Andrew Seaman CC
I hung up the death notice at the entrance to my grandparents’ building twelve days before the wedding. It was a large white piece of paper with my grandfather’s name printed in bold, black letters and some details about the funeral and condolences on the bottom, with a thick black line framing it all. You go into the hospital with a living, breathing man and you leave with some sheets of paper with black letters. My grandmother made a few copies, because she wanted to hang them up around the city – or maybe just because she wanted more of him. The sheet was a bit lopsided on the glass door, but I didn’t retape it. Two little girls looked up at my wet face until their father gently guided them away, to the next building in the shady complex.
“It looks like Opi has some cancer,” my dad had texted less than a month earlier. I would later reread the message several times, always tripping on the word “some,” which I knew was a qualifier meant to soften the blow, but was also absurd. As if he had “some” food stuck in his teeth and all he needed was toothpick. Cancer doesn’t work like that, does it? You either have it or you don’t.
My grandmother picked up the phone when I called and said, “I only hope this doesn’t affect the wedding.”
“God, Omi, that’s not really the most important thing right now.”
To her, our wedding symbolized everything that was good, and happy and right. Unlike what was spreading in the lungs of her husband of over sixty-five years, the man she’d worked with and ate every meal with and visited friends with and went grocery shopping with. And so that’s what all our conversations that month sounded like. I only hope he makes it to the wedding; I want you to tell me about the wedding, I just don’t want this to ruin the wedding.
To me, though, it was a reminder of the venue we still hadn’t finalized even though it was in a little over a month, the invitations we still hadn’t sent out and the ceremony we hadn’t planned. It was the endless visits to the dressmaker because, apparently, my proportions were off. It was all the things we had to do and the feeling that Yoav wasn’t doing enough.
After one of the last dress fittings, my mother and I sat outside and ate pizza just outside of Jaffa.
“I was thinking Omi and Opi could sit at the tables on the far end of the chuppah, so they’ll be near the bathroom but far from the music,” I said. The wedding was going to be on the grass, at a youth village, and I was a little concerned because Opi was having trouble walking.
“You know, Danya,” she said slowly, “I’m not sure Opi’s going to be at the wedding.”
My eyes filled with tears, but they didn’t spill over, just stood there like soldiers at attention.
“Wait, do you mean physically or at all?”
She studied my eyes for a moment and then said, “No, no, I mean physically. I don’t think he’ll make it up there.”
A few days later, we discovered that Opi had a specific mutation for which there was a drug that could stop the spreading. “The Wonder Drug,” my parents called it. The family WhatsApp group exploded.
“So even if he won’t be dancing at the wedding - he’ll be there!!!!” my mom wrote. “We are so excited!!!!”
“Who said anything about not dancing?!” wrote my dad.
The following Saturday, Yoav and I went to visit him. He sat in a wheelchair on the porch, connected to oxygen, his head lolling to one side. He wore a black t-shirt and his big, dark sunglasses that my brother and I always joked about, with the little sunglass panes on the sides so no sunlight could get in at all, from any direction. His voice strained with every syllable. He called me “Motek,” like he always did, and asked me to apologize to Yoav for him, for not having had a chance to speak with him. Yoav was right there in the living room, but Opi was too tired.
My dad and brother wheeled him back to his room, and I helped them lift him onto the bed when suddenly his muscles became stiff and his eyes rolled up like a zombie’s. I shouted to Yoav who rushed over, and asked my sister to call an ambulance. Her eyes grew wide and she dialed, but then he started to emerge from his temporary shock, and she mumbled into the receiver that everything was okay.
I was stuck, staring. Witnessing the destruction of my dear, respectable Opi, with the Brooks Brothers shirts with pockets for pens, with a napkin on his lap at every meal. Who used to bounce me in his lap as a child, to the German nursery rhyme “Hoppa, Hoppa Reiter” and then drop me down for the final “plumps” as I howled with laughter.
He died the next day. His eyes were shut and he was breathing, barely, into a ventilator when we came to say goodbye. Omi stroked his forehead softly, as if he were a baby. I played his favorite opera, The Marriage of Figaro, on my phone, placing it close to his ear.
When Opi listened to music, he transformed. His blue eyes twinkled and his face shone with delight, like a child. Just a few days earlier, I’d wheeled him to the park near their apartment, and despite his weakness he began air-conducting forcefully when we played Mozart’s Rondo. I think he said that was the piece playing on the radio in his oft told story of how he, a cautious Swiss-German driver, had gotten caught speeding because he’d been so immersed in the music. I looked at his closed eyes in the hospital room and wondered if he could even hear the music now.
After the funeral, we sat in Omi and Opi’s living room and people came and left. It wasn’t officially a shiva¸ because it was a holiday eve, Erev Shavuot. A holiday of cheesecakes and blintzes, that used to be one of my favorites. A friend of my parents sat down next to me.
“So!” she exclaimed. “Tell me about the wedding.”
I looked at her bright eyes.
“I’m… not there yet.” I went back to digging through my phone to find the selfie of Opi and me in New York. I showed it to her when I found it: Opi and me on the crosstown bus on our way to the New Balance store, where we would buy him the same grey 990’s he bought every time, and me a pair of white sneakers I’d later return. We’re both wearing sunglasses and smiling.
We ate a small holiday meal at their apartment. Dinner felt like sitting in your house among the boxes just before the movers come, or like coming home from a long trip. The same, but not the same. After making kiddush, my dad blessed each of the kids, the way he and Opi did every Shabbat and holiday we were together. The evening we’d told them we were engaged, Opi started blessing Yoav too, placing his long fingers on his head and wishing him peace. I cried again. By the time I finally went to sleep that night, my eyelids were swollen and pink, like they’d been bitten by spiders.
I spent the following week in Ra’anana, so I could be with the family. Yoav drove in from Jerusalem one evening, and we went for a walk in the park by my grandparents’ apartment.
“I think we should postpone the wedding,” Yoav said, a big taboo in Jewish tradition. One of Omi’s favorite stories is of her getting sick just before their wedding and being taken out of bed with her high fever, without even getting her hair done, as she always stressed. And since they’d already bought the tickets, her brand-new husband went on the honeymoon with his father, and she went back to bed. “Because you don’t postpone a Jewish wedding.”
But Yoav had a point. The thought of a celebration seemed so distant from what was happening right now, in our lives and in the world. We were mourning. There was something of a war going on, with Hamas firing rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the IDF bombing Gaza, and riots and lynches in mixed cities. And a good friend’s father whom I’d known for years, had just died of cancer. And there was also a global pandemic the world was still far from getting a handle on.
“I just don’t think it’ll be happy,” he said. We went back and forth, like we do with almost every decision.
Maybe it was what my mom said about life just being messy like that, with happiness and sadness always mixing together. Or what my dad said about how we couldn’t know what might happen in the future if we postponed, and who might not make it then. Or maybe it was just the daunting prospect of having to reschedule the caterer, DJ and photographer.
But a little over a week later, on a sunny Friday afternoon, we stood under a chuppah held up by four friends of ours, as another friend led a service we’d built together. He cracked jokes at Yoav’s expense and called up different family members and friends for blessings. A brigade of tears stood at attention the whole time, but somehow didn’t ruin my mascara as I’d been sure it would. After speaking about Yoav, I spoke about Opi, recalling how much he’d loved Yoav, and how on walks the two of them would always trail far behind the rest of us. In all the photos from the ceremony, it seems, someone is wiping their eyes.
But then we danced and drank and laughed. We were lifted in chairs; we were hugged endlessly. When the dessert came out, Yoav and I caught each other’s eye and cursed the unprofessional caterer under our breath. My dad danced a little, but not like I’d imagined he would when I had asked the DJ to play Springsteen and Rolling Stones to get him started (as well as some Handel for Opi).
It wasn’t the happiest day of my life, like people had told me it would be, like I felt it should be. Even aside from the heartache, my dress was itchy and the wedding planner was stoned and the bathrooms were clogged and I couldn’t shake the feeling of being a hostess. The weekend Yoav proposed, and even my bachelorette party, are still etched into my memory as far more perfect days, filled with sunlight and a feeling of flying. But it was still beautiful and joyous and full of love and I’m glad we did it when we did.
On one of the drives on our honeymoon up North, I opened Omi’s card. It was in Hebrew, and she’d used “we” instead of “I,” and signed it with “Omi and Opi z’l,” short for the Hebrew “May his memory be a blessing.” As if he were still there, writing the note with her, only dead. I cried. I cried the next day on the hotel bed, listening to a song by The National that had nothing to do with Opi but was slow and had minor chords.
A few weeks ago, Yoav and I sat on plastic orange chairs in a fluorescently lit waiting room. We heard laughter through the wall, presumably the couple before us discovering whether they were having a boy or a girl. We held each other’s hand, hoping we’d be laughing soon, too. They walked out smiling, and we entered the dark room. The doctor approached us at the door, and without saying a word locked eyes with us, motioning for us to be quiet and listen to the music. Then he swung his hands in the air like a conductor, like a child, the unity between him and the music so complete that our presence was hardly noticed. It was just him and the music, and all we could do was join him in his joy.
Danya Kaufmann lives in Jerusalem and works as an advisor to the Minister of Social Equality. Her writing has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Jewish Daily Forward and The Times of Israel.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.