|My association between Bubbe, holidays, cookies, and presents has to do with geographic and other circumstances. Bubbe was born in New York City (I don't know which borough), the daughter of immigrants, and moved to Arizona with her husband as a young woman. I get the impression she did not have a great family life and getting married at 19 was a way to escape.
At some point between her childhood and my birth, Bubbe and her two sisters all ended up in Phoenix and its suburbs. Bubbe gave birth to my mother at age 20, the first of four children she would have over the span of nine years. The youngest of the four is a professional comedian, and I rather hope he gives the eulogy at her funeral.
Marrying my grandfather and having children successfully got her out of her parents house, but unfortunately, the marriage was not a great one. I don't know what life was like before I came along, but in those days my grandfather worked full time and my grandmother was occupied with raising the kids, so if they weren't a good match, at least they weren't stuck together 24/7. Once the kids were grown and my grandfather retired, that was no longer the case. They separated.
For the first time in her life, somewhere around age 60, she was independent. Bubbe got a job, doing something in the automotive industry, and her colleagues nicknamed her "The Hammer." My grandfather, Dick, met some lady from a newspaper personals ad and asked Bubbe for a divorce after 42 years of marriage. She agreed, and for the rest of her life, she referred to him as "The Dick."
By a sad twist of fate, shortly after they divorced, his mother - a nasty miser with a crazy streak - died and left him a bunch of money. Bubbe saw none of it. She lived out the final decades of her life in relative poverty, with her part time income and later her rather small social security payments. But she was happy. She had a one bedroom apartment and was determined to never leave it.
Three days before Bubbe turned 50, she got a surprise birthday gift: her first grandkid. Me. Ultimately, she would have five grandchildren, but it took five years before the second one, my late brother, came along and a full decade before any of her other children had kids. For ten years, my brother and I had a monopoly on Bubbe's grandmotherly love.
As more grandkids came into the picture, Bubbe's name changed. Of Bubbe's four children, three produced grandkids for her. The first one, my mom, had two. We established the name Bubbe for our grandmother. The second one, my aunt, had two daughters. As a toddler, the oldest daughter could not say Bubbe, and Bubbe became Booboo. The last to reproduce, my uncle the comedian, had a son. They live in the south and decided on an appropriately southern twist on the name Bubbe: Bubba.
In our family, fall is Birthday Season. My brother was born October 28, followed by Halloween, my aunt's birthday, my birthday, my grandmother's birthday, Thanksgiving, my dad's birthday, and then Hanukkah. Sometimes Hanukkah fell a bit earlier in that order. When my aunt had her kids, their birthdays fit right into our scheme - one in October and one in November. As soon as the weather got crisp and the leaves turned colors, I began thinking about birthdays, Bubbe, and presents.
Of the many joys of the birthday/holiday season, visits with Bubbe were the most anticipated. And she always had homemade chocolate chip cookies for us, which for some reason, she kept in the freezer. Of all four of my grandparents, Bubbe is the one I was unquestionably the closest to.
When I reached college, our holiday routine shifted. Now our family visited Arizona for Thanksgiving. I would fly out separately from the rest of the family and stay with Bubbe, while my parents and brother stayed in a hotel. I cherished that special time alone with Bubbe, who took me to see great movies, took me shopping and out to eat, and insisted that I sleep in her queen sized bed while she took the couch.
As an adult, our routine and our relationship changed once again. I rebelliously moved to California and insisted on stopping in Arizona for a long visit with Bubbe on the way. Living just a one hour flight or a six hour [hellish] drive from Bubbe, I suddenly had the freedom to see her whenever I wanted. Now visits occurred at odd times of the year, divorced from holidays for the first time in my life. And it was so wonderful to visit Bubbe and have her all to myself, with no major family gatherings to distract us.
The End began a few years ago, and I feel a great connection to the events that brought about the end of Bubbe's life. At my brother's funeral in November 2008, Bubbe had a horrible headache. I suffer from chronic migraines so I know more than your average non-doctor about head pain. I've also had a few really lousy neurologists in my time and I wanted to see to it that Bubbe was getting good care. Quite by accident, I saved her life. Or more accurately, I set off a chain of events that saved her life.
A few days after the funeral, I asked Bubbe what her doctor had done for her headaches. She replied he gave her oxycontin and nothing else. He should have ordered some sort of imaging study and he should have done a basic neurological exam. She said he didn't. It turned out he did, but by this time, her cognitive functioning was impaired and we did not know it yet.
I called my mom, who was grieving the loss of her son. She called my aunt, who lives two hours from Bubbe. My aunt drove to Bubbe's apartment and called 911. A few hours later, Bubbe had the first of two brain surgeries. Sometime that weekend, in between the two surgeries, Bubbe had a stroke. It took a long time for her to wake up, and longer still before she completed rehab.
After the fact, I wondered if Bubbe would have preferred to die. She's always been clear about her wishes. Pull the plug. Call Dr. Kavorkian if you have to. And at age 76, she said to me, "I'm giving it til 80 and calling it quits." I held my breath on her 80th birthday and was relieved she had no actual plan to commit suicide. Not that I expected her to, but how else does one "call it quits"?
In the spring of 2009, I called Bubbe to chat and she responded grumpily that she felt too ill to talk. We hung up. She called a week later from the hospital. She'd had some horrible life threatening health problem and she was worried that she might have hurt my feelings on the phone. I told her no, I just felt bad she was in so much pain.
In light of this, I was very worried about two weeks ago when I called her and she grumpily said - a bit more politely than last time - that she couldn't talk and felt sick. I immediately called my mom to sound the alarm, but fortunately my mom had checked in with Bubbe only a few minutes before I did. Bubbe was going to a doctor the next day.
The doctors screwed around for a week and then told Bubbe to go to the ER. I could have told them that in the first place. A day later, I got the full story. Bubbe's life could be saved only with surgery, and she refused the surgery. She was choosing to die. That was yesterday.
Mom got on a plane and went to be with her this morning. I spoke to her on the phone today. Her children are with her, keeping her company and keeping her comfortable. The nurses are keeping her doped up on morphine. She's still conscious and she's in a lot of pain. I'm very proud of my family members for supporting her decision.
I could fly out there tomorrow, but the chances of finding her still conscious are slim. I said my goodbyes on the phone. I've been keeping myself busy with hikes in the mountains and Stieg Larsson novels, but I might have to make myself a batch of chocolate chip cookies and store them in the freezer.