I was 13 the year I started to dislike the holidays. Though, there was a special hell in Thanksgiving. My Baba — short for ‘grandmother’ in Russian — was born on November 27th. Every Thanksgiving we celebrated her birthday, and, truly, if I can think of any time in my life I was truly thankful, it was every single Thanksgiving because I knew I would get to spend time with her.
She was, is, the holidays for me. Even beyond Thanksgiving, we spent time together often throughout the holiday season. She loved to paint miniature Christmas village houses; we still have all the ones she made, and a large, porcelain Christmas tree she painted as well. She even made miniatures of my brother and my sister and myself to put in the village. We are and were the only ‘named’ villagers in town.
There has yet to be another person that I loved the way that I loved her, and all because of how she loved me. Unconditional love is rare to find on this earth, even amongst those to whom we are closest. But my siblings and I could do no wrong in her eyes, and my God did we put that to the test. She forgave us before we ever did something terrible and didn’t hate us for a moment, even when we hated ourselves for the cruel jokes we played on her.
I have had few moments where I have felt proud in my life, but being her pallbearer is easily my proudest. The weight of the coffin is still heavy in my hand. Each plodded step, each tremble, still buried in my flesh. I think that was the day I decided not to care if it ‘was un-manly’ to cry. In death, she set me free to love as she loved, unbound by social customs and norms, but with an honesty of heart that few find.
If I have learned anything from her, it is that we can love others beyond our own capabilities through faith, and that death is not evil or ugly or wretched. Death brings more beauty into our lives than we can imagine. Our lives, and the world, are made extraordinary by shared seconds. Each sloppy kiss continues to sustain my soul. Each smile and laugh echoed upon my face and in my heart for eternity, even through the tears. Each porcelain house is a beautiful moment we shared, and though the house itself be breakable, nothing can shatter a memory.
All these things whisper of what was, but moreso of what will be again. That day when my time on the earth ends, I will run into her arms as a child once more. Never more will death separate and divide us, but from life to death to new life unfettered by the shackles of mortality, we will see each other again and always.
So on this Thanksgiving, I am thankful to have had the best Baba in the entire world. Thankful to have had someone who taught me God’s love in person. Thankful to carry on her memory, in tears and in smiles.