Monday, July 13, 2015

More from My Grandfather’s Blessings and Secrets About Them

In my last writing, I shared some insights from Rachel Naomi Remen M.D. and her wonderful book My Grandfather’s Blessings. I have since finished reading the book and it is indeed a wonderful meditative flow of thoughts, lessons and yes, blessings, indeed. I highly recommend it.

This of course leads me to consider what are the blessings of my own grandfather? As it turns out, I carry the name of my mother’s father (ergo, my own grandfather), but as I grew up and wanted to know more about him, all I and the rest of the family was told was that he was a no-good-son-of… Rather upsetting, especially given that without being too obtuse, let’s just say that I did not have the warm fuzzy set of relationships in my nuclear family of birth one likes to think about fondly. In many ways, I had to “grow myself up,” as my mother apologetically said to me during one of our painful discussions before the lights began to flicker in her mind as Alzheimers’ and dementia began to take over.

Forgive me if some of this is a bit obtuse, but out of respect for my family and given that I have been able to effect my own healing with the help of the family I have created (thank you Ken and wonderful children of ours) and some very close friends (some of whom I actually refer to as “siblings of choice”) and amazing relatives, I will not spill all of the family secrets here. I just want to make a point. The narrative we were given about my mother’s father was, shall we say, not honorable and not positive. On the other hand, my mom could never stop talking (and still can’t) about the amazing relationship she had with her sister and her mother and she insists that there is not a better mother or sister on the earth. While mom does speak in hyperbole, and has for as long as I can remember, I feel it safe to say that this reported family dynamic is the truth for her, as she has known it. With one major exception!

Just a bit of back-story. As it turns out, my mother’s father came over by himself to the United States around 1915 to escape the Tzar’s army and then brought his daughter (my Aunt Becky z’l) and his wife, Pearl z’l over to the United States about seven or eight years later. My mother was born shortly after Shmuel (who had since became Sam – think Hester Street, for those of you who have seen the movie) was reunited with his family. Then, sadly, they did not live as a family according to census reports as of 1925 (as I found some years ago with the help of my dear Aunt Sandy (my dad’s sister); and there was a fractured relationship with him. I have since found that I did not have NO relatives, but that he had brothers and there are at least two first cousins that my mom and her sister had and so much else… This is what I have discovered during the last several months, because apparently, …

As it turns out, there is an up side to Alzheimer’s if you will! The filters are off and the secrets come spilling out. Here is the general gist of what I have learned in the past several months through talking with my mom, and by that, I mean mostly listening as she talks and shares her memories (which at times, is her present). She speaks to me as if I am Becky, z’l, her beloved older sister. She tells me that she will share some things, but I have to promise NOT to ever tell Mama because she will be angry. I promise as she asks in her frightened voice (as if I am Becky, which for the purpose of this conversation I am)!

She tells me (aka Becky) that she can’t hold in these secrets any more. It’s been too many years. She confides that she has been visiting Papa at his store every Wednesday after school and on Saturdays (the Sabbath) she would walk over to see him. He would give her ice cream and they would chat for a long time. She loved him very much and he loved her very much. She had to hide this relationship from her sister and her mother because they were not the objects of his affection and would be angry with her. But, she tells me recently, this has been too much for her to hide, and over an hour or more, she recounts her life with and love for her father. But, she ends with - this MUST be a secret from Mama!

Mom breathes, cries a bit, and then is back in the present. I am Sunnie again. So I take my own deep breath and go for it. Mom, I ask, why did you name me after your dad? I was the first child, my dad’s mom had also died, but why did you choose to do this? I needed to know, being the child who in our family’s history and narrative was named for the no-good….

She looked at me and said something to this effect. “You have to understand, I LOVED Papa so much and he was never part of my family growing up. I NEEDED to have him as part of MY family!” So there you have it, I was BLESSED with my Grandfather’s name, the one that my mom loved so much and could not let anyone know. I received two blessings in this conversation. One, I now know that I was named for someone who my mother loved deeply; and two, the secret is no longer an albatross around the old narrative.

Shmuel aka Sam Weis aka Wise, I now know some of the things you did as a human being with failings and weaknesses. We are all human beings with failings and weaknesses. But I also now know how loved you were and how much you loved, and that I will always hold in my heart, and with your permission I will keep that a secret no longer. May your soul continue to rest with Ribbonu shel Olam and may the lessons learned in your life yield positive blessings for all.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, What a touching story. It bought tears to my eyes. So much pain and unnecessary suffering in the world. Too bad they didn't have family therapists then. It is such an amazing gift for you to receive this knowledge now and to be named for a powerful secret love. It connects some dots. I hope this takes your healing to a higher level. Thank you so much for sharing.