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BWB’s grandmother passed away Tuesday night.

In medicine, they teach us not to say things like “passed away”.   We are told that euphemisms like “passed away” and “she’s gone” are not clear enough to sink in through the fog of shock a patient’s family is usually experiencing.  Just say dead, they tell us.  And yet I find that the past few days, I am faltering over that exact phrasing, pausing before I complete the sentence to throw a sidelong look at BWB and finishing up with the gentle euphemisms every time.  I suppose this only serves to prove the point our teachers are trying to convey, but in this moment I do not need every repetition to be a fog-penetrating slap.  I am protecting my husband, not delivering news.  So I choose the vague over the explicit, and our fog remains intact.

It is a strange feeling, this loss, because this was not a woman I was close to.  She was enormously important to my husband, of course, and I have been doing the best I can to support him through this.  I realized last night, though, that as grief slowly works its way into through my neatly constructed defense systems, it is not solely grief on his behalf, based in his pain.  Last night, as I examined these emerging feelings, I recognized some of this loss as my own.

In four months of being her granddaughter-in-law, I had not yet had time to come to equilibrium in my relationship with BWB’s grandmother.  As with all of my new family, she and I were still getting to know each other and to establish what our relationship would look like.  I am not sure if she believed I would be a good wife to her grandson or mother to her great-grandchildren.  I don’t know if she knew that I respected her.  She scared me senseless, to be honest, but I could imagine a time in the not-so-distant future where I felt I was on more solid footing.  I was coming to care for her, as I think she was coming to care for me, but that is where our story ends.  I mourn the loss of that future relationship, the one we will never have.

In the last few weeks, I’ve started looking into BWB’s genealogy.  My father has been working out ours for years, and I have always thought it was pretty amazing to know exactly where I came from. I think BWB’s family is a little bemused as to why the new daughter-in-law is interested in these things, but I think it is the best kind of puzzle — the mystery kind, with stories at the end.  Soon after starting up an Ancestry.com profile, I tracked down the Ellis Island records from BWB’s great-grandfather’s arrival.  It’s amazing to me to look at a document which is over 100 years old and know that the loopy, delicate script was put down as a young boy stood there with his mother and brothers and sisters, anxiously waiting to be admitted into this country.  My overactive imagination plays out an elaborate scene of the young Russian mother with a half-dozen tired children; she tries to keep them orderly and polite as the bored clerk marks down names, ages, origin, and other pertinent information.  A hundred years later and two weeks ago, I found the digitized version of the record, including the line for BWB’s grandmother’s father in his 8-ish-year-old incarnation.  A few days later, we got the first phone call letting us know that Grandma was in the hospital.  I had been looking forward to showing her these and other documents I have found so far, and having her fill in the details that bored clerks will never record.  The thought of the stories she might have been able to tell us, all gone, makes me very sad.

I suppose what it comes down to is this: I am grieving the loss of potential.

The funeral is tomorrow, and I’m scrambling to read up on Jewish customs surrounding death, burial, mourning, and grief.  This weekend will be largely about making sure my husband is alright, which means handling logistics like clothing and schedules, distracting him when he needs it and encouraging him to experience his grief when he is able.  I cannot imagine how BWB’s mother and aunts must feel; God willing I will not have to understand that kind of loss any time soon.  Of those who will be there this weekend, I expect to be among those who knew her the least, and I see my role as comforter rather than comforted.  That said, I am glad to have recognized my own grief before the service, and I hope I will be able to find my own comfort as a result.

If you have a few moments tomorrow afternoon, spare a thought or prayer for my husband’s grandmother, the family she leaves behind, and the family she goes to meet.  I will be praying for all of us, remembering the woman I knew, and mourning the woman I will never remember.

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BWB and I are in the wilds of Illinois this month for school-related reasons.  The apartment we are staying in is a tiny one-bedroom built over a garage, and we love it. We call it our little nest, and are waxing poetic about simplifying into a smaller apartment when we get home.  This conveniently ignores two cats, a 60-pound puppy, and our packrat tendencies, but it’s nice to dream.

While our furry critters are not here with us, we do have some other roommates.  Ladybugs.  On any given day we have anywhere from four to a couple dozen, mostly centered around the front window and living room walls.  They are the orange kind, which (according to the magic of the interwebs) are an Asian variety, imported because of their more voracious appetites.  They’re not quite as adorable as the little bright red ones, which are apparently being pushed out of existence by the foreign intruders, but they’re still pretty cute.  Wikipedia also informed us that these little ladies are known for invading homes in cold weather, being drawn to warm, bright places.  For the most part, we were content with the live and let live approach, since they weren’t really doing us any harm by crawling all over the walls.

That is, until BWB was attacked.  It happened in class, we were sitting there and suddenly he jumped, grabbing his leg.  He could tell he had a bug of some kind pinched in the cloth of his pants, and excused himself to the restroom to get it out.  Sure enough, there was one of the little orange arthropod.  Apparently they bite, too.  After that, he marched straight over to the program manager’s office and asked for them to send an exterminator to take care of the problem right away.  The manager said this was a common problem around here and he’d send someone over.

That was last week.  Fast forward to Tuesday, a sunny, glorious day, and the biggest crowd of ladybugs yet having Spring Break on our ceiling.  Mid-morning, there was a knock at the door.  BWB answered, and sure enough, there stood the exterminator, ready to commit ladybugicide.  BWB closed the door and we went to put on non-pyjamas.  I looked at him, and he gave me this ‘what have I done?’ expression.  I started laughing, and asked him if he wanted them to go away.  He nodded emphatically.  I asked him if he wanted me to do it.  He nodded again.  So I went back out to the door, laughing.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  So, um, the ladybugs…

Exterminator guys: look stern

Me:  Well my husband, it’s just… well he’s gotten a little attached to them.

Exterminator guys: look stern, but puzzled

Me: Like, attached to the ladybugs…?

Exterminator guys: light dawns.  they start laughing.  a lot.

They left, saying they’d come back some other time, presumably after we’ve moved out.  After they left, BWB got a broom, swept them up off the walls and ceiling and took them outside.  A quick shake launched them all into the air — fly away home, hopefully.  When he was done, he came back in and sat next to me.  “Can I tell you a secret?  I don’t mind if they come back in, as long as they get something to eat out there.  They must be starving.”  Have I mentioned lately how much I love my husband?

Since then, he has changed his gchat status to “Married to the savior of the ladybugs!” and the ladybugs are still having a party at our place most mornings.  I wonder if we’ll find them crawling out of our suitcases when we get back to NOLA, ready to party down.  And you know, as long as they don’t bite us, we’d be okay with that.

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