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  • Writer's pictureMarilyn Saltzman

Tears, Laughter, Gratitude – In Celebration of Bubbe*

October 8, 2023 was the 25th anniversary of Bubbe’s death. It’s hard to believe that this force of nature, who impacted so many of our lives in so many ways, has been gone for so long.

Bubbe was my sister-in-law Barbara, who died of scleroderma at the age of 58. Irv’s big sister, she became the big sister I never had. To my children, Heidi and Kevin, she was the fun-loving aunt who thoroughly spoiled them when they visited her on Long Island every summer. There were daily fresh bagels and Dunkin Donuts, roasted turkey legs for Kevin and activities that would make any camp director proud. She was Heidi’s hero and mentor, and Heidi became a psychologist with Bubbe as her role model.

Barbara grew up in a time when few women went to college, and her parents thought it would be a waste of money to send her to school since she would soon get her MRS degree. So she married young, had two daughters and then pursued her education. Attending classes and writing a dissertation while fulfilling all the duties expected of a 1960s mother and homemaker, she earned a PHD in psychology. What followed was a long, successful career as a clinical psychologist and active member of the psychology community on Long Island.

To celebrate her life with us on this anniversary, her partner, Cara, and her daughters, Jodi and Stacey, flew to Colorado to be with Heidi, Irv and me. Kevin and his friend Amanda came from Florida for part of the weekend. Heidi had planned activities that would have made Bubbe proud. We shared pictures and memories, took hikes and listened to music. Heidi made a play list of Bubbe’s favorite songs, and just a few notes into “Puff the Magic Dragon,” the tears were rolling down our cheeks. It was the last song we sang together as we gathered around her deathbed 25 years ago.

And we laughed together. We picked random letters from a Scrabble game, and then had one minute to write down as many words starting with that letter as possible that reminded us of Bubbe, from the serious to the silly. “H” for hugs, Halloween, harvest, holidays. “G” for generous and green thumb, "J" for Jones Beach, "A" for adventurous aunt, "D" for Dunkin Donuts coffee. Then we took a huge canvas, picked descriptors we had written, and painted pictures of them. Tears once again, and this time they were tears of joy.

We also held a gratitude ceremony on Heidi’s property. Bubbe loved nature and would have relished this extraordinary piece of land, nestled in the Colorado pines with views of Mount Rosalie. Heidi based our event on the despacho ceremony, held for deaths, births and other special occasions, by the indigenous Quechua in Peru. The tradition encourages participants to show gratitude for the guidance of the spiritual world. We sat on the ground in a circle and created a pile of rose petals, cattails, sage and other plants as we named what we were grateful for. There was gratitude for Bubbe’s mentorship, her sense of humor, her loving-kindness, her devotion to family and for the memories that have endured for the last quarter of a century and will last our lifetimes. We then buried the bundle we had created to honor Bubbe and the natural world.

And together we recited the poem** that Bubbe regularly shared and lived by:

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done, But she with a chuckle replied That “maybe it couldn’t,” but she would be one Who wouldn’t say so till she’d tried. So she buckled right in with the trace of a grin On her face. If she worried she hid it. She started to sing as she tackled the thing That couldn’t be done, and she did it.

All in all, it was an incredible weekend of tears, laughter and gratitude in honor of our beloved Bubbe.

*Bubbe (rhymes with chubby) is Yiddish for grandmother, and Barbara proudly embraced this nickname when her granddaughters were born.

**Adapted from “It Couldn't Be Done” by Edgar Guest

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