It’s been a strange and sad time of goodbyes.
My grandfather passed away in June and my colleague Anita Shenker passed away in July. There was a time (not so long ago) when I could remark on how blessed I was that no-one close to me had passed away yet. That time is over now.
At first night prayers for my grandfather I was asked to say a few words about him. I was glad I had no time to prepare, as I didn’t overthink it, and what bubbled to the surface of my mind in the 120 seconds I had before speaking has been a great source of comfort to me.
My grandfather was a man of few words. I couldn’t tell everyone about talks we had had that had changed my life, or his sayings that had become pearls of wisdom. Instead, I recalled the lessons my grandfather had taught me through his actions.
My very first memories of hachnasat orchim (honouring guests) are of my grandfather welcoming friends and family into his home. I remember when my husband and I were first married, I asked him to watch my grandfather, the perfect host in my eyes, so that our home could be imbued with the same feeling of warmth and welcome.
I have childhood memories of being ill from school and my grandfather coming to visit me, always with a little gift, to cheer me up. Silly comments, my special nickname and his light-up-the-room smile; bikur cholim (visiting the sick) in action before I even understood the term.
The final lesson and honour I got from my grandfather was being able to assist with his funeral. He wasn’t here to teach me in person, but I could hear his voice, and especially his dry sense of humour when it came to the paperwork, all through the process. He was very proud.
And then Anita; a connection who went from working a few metres away from me every day to medical updates on my phone to gone, in a cruelly short space of time.
I remember the last time I saw her. We stood apart — we were concerned about spreading germs so close to her procedure. But a hug felt like the natural thing to do, so we rocked slightly back and forth in the absence of physical contact and said, “See you soon.” firmly and kindly. But then we didn’t.
She had been my teacher too. From small things like how to make the best egg mayonnaise (you have to grate the egg) and easy baked salmon (the secret is basting overnight in sweet chilli sauce) to more important things, like being the biggest catalyst for me honing my managerial skills.
She was also a fount of knowledge, both institutional and communal and I am grateful for the time I knew her.
My Pesach preparation will now be missing her phone call on erev chag, to check how I am getting on, (is my fish marinating? is my table finally set?) and it seems fitting that the fish shop we would always order from together has closed its doors in Sea Point, it wouldn’t have been the same to order from there anymore. The High Holidays approach with a bittersweet taste.
I wish I had told them both all the things I have written here.
I have not deleted either of their Whatsapp threads from my phone yet, and it seems almost surreal that they are right there to talk to, and yet gone forever.
Thank your teachers, while you can. A conversation is so much more meaningful than a eulogy.