Sustaining a Memory

I very rarely take the time to stop, and look how far I’ve come in just one year. Last January was the hardest, perhaps most painful, start to a new year that I’ve had . . . ever. In just one year, I lost a dear family friend and my grandmother, and my father suffered a massive heart attack. Naturally for me, most of these moments were catalogued through various social mediums (mostly Facebook and Twitter), and today was one of those days where I stopped to look back.

I feel fortunate to have the role models and inspirational people in my life that I currently do. I feel lucky to enjoy all of the people — especially my co-workers and clients whom I’ve encountered in New York — who are regular fixtures in my life. That being said, a part of me remains empty, awaiting to be filled as I attempt to sustain the memories of my grandmother and my family friend.

While this has definitely been the hardest year, especially in the absence of the loved ones I’ve lost, it’s been an educational year full of new beginnings. A cousin out West welcomed a beautiful baby boy into this world. My sister and her husband celebrated their first anniversary. My best friend’s brother is getting married next week. My sister and I relocated for job opportunities and promising futures. My grandfather joined Facebook and downloaded Skype. My mother started yoga. My dad started relaxing more and working less. All good things have to start somewhere.

I had all of these thoughts, and began looking through the files on my hard drive to find the eulogy I wrote and recited at my Bubby Cyrille’s funeral. I was able to deliver it tearlessly on the day of her funeral (in front of hundreds upon hundreds of people — there was barely standing room), but now, almost a year later, I cannot get through it in the privacy of my home without breaking down in tears after the first paragraph. I shared it on Facebook shortly after the funeral, but would like to share it here so you can understand why I will spend my entire life trying to, and hopefully succeeding in, to some degree, sustaining her memory by living in her loving, well-meaning footsteps.

On Thanksgiving Day, my family lost its matriarch. My grandmother was committed to ensuring the happiness of those around her, whether they were family or not. To Bubby Cyrille, everyone was mishbukha.

Bubby Cyrille’s passion was for family. She attended every band concert, school play, and graduation ceremony.  She spoke with her siblings several times during the week, often through three-way calling. When my siblings and I would argue, we were always reminded that Bubby heard no evil, spoke no evil, and saw no evil. She found positives to negate all negatives. As a frequent babysitter to her grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews, Bubby was always armed with a handbag full of photo albums to immerse us in family history. On Passover, she would recite the four questions in Yiddish, and over Thanksgiving, she would recite her father’s poem.

 

RIP Cyrille Lois Mendelson Cooper

 

Bubby had a degree in Jewish geography. Dinners at Sweet Lorraine’s, Nello’s and Peking House were not complete without encountering one or more of her friends. These connections extended far beyond Michigan. When Amanda and her husband started their relationship, she decided to describe her nice Jewish boyfriend to her nice Jewish Bubby. In true Cyrille Cooper fashion, she prompted Amanda for his name, age, and hometown. Amanda insisted to Bubby that a connection between Dave and my Bubby’s never-ending list of contacts could not possibly exist. Unsurprisingly, Bubby proved her wrong. My mother likes to say that she has absorbed my Bubby’s knack for connections. All she had to do was say, “I ran into so-and-so’s brother-in-law’s first cousin” and bubby could instantly make the connection and understand who was being referenced. To bubby, those connections, quirks and unexpected encounters were one of the many benefits of life.

 

Alexandra, Bubby Cyrille, and Anne at Amanda's wedding May 2009

 

Her gift of gab was known throughout the family. My bubby made it her business to call people throughout the family as regularly as possible. When I moved to East Lansing for school, she called me every Tuesday. There was one week where we played an outrageous game of phone tag. Before being able to call her back, I noticed an incoming call on my cell phone from a restricted number. Answering the call was an act of besheret. I was greeted by the familiar voice of my bubby Cyrille requesting a donation for her non-profit. I realized that she had no clue that her pre-generated call list had connected her to me. I allowed her to finish her spiel before interrupting her. We laughed and spent an hour and a half catching up. Imagine how happy she was to have been paid to talk to her grandchild.

In addition to her family involvement, Bubby Cyrille was a devoted member of Congregation Beth Shalom. She spiced up Saturday morning Shabbat services with her simcha moments. Whenever my siblings and I would tell her our good news, she would comment on how she wished she would have known for the past Saturday’s simcha moment. We never worried, though, because we knew she would save the good news for the following week. She was also very involved in a program called Circle of Friends that met every Sunday. She attended the weekly events and annual picnics at the lake.

Her caring demeanor reached many people outside the family. After having lunch with her girlfriends in Royal Oak, a homeless man approached my Bubby asking for change. Somehow this stranger caught her without her bottomless purse; she only had her credit card and a checkbook. A true mentsch, my Bubby went into Peking House and asked the cashier if he would kindly cash a personal check. She used those funds and trusted the man when he said that he needed every penny to get back home.

While many people entered my Bubby’s life, several people left it. Funerals were a regular fixture in the latter part of her life. Upon receiving the Detroit Free Press, Bubby would flip to the obituary section to scan for familiar names. Whether or not the deceased was a close friend, if she knew the name, she made an appearance at the funeral. The last funeral my Bubby attended was for her dear friend Bunny Frank.

At the beginning of her battle with cancer, she was able to attend Amanda’s wedding, and toward the end she was able to attend Miriam’s wedding reception, Rosh HaShannah and Zoe’s Bat Mitzvah. Family and love always took precedence over her pain, and those events meant the world to her.

Though my Bubby was absent from the Thanksgiving dinner at Uncle Herbie’s this year, her spirit filled the room. Family members exchanged memories of her ability to remember birthdates and anniversaries, her diligent dispersal of Entertainment Books and Anti-Defamation League calendars, and her overall determination to reach out to everyone she encountered.

We spent Wednesday at our grandparents’ house awaiting Amanda and Dave’s arrival. Each of us had the opportunity to remind our bubby how much we loved her, holding her hand, and looking into her eyes. The small amount of contact was all we needed to know that she could hear and understand what was being said. We expressed how much we valued every conversation, every hug, and every kiss. She was a devoted mother to her three children Norman, Phillip and Sharon. A doting grandmother to her five grandchildren Alanna, Amanda, Aaron, Anne and Alexandra and two great-grand children Haley and Braylon. A beloved wife to Sam and a caring sister to Molly, Herbie and their late brother Sol. Her relationships and love of life are what kept her happy and alive for 77 years, and what will sustain her in memory forever.

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  1. Pingback: Thankful, I am «

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