This date was my (maternal) bubbe Rivka's birthday.
This year, due to the swayings of the Hebrew calendar, it is also her Yahrzeit, the anniversary of her death.
A 24-hour candle has been lit since last night. I have chanted "El malei rachamim", praying that she have a good place in the afterlife. The last thing I will do before going upstairs will be to donate somewhere in her memory: as my beloved explained, if we vow to give to charity (as we do in this prayer) then fail to keep the vow, we create difficulty for that soul---a debt.
My bubbeh Rivka bas Rochel was a quirky, generous, sly and sometimes difficult person. She was the youngest of 13, born in Ukraine, immigrated at age 4, got only a grammar-school education. She was the first in the family to bob her hair, to wear knickers, to roll her stockings.
To divorce. To raise her daughter alone.
She was generous, playful, funny, sly, malicious, needy, affectionate.
She worked as an "invisible mender".
When I was young, I believed this meant that when she went to work, she disappeared.
At last, and only once, she took me with her to work, to one of those grim buildings on the Delaware River with many many small-paned windows, belching smoke. Once we settled into her place of work among the other women and the machines, I sat very quietly, eyes wide open, almost holding my breath, waiting for her to become transparent before my eyes, then go poof!
She did not.
She did not even get fuzzy around the edges.
That day I learned it was her mending that was invisible---not her person.
She hated it when I lived in Israel, so far from her, before Skype, before even email. Still, she made an investment in my name that paid a small regular dividend which partly subsidized my rent in that far place.
Her end was terribly sad, in the Alzheimer's ward of a Philadelphia hospital. I had returned from Israel, and was visiting often. I did not know if she even knew who I was.
The last time I saw her she looked at me from her hospital bed as I was turning to go and whispered "I love you".
Not a bad exit line: the next day she was gone.