That's how old my Bubbie, my mother's mother, was when she died this past Sunday, December 23rd. She had been on a ventilator, laboring, since about nine o'clock the night before and at 9:20 am, as her children gathered around her hospital bed, trying to decide whether to take her off the ventilator as her body failed her more and more by the minute, my Bubbie, as always, made the executive decision: her heart just simply stopped. Stopped completely. Decision made.
The common refrain the days following, upon hearing of her advanced age, was: "93? Well, she lived a nice long life" or something along those lines. The idea was that 93 was a perfectly understandable age to die. More than understandable. Something to be grateful for. And I want to say, no. No, this is not something to be grateful for. I want more. I don't care that she was 93. I don't care if she was 103. I want my Bubbie. I want to know that I can walk through the heaviest wooden door in the world and straight into her strong arms. I want to smell her sweet aqua-net-baby powder-flannel-pajama self as she holds me tightly to her, grabbing my face in her hands and planting big wet ones on both my cheeks. I want to hear the clap, clap, shuffle, shuffle of her bedroom slippers making their way though the house, back when making her way through the house was possible, was effortless. I want to watch her get ready for bed, wrapping toilet paper around her bright red coif, sealing it for the night. I want to hear her laugh, the laugh that made other people better, happier people just for having heard it.
When I saw her for the last time, at Thanksgiving, we were sitting together at her breakfast table, the spot of many of our finer moments together. I was leaving and I told her I'd be back soon. She had spent much of our visit a bit dazed and out of it, but suddenly, as I said those words, she was as alert as a twenty-year old. She grabbed my hand with the strenth of a longshoreman and said, "When?" her blue eyes boring into me. I said "Soon, Bubbie. Soon." She clutched my hand even tighter, blue eyes like laser beams on mine, and said, again, "When?" Without thinking, I said and meant, "January." She released me, satisfied. We hugged and kissed and loved and pressed cheeks to cheeks and said goodbye.
At 9:20 am this past Sunday, I was sitting on the tarmac in Sacramento, my plane on it's way to her. By the time I arrived in Los Angeles, my family had already left the hospital and were together at a diner, struggling to recover from the nightlong ordeal. They had all gotten the chance to say goodbye to her one last time, as she took her last breath. Her heart beating it's last beat. What if I had gotten on a plane the night before? Earlier in the morning? I would have been able to be in that hospital, holding her hand in mine, one last time. But I hadn't. I didn't. I couldn't. So for us, for Bubbie and I, goodbye was that morning at the breakfast table. Cheek to cheek. And that will have to be enough.