Thursday, March 22, 2007

Let me tell you about Helen

Grandpa and Grandma Berg, sometime in the 1980s

Grandparents are important. They hold you in the hospital the day you’re born. They sit with your parents at your wedding. They never, ever miss a birthday. And they forgive everything.

Mine are all gone now. We lost Richard in 1970, his wife, Ella, in 1997, Erich in 1999 and Helen on Thursday at age 90.

Grandma had been in poor health for several years. We knew this day was not far off.

Somehow over the years, I gained the reputation as “the hugger.” I don’t remember how it started, but every time I saw Grandma, the first thing she said was: “Where’s my hug?” It was our special routine.

I decided the mental picture I carry like a wallet snapshot won’t be the way we saw her two weeks ago, when I hugged her tightly one last time.

I will think of Christmas Eve – every Christmas Eve of my childhood. The entire extended family would gather at my grandparents’ large house on West Shore Drive in Massapequa.

There was food and laughing, presents and cousins. It was loud and it was wonderful.

Grandma had a silver foil Christmas tree that came with a spotlight and a rotating lens that would make it appear in different colors. Decades later, we still teased her about it.

My grandparents moved to another large house in North Massapequa, then to a condo in Snug Harbor in Amityville. And I remember my first question was what we would do about Christmas Eve. Grandma still hosted, but it was crowded. Very crowded. And still wonderful.

Our family today is so spread out. But every other Christmas we host Julie’s side of the family. It’s crowded and noisy and I love it because it reminds me of those years at Grandma’s.

Helen was the second oldest of four daughters, mother of five, grandmother to 12.

She loved to get dressed up and go dancing with Erich and spend time with her sisters, the last of which we lost last year.

Grandma always made time to listen to me talk about the Mets, or whatever stories I was working on.

For as long as I knew her, Helen was sacrificing for other people. She cared for my great-grandmother until she died at 97. She raised my cousin – Samantha’s an attorney today -- and took care of my aunt.

We were in Florida visiting on the morning my grandfather died. I sat with Grandma on the couch holding her tight while paramedics worked in the other room. She was worried about me. That’s just the way she was.

She was worried about others again when we saw her this month, concerned my children would be startled by her appearance. We shared our hug when we arrived, and again when we left as I whispered "We love you very much" in her ear.

"Give me one more hug," she said.


Sunshine Sis said...

As always, David, well done.

G-Fafif said...

[Raising a glass to Helen...]

Anonymous said...

Helen, my grandmother, was a very special person. I can’t remember a time she was angry, or yelled, but she wasn’t a softy either. She wasn’t afraid to talk about almost everything, and she could, she was very bright. She was a voracious reader, and had a steal trap mind with an incredible wit.
Like most grandmothers she always remembered birthdays. But Helen sent me cards for my birthday with a five dollar bill when I was in my 20’s in college.
She loved to tease. Dave must have been the hugger, but between my twin brother and me, it was “who’s the kisser and who’s the dancer”. Of course we never knew, but it made us special. These questions would come on New Years Eve. I don’t know exactly how many we spent at the Massapequa house but I remember them like it was yesterday. Most of her sisters would come over and my Aunt Dee (my Godmother). All I remember was happiness and laughter. I also remember the silver Christmas tree with the spinning colored wheel which turned it from green to blue to red then back to green again. I loved that tree!!
In the summer, they would drive by the house on Sunday after they had gone on there outing (lunch). They never got out of the car, they were “just stopping to say hi, but they would stay for quite a while, we would come out and talk to them and listen to their bantering. I think they never came in because they didn’t want my mother to feel she had to prepare for them.
When they moved out of the Massapequa house, and into the condo, it was more crowed, but it was all great. Helen used to write funny poems about my Uncle Charlie (Aunt Dee’s brother) and even at my age I understood the laughter and good natured kidding. We would huddle in the small kitchen and listen.
I last saw my Grandmother last summer and I’m so glad I had a chance to sit and talk to her. I’m also grateful she had a chance to tease my wife and hug my kids!!
Life is not endless on this earth. We are all mortal. What happens after is always subject to debate, conjecture and deep belief. This death to me is not a tragic thing. It is a time to celebrate the life of good natured, selfless person and the influences (maybe subtle) they made on you and your family! Peace dear grandma, painless peace!!!

TW Granite Bay

lifl said...

Very nice post Dave. Condolences from the McMillin's.

Mike, Kathy, Conor, Ciara and Liam

- said...


Very sorry to hear about your loss. It sounds like your grandmother was a remarkable woman.

Thank you for sharing your memories, even at what was undoubtedly a very difficult personal time.