During the past several months, I observed my grandmother’s transition from semi-independent living to passing on to the world hereafter. My mother and uncle spent most of their days visiting her, communicating with her, and spending their last moments with her up until the day she died. I visited her throughout her steady decline.
My most meaningful visit came either shortly before or after one of my visits in the country. Violet’s health was deteriorating rapidly at that moment. One day, she was cognizant of her surroundings. The next day, she was struggling, just clinging on. Getting her to open up was the ultimate test of my abilities as a chaplain. However, on my last visit, I experienced a breakthrough with her.
Death is not something that can be interjected into bedside discussions abruptly. I worked it into a conversation naturally so as to uncover her innermost concerns and help to prepare her for what was to come. After I very subtly introduced the subject of death into a conversation about favorite places and experiences, she indicated to me that her last wishes were to be with her late husband, Charles, at the beach. She indicated to me it was her wish to be there as soon as possible.
Violet had given up at this point, and I knew it was only a matter of time before she would pass away. But her memory should not be one veiled in sorrow and anguish. Her memory is one cloaked in love.
Violet loved her late husband, Charles. Her love for him was something everyone should emulate. I will never forget her 90th birthday party. It was the end of Yom Kippur, and I was watching my wristwatch as the clock struck 7:05, sundown, to celebrate her birthday. My mother had commissioned “Happy the Clown” to come in and perform before a live audience of some of my grandmother’s closest patrons and family. He came fully equipped with a guitar and a goofy outfit. Happy performed “Happy Birthday” for us, and then my grandmother requested that Happy perform something else; I believe it was “The Way You Look Tonight” by Frank Sinatra. As soon as Happy began to play the tune, Violet’s faced turned bright red. She was crying. Always humble and shy, she covered her face. Emotion was something she was careful to expose. It was “their” song.
Dates have a special significance in our religion. It is by no coincidence that Violet’s memorial service (the shiva) is a day before Valentine’s Day. Although only a contemporary holiday, its centrality to Violet’s message is clear. Her message to each of us today is to love and to be loved.