Papa, Bana, & The Meaning of Loss

I lost two grandparents in the span of ten days.

My grandpa Morris “Marty” Garfinkel, known to me as Papa, died on January 30th. My grandma Eleanore Garfinkel, known to me as Bana, died on February 9th. I had been very fortunate up until these past few weeks, as I had no major deaths within my family. Bana and Papa’s deaths were the very first major deaths in my family, and have caused me to rethink the meaning of loss and death. These concepts had been abstract before these last few weeks; now, they are painfully real.

They both persevered and dealt with so much, it is hard not to be awed by both of their lives.

Growing up I was very fond of both Bana and Papa. Papa was larger than life. He loved surprising us with gifts and telling terrible jokes. He also loved being a grandparent. He was convinced his grandkids were the best grandkids, making it all the more endearing. Bana was much quieter and patient but had a mischievous sense of humor. Bana was defined by her patience and her kindness. She always took me seriously even when many adults did not. She answered my questions and helped me understand the world. She also was a woman of many talents, cooking and crafts were her specialties. She created blankets for all five of her grandkids, which were absolutely beautiful. Both always treated me with such kindness and generosity, that we were very close as a result. That only makes this hurt that much more. 

As I think of them more I am amazed by the lives that they led. Papa was born into a family of Eastern European immigrants who only spoke Yiddish. He became the first person in his family to go to college and became an English teacher. Bana wanted to go to college but was told she could not because she was a woman. She took as many community college classes as she could and would encourage her daughter and three of her granddaughters to attend college. They both persevered and dealt with so much, it is hard not to be awed by both of their lives. 

I am full of funny stories and moments that I remember fondly of them both, but what I am focused on more is my feelings of loss and anguish. For most of my life, both of them had been in and out of hospitals. My parents were once worried that both of them would not make it to my bar mitzvah. Both of them fought so hard to stay alive, but it always seemed like they were nearing the end. I naively thought that somehow that would make their losses easier, that if I was emotionally prepared for their losses that I would be more ready. I could not have been more wrong. 

My hope is that if you still have people in your life that you love, that you appreciate their presence and understand their importance. Life can go away so quickly we forget how precious it really is.

The hard part about losing someone you love is coming face to face with the fact that the person will no longer be there. They will be in the ground somewhere and they will not be in your life anymore. No more bad jokes from Papa and no more amazing blankets from Bana. 

I spent my whole life thinking I was prepared for the loss of those that I loved and then I realized I was not. Nothing prepared me for the pain and anguish. No amount of time spent in a hospital and no amount of near-death scenarios could prepare me to face that reality. How to go on without someone that I love is not something I ever really thought about or faced properly until both Bana and Papa were gone. I distracted myself and convinced myself that there was still more time until suddenly there was not. 

My hope is that if you still have people in your life that you love, that you appreciate their presence and understand their importance. Life can go away so quickly we forget how precious it really is.

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About Noah Garfinkel

Noah is a Junior with a major in History and a minor in Chinese. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief for the Michigan Review and a member of the AEI Executive Council at Michigan. He is also a sprinter for The Michigan Running Club. In his free time he loves to read and play basketball.