At 6:00 pm on the button yesterday, my grandparents, Buby and Zaidy, called to wish me a Happy Birthday, as they have done every September 20th since I can remember. They wished me good health and blessings. Zaidy said he hoped he'd have the chance to wish me these things again next year. Then, with love, they rang off.
They sat down to dinner together. After the meal while my Buby was getting Zaidy his cup of tea, he slumped over. She called 911. The paramedics made attempts to resuscitate him, but in the end they couldn't bring him back. He was 94 years old.
My mother called me at 9:45 pm with the news.
I don't think he could have asked for a better death. He was in his own home, at his own kitchen table, with his beloved wife. It doesn't seem as though he suffered. I will certainly miss him, and feel sad that he's gone, but I'm more worried about my mother and my grandmother and my aunts than about myself. I can let him go. It was his time.
My Zaidy was a man to be reckoned with. In his prime he was 6'3", strong and lean. He had high standards and a short fuse. He was not easy on his three daughters. He used that inner fire to blaze a trail into the aviation industry at a time when anti-semitism made that a very tough path. He got his pilot's license, and served in the Canadian Air Force as a test pilot and airplane mechanic. After the war he flew private jets for CEO's, and later still he became an airplane salesman.
He was in a plane crash once, during the war. He and two of his colleagues had just fixed an engine on a two-engine plane, and had taken it up for a test-drive. The other engine died, and they went down. He pulled open an escape hatch as they were falling, and was able to crawl away from the wreckage. The other two men lost their lives. He had scars all over his legs, or so I'm told, since I never saw him wear shorts.
He had dozens of other aviation stories, which he recorded in a self-published memoir. My mother has a copy. It reads like an action movie script. One time he saw a man get decapitated by a propeller that was turned on at the wrong time.
To me my Zaidy was the absolutely solid, reliable patriarch of the family. He was larger than life. He always sat at the head of the table. Before he went blind, he drove an enormous burgundy Cadillac, with wine-red velour seats. He watched hockey and football from a giant-sized, dark brown leather La-Z-Boy recliner in the den. He had big, bushy eyebrows and a deep, booming voice. He was always slightly disappointed that he never had any sons or grandsons. He ended up with three daughters and three grand-daughters, to his occasional chagrin. It was a family joke, which he played along with, that he ate "Ogre Flakes" for breakfast.
And of course as he aged he got more mellow and sentimental. No longer an ogre, he became a sweet, frail old man who never got tired of telling his family how happy he was to be with us.
My only regret is that I will not be participating in my family's memorial service and funeral tomorrow. I had just started to feel a tiny bit better by yesterday evening, enough to feel that things were on the upswing, when I got the phone call. My fever shot back up within the hour. Today between waking up and crashing hard I managed 5 hours of uptime. If that's where I hit the wall in my own home in my jam-jams, there is no way I'd be able to tolerate the stress of the funeral. I cannot risk fainting at the cemetery. I can't put other people in a position where they have to look after me instead of participating in the ceremony for Zaidy.
Ken has been representing for our team, ever since we got the call last night. He rushed off to the hospital, he helped organize the family for the night, he went to the funeral home this afternoon and helped my Buby to pick a casket. (They chose a shiny reddish one, like the cars Zaidy used to drive. He would have liked that.) I truly, truly wish that I could be there, to support my family, but I'll have to send my best wishes from home. I will say goodbye to him my own way in my own time.
I don't mind sharing my birthday with the anniversary of his death. I will always be glad for an opportunity to remember my Zaidy.