On Sunday evening, March 1, 2020, my beloved grandmother Rose Mibab Goldberg passed away. She was my hero, my best friend, the inspiration for Shabbatness, and so much more. I was given the honor of speaking at her funeral on March 3rd, and below is an excerpt. With her passing at the remarkable age of 96, she took a piece of my heart with her. May her memory be a blessing.
Growing up in Georgia, I was jealous that my friends had All-American grandmothers who would cheer them on at soccer games, go out for fast food, or take them shopping at the mall. Shopping with my Nana Rose was more like taking one of her crumpled 2-year-old store credits to TJ Maxx or Talbots and being told to find something warm to wear, even if it was the middle of the summer in Florida. Eating with my grandma consisted of baking hamentaschen in her kitchen, but not being allowed to eat too many because I needed to lose a few pounds — especially if I wanted to get a husband. At the time, I just wanted to get my braces off in time for my Bat Mitzvah.
Born and raised in Poland, Rose was a quintessential, old school Eastern European Jewish woman to the core. She was deeply superstitious, believed wholeheartedly in the “evil eye”, and obliged by an array of Yiddish proverbs. She never had a computer, smartphone, Kindle, or email account. She carried her checkbook everywhere and sent cards in the mail written in elegant cursive. Potato chips and Oreos weren’t options as after-school snacks — my grandma would cook cow tongue and chicken feet. She believed it was incredibly important to be beautiful and maintain just the right weight, whether you were 5 or 55 years old. (And she had no trouble letting you know if she felt any part of your appearance could use improvement!) Meeting her and hearing her thickly accented English (CLICK HERE for a sample!), you’d think she just moved here, rather than come through Ellis Island after surviving the Holocaust 70 years ago. Yes, she was quite different from the modern, politically-correct, church-going grandmothers in my hometown of Johns Creek, who sold Girl Scout cookies and drove around in SUVs. (Though my Nana did insist on driving her Volvo at 91, much to the fear of many of her neighbors with small children.)
At that time, when I was in the throes of puberty, struggling with weight, frizzy hair, acne, and questionable fashion choices, I thought blending in was the key to being more popular. Little did I know then that my grandma was quite possibly the coolest person I would ever know.
In my adult years, my relationship with my grandma would naturally become something I would have to nurture independently rather than rely on my parents’ coordination of family trips. In my twenties, I started to realize that my time with Nana was mainly spent at family simchas, which were few and far between. Our phone calls either took place on our birthdays, or when my mom, her youngest daughter, passed the phone over to me for a minute or two when I just happened to be around. I often felt helpless and insecure about how I could build a meaningful, separate relationship with my Nana as an adult, and I’m not proud of it. I just kept thinking there would be more time.
Then, a few years ago, at my brother Drew’s wedding in NYC, Nana Rose had trouble recognizing me. In fact, I had trouble recognizing her, as it was clear her physical and mental health had declined severely since I had seen her last. At Drew’s rehearsal dinner, she even said she liked meeting my now ex-boyfriend, so I knew she definitely wasn’t thinking clearly. (Previous boyfriends were promptly dismissed as having the “evil eye”.) Walking her slowly and carefully down the aisle at Drew’s ceremony, I was struck with profound regret that I hadn’t called her enough, hadn’t seen her enough… and now it was too late.
Then, a miracle happened. Medications were adjusted, and Rose came back to us, sharper and feistier than ever. I felt like I was given a second chance to spend real, quality time with this incredible, inspiring, strong, stubborn, sassy and sage woman. The past few years that I have spent with my Nana have given me unforgettable memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. As long as your loved one is alive on this earth, it is never too late to pick up the phone. To visit. To connect. I am so, so grateful that I did. In addition to these memories, she also taught me invaluable, somewhat unexpected lessons that I feel are worth sharing.
Firstly, we don’t often get second chances like I got with Nana in life, and it is crucial that we savor every second we have with our loved ones: to give 150% of our attention, our love, our patience and our kindness to those who mean so much to us; to put our phones away, make eye contact, to touch, to connect. Nana didn’t know she taught me this important lesson; rather, she focused too much on trying to teach me the importance of finding a man — “just ONE, please!” — and to “save some money for a rainy day”.
Many of Nana’s lessons were through her actions and not just her famous proverbs. Thus, lesson #2: Wear lipstick. Brush your hair. And I don’t just mean this literally. Nana always had her lipstick and small round brush nearby. When I was visiting last December, she was in her room, not feeling well, when we heard a knock at the door. It was Andrew, our family’s handyman and jack-of-all-trades, who had come by to fix her washer-dryer. She panicked, telling me to get her her hairbrush and lipstick before he could enter, and told me I should put some powder on because my face was too shiny. (She didn’t understand that powder was pointless in the 100 degree temperature of her house, but I did it anyway!) Rose would’ve panicked like this whether it was the Israeli Prime Minister or the mailman at the front door.
Nana’s sense of pride — and yes, a healthy dose of vanity — was a huge contributor to her resilience and longevity. (I know she wishes I was wearing my false lashes right now, but I would’ve cried them right off my face writing this.) This tiny tour de force of a woman carried herself with a sense of dignity and strength that made her appear larger than life — so much more of a presence than her 4’9” frame would suggest. Even on days she knew she wouldn’t be leaving the house, she always loved to be freshly showered and nicely dressed — not for others, but for herself. May we all make efforts every day to do what we need to do to make us feel our very best. It will give our days more purpose, and it will help drive us to live a life as long and fulfilling as hers.
Another lesson she taught me does indeed come from one of her sage sayings. When I last visited just a month before her passing, I was so blessed to see her in good health. Her mind was remarkably lucid, and we had a magical week together. Her last words to me as I left for the airport were in Yiddish: “Da mensch trakht, un gott lahkt.” Man plans, and G-d laughs. The Goldberg gene that she passed on is synonymous with stress, anxiety, and other Type A traits, and I am a testament to that, myself. However, it was in these last years of her magnificent life and in these last in-person words to me that she relayed the importance of relaxing, going with the flow, and leaving some aspects of love and life in G-d’s hands. I know Nana is now at peace and not stressing over any plans, but she is definitely making G-d laugh in her fuzzy blue robe, clutching a handful of napkins from the Dollar Tree.
Lastly, I learned another lesson from my Nana’s recent friendship with Sylvia, a 101-year-old fellow survivor who spoke to her on the phone almost every day for the past few years. I got to know Sylvia through calls, as well, and was shocked to recently learn that these two best friends had only met in person once. Their friendship was incredibly beautiful and special, and unlike anything I have ever seen. (It definitely put the texting relationships of today in perspective.) Nana told me that she and Sylvia want us all to understand what a mitzvah it is to spend time just talking to elderly people or those who are in poor health. Not talking about pain, nor asking about medication, but rather sharing stories and making each other laugh. During my last visit, Nana and I spent hours brainstorming a hypothetical future reality show called “30 Day Wedding”. We would have an entire ceremony and reception planned out and would have 30 days to find me a husband through a highly competitive round of auditions. Think the old days of American Idol, with Nana Rose as a Semitic Simon Cowell. She would definitely be Simon.
Nana so deeply hoped that I, her oldest single grandchild, would find a (younger, if possible!) partner — THE partner— before she left this earth. She and my grandpa loved each other deeply, and she remained loyal to him for the thirty years since his passing. It hurts me that I couldn’t fulfill this wish of hers in time, but I also know she didn’t want me to rush anything. I also feel secure knowing she knew how incredibly happy I am with my life right now. When I said goodbye to her, I promised I would find that partner one day… but definitely not in the next 30 days, especially without her here to judge the contestants. No matter what, she will always be the Simon Cowell I long to impress.
Thirty-day wedding aside, I do hope to apply and pass on these aforementioned lessons: to love deeply, stress less, laugh more, and share stories. I hope to continue to make her proud every day, and to continue to keep her indomitable spirit alive.
I want to thank everyone who played a role in my Nana’s life, and thanks to those of you who have been and will be there for me with your thoughts, prayers, friendship and support. For those who never had the opportunity to meet her in person, I thank you for reading and sharing this tribute and for taking the time to get to know her through my posts. Thank you especially to all of the family and friends who were there through the particularly tough times, and those that were there to honor her at the burial. Thank you to her around-the-clock caregivers, who have become family to me, for their warmth and professionalism (and patience in watching countless repeats of Bubbies Know Best!).
As Marilyn Monroe once said, “It’s better to be so absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” And am I ever so thankful that my Nana was one of the most exceptionally different, original, unforgettable personalities I will ever know. Thank you, my beloved Nana, for loving me unconditionally, for bringing my incredible mother into this world, and for inspiring me to be not just the woman I am today, but the woman I will be in the future, too. I will love you and miss you forever.
Rest in peace, Rose. 12.5.1923 – 3.1.2020
CLICK HERE to listen my favorite voicemail she ever left me.