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 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.