Wednesday, October 31, 2007


In a pleasent room filled with family and overlooking orange groves, lies a woman who wants to die. She's been lonely for too long, ill for too long, alive for too long. Yesterday a psychiatrist came to see her in her hospital bed. "I want to die," my grandmother told him, out of her constant slight daze and from across a complex web of plastic tubes that are stuck in various parts of her body.

"How will you die?" he asked.

"I'll jump out the window. No wait, if I jump from here I'll just wound myself. I'll climb up to the roof and jump from there."

The psychiatrist hurried and instructed the nurses to move her bed away from the window, which my family found hilarious. My grandmother suffers from fractures in several major bones and cancer in almost every internal organ. She can't get out of bed, never mind "jump" in any sense of the word. It doesn't take intimate knowledge of her wry sense of humor to figure out that what she really needed was a stroke of her hair and the words: "I understand".

Today, however, she was not in a humorous mood. "I feel that the end is near," she told my father, out of a deeper daze than usual.

"How do you know?" he asked, "What do you feel that makes you say that?"

"A sense of khidalon," she replied.

Neither my Hebrew-English nor my Hebrew-French dictionaries even bother to translate "khidalon". It is a derivative of the root "khadal" - to cease, most neatly translatad as nothingness. In this context it conveys a powerful nihilistic void, a feeling that the force of life doesn't drive you anywhere anymore and that you ceased to have a future.

My grandmother Shulamit was born in Romania and brought up speaking Romanian and French. While a genius at crossword puzzles, she's not ever been a poet. I'm awed by how she used a single rare Hebrew word to answer such a difficult question, and how perfectly it worked. Too bad she later used similarly high vocabulary (the word "Mish'i") to express her hope that I trim my beard more neatly. I love her so much and I wish for her whatever she truly needs.


Miriam (Mimi) Asnes said...

I understand. My grandmother moves to a nursing home with more intensive care for her dementia and decreasing mobility on Tuesday. "Nursing home" is almost a misnomer; they are small, nice homes for 6-8 women and they have all of their own furniture and their own rooms. But in the email she sent, my aunt told us when and how the move would happen and then, to assuage our worry that this would be a tumultuous and confusing event for Grandma, said, "She will not have to move again." It didn't really have the desired pallative effect on me.

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