses came in, I thanked them too and he proudly introduced me.
I told him all about my travels through Rome and about reading Dante in Florence.
“Dante!” he exclaimed, “He’s so religious and archaic! He’s famous for writing a book about Hell.”
“Renaissance!” I told him. “And his work is called The Divine Comedy, of which The Inferno is only the first book. Then there’s Purgatory, then Paradise.”
“Really?” he asked with surprise. “I didn’t know that.”
And I was then becoming very satisfied with our visit – that a 96-year-old was learning there’s more to the story.
Across the room, I noticed a teddy bear and that a rabbi who had visited him had added the yarmulke.
“Well, have you given the bear a name?” I queried.
“No,” he said, pondering in a way that expressed some surprise at the idea combined with an enthused affirmation that it’d be a good idea.
I was about to tell him to let me know later what he’d named it but by the time I’d written half the sentence, he had began to answer.
“I know,” he began, “I’m going to call him The Religious Bear.”
Since we never know when our last visits, conversations, and holidays will be, it’s worthwhile to be alert continually to the preciousness of these in every moment and with every person.