Monday, March 1, 2021

Tribute to Gloria Aisenberg z'l by Dan Hammerman

My Grammy was my favorite person in my family. She was by far the most entertaining and the most charismatic. She was uniquely equipped to light up a room and make anyone laugh with her eccentric personality. She had a special way of connecting with people and leaving a very positive impression on them, even if she proceeded to badmouth them behind their backs. I cannot mention all the times we went to a restaurant in Worcester and got delayed by all the people there who knew her and wanted to speak with her. It was like I was with a local celebrity who was constantly surrounded by her adoring fans. Her influence was also felt by her religious school students, many of whom I have met and heard from about how much they loved her and appreciated her contributions to their lives.

From childhood to adulthood, my Grammy always maintained a significant presence in my life. She would always be present for birthday parties, graduations, and holiday celebrations, and I would always look forward to the quality time I spent with her while staying at her house. To this day, I cannot picture Passover without the potato latkes that she made from scratch, sometimes with a little too much salt! I was so fortunate to have gone to summer camp in close proximity to Worcester, which granted me the ability to visit her on my visiting days when I was a camper and my days off when I was a counselor. Whenever I visited, she would always treat me with all my favorite foods, especially pizza and gummy bears, and by taking me to the local movie theater to see any movie I wanted. We had a special tradition of seeing the Harry Potter movies together in movie theaters, which is something we both always looked forward to.

There is so much I’m going to miss about my Grammy. I’m going to miss the way she got so visibly excited whenever she saw me in person or spoke with me over the phone. I’m going to miss the notes she used to write to me and the letters she used to send to me when I was at camp, which were delivered to me every day (I’m not exaggerating) with very sweet and comforting messages. I’m going to miss the very clear and genuine way she told me she loved me, which left no room for doubt or speculation. I’m even going to miss the constant fights we had about Israel, during which she would always say that I could not move there until she died. (Grammy, if you’re listening, I guess I have your permission to move there now!) Even as she struggled with dementia, my Grammy always managed to convey how much I meant to her. As her memories faded and her speaking ability became more dysfunctional, she would still vividly recall a time I stayed with her for two and a half weeks one summer, and the numerous visits we made to places like Friendly’s, the Showcase Cinemas movie theater in Worcester, the library in Holden, and many, many ethnic restaurants with different cuisines. These two and a half weeks always seemed a bit inconsequential to me when compared to other memories of important moments in my life, but to my Grammy the memories of just this short amount of time were tremendously significant. This always showed me how much she valued me and the time we spent together.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been tragic for many reasons. However, until now, the pandemic had not impacted me personally in a severe manner. This has changed, of course,

since now the pandemic has robbed me of the most important person in my life. The last time I saw my Grammy in person was Presidents Day weekend last year, a month before the country was shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This visit was so normal, and we could not have predicted the difficulties that would come in the following year. If I had known that this visit would be our last chance to be together, I would have soaked in every moment so I would not forget a single second. If I had known that this was the last time I could hug and kiss my beloved grandmother, I would have held her so closely and tightly that I could be able to visualize her smell and her touch for years to come. If I knew I would never be able to see her again, I would have told her this:

Grammy, I know that I didn’t call you as much as I should have or took complete advantage of the precious time we spent together. You always had such a larger than life personality, and for this reason I thought it would take many years for you to die. Of course, I always treasured the time I spent with you, but now I realize I did not value it enough. I want you to know that no person in my life can ever compare to you. I want you to know that I have always loved you, and I will never forget the profound impact you have had on me. One day when I get married and start a family of my own, I will make sure to emphasize how special you were and how instrumental you were in making me the person I am. Your great grandchildren will love you without having met you, because they can see photos and videos, and hear stories about the wonderful person you were. No matter how much you have suffered, you have never let your ailments define you. You have always been a fighter, and you were never willing to let your diabetes, kidney problems, dementia, or anything else restrain you. You have inspired me to believe in myself and be aware of all my worth, especially when it’s difficult to do so. You may be leaving the physical world, but you will always be a part of mine.

Seeing my Grammy over FaceTime and Zoom during the last week of her life was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Just two months ago, she was debilitated but still very alert and able to hold a semi-coherent conversation. Then she caught COVID, and everything changed. After she initially tested positive for COVID, and even after she recovered, she was completely immobile during the virtual meetings I had with her and was almost entirely unable to communicate. She could not even wave or blink when I asked if she could acknowledge my presence. She was no longer the woman I knew and loved for my entire life, and it was clear to me that the woman I knew would not want to suffer among these conditions. I hope she is now in a better place and feeling much relief from the struggles that plagued her. I’m sure that she has been greeted amicably by those who passed away before her including my Grandpa Howard and her parents Max and Edith.

My world has been changed now that my Grammy is no longer in it. However, this past year has involved adapting to many obstacles, and one thing my Grammy taught me continuously is the importance of being able to persevere through challenging times. In the

Disney movie Frozen 2, the character of Anna conveys the necessity of doing “the next right thing” and simply taking baby steps toward progress when confronted with a great loss. I now feel motivated to apply this lesson to my own life, as I know my Grammy would want me to continue striving toward success and happiness. I will definitely be experiencing pain and grief for the near future; there is no denying that. But, I will also be carrying my Grammy’s memory with me, and holding on to the moments we shared that have helped me advance in life.

Zichrona l’bracha May her memory be a blessing, now and always.

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