July 8th was my grandmother’s birthday. She turned 95 years old. It was also the day that she passed away. As my aunt put it, she had a perfect death. Apparently, in Judaism, dying on your birthday means good luck. It means your life has come full circle. We had all just visited her over the weekend and were able to see her one last time. Plus, I’m pretty sure she wanted to unlock that achievement of 95 years before she left.
We actually celebrated her birthday the day before. We told her she was 95 a day before she actually was. See, in the last few weeks of her life, she could hardly speak and wasn’t very responsive to us. She spent most of her time sleeping. Even in her last few years, she had lost a lot of her memory so every time we celebrated her birthday, it was a surprise to her. This year, we celebrated a day early because it was when we were all in town. Even though we told her it was her birthday the day before, I think she knew we were lying. She still waited until her real birthday so that she could actually reach 95. She’s pretty cunning like that.
My grandmother’s life started out wonderfully. She had an idyllic childhood, with family vacations and lots of friends. Then, it was all destroyed. When she was nine, Hitler came to power. She saw him speak in the plaza of her hometown, in Bavaria. Soon after, her friends and schoolmates started throwing rocks at her and brother. They had to change schools multiple times. They were harassed constantly. When she was fifteen, she and her brother left the country by themselves, soon after Kristallnacht. After they reunited with their parents in Holland, they came to the United States to start over.
And that’s just what she did. She learned English and became fluent, graduating from her high school at the top of her class (a class full of native English speakers). She got married and raised three children. She traveled. After her kids were grown, she went to college and studied Hebrew. She made a life for herself here, one that was taken from her in Germany. And she lived it fully.
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