A GENERATION ENDS

My aunt, Rita Nachem, died two weeks ago at 97. A generation ended. Last Friday night at my synagogue, I said Kaddishfor her. But as much as I mourn, I celebrate her life and those of all my aunts and uncles.

Aunt Rita was the last survivor of six Finkle children, including my mother Blanche. My grandparents, Lyon and Minnie, had three children in quick succession then paused before bringing into the world another three. Each older kid was assigned a younger sibling to assist Grandma. Aunt Rita, ten years younger, was my mother’s “baby.”

All my aunts and uncles on both sides of my family are gone. Added together—counting only first spouses, eliminating one I never knew, and including my great uncle and aunt, Moe and Anne Horowitz, who I consider second parents—they numbered twenty. Until I became an adult, I never considered my aunts and uncles by marriage distinct from my parents’ siblings. I never felt less than their nephew.

Uncle Larry Nachem died some years ago. Carolyn and I called him a day or two before his death and chatted. He did not fear the inevitable. Actually, he sounded pretty good. People in their final days often experience a resurgence—if for only a moment. While it’s not always possible, we got to say goodbye. We were glad.

Over the years, we called Aunt Rita regularly as did my other cousins, and spoke with her two weeks before she died. Obviously declining, she sounded tired. Nonetheless, as the matriarch of the family, she asked about us and our children. She uttered no complaints.

We often visited Aunt Rita in the Boston area—the last time in May 2017 during an unusual cold spell. She lived in a wonderful independent-living community near my cousin Sue (my cousin Bev lives in far northern California) and maintained an active life—bridge, movies, discussions. When she turned 90, all the cousins who could—it’s a long trip from Israel—gathered to celebrate.

I mentioned relationships going beyond “blood.” I’m proud that Aunt Rita was fully Carolyn’s aunt, too. No “by-marriage” asterisk there. Aunt Rita was always interested in Carolyn’s storytelling and acting career, as well as Seth, Yosi and Aaron. Carolyn was always fascinated by Aunt Rita’s travels—she and Uncle Larry traversed the globe—and her thoughts on opera, books and current events.

At seventy-four, I harbor no illusion about living forever. My parents’ generation is gone. Mine will leave the stage, as well. Each survivor will endure the pain of loss until we are no more. But memories of my family stay with me. Live in me. I’ve been lucky to have a large and loving family. And with three adult children plus nephews and nieces, and all those remaining cousins—I’ve lost a few—there’s plenty of family left.

Death represents no mystery. We all die. Life after? That’s a mystery to the living. Ultimately, we’ll be forgotten save for those with a passion for family trees. But for as long as we survive in someone’s memory, we’ll enjoy something of an extended life. I don’t believe in heaven. But being remembered—hopefully positively, if only for a short time—works for me.

For you who are celebrating Rosh Hashanah starting Sunday night, Happy New Year. May you enjoy health, peace and prosperity.

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10 Comments

  1. I applaud your commemoration of Aunt Rita; she was a loving and admirable role model. I will always love her as a favorite aunt. And, yes, we all die. But I disagree with you about the after life. Do I know for sure what happens to all those neurons and electrical energy put forth by our bodies? No. But I believe this message, which was written on the base of the sculpture entitled Serenity at Burning Man 2018, with my whole heart and soul: in every lifetime, I will find you.


    • David
      Sep 07, 2018

      Well said.


  2. Herb Z.her
    Sep 08, 2018

    Well said. David. Memorial service, exact date yet to be announced, in October.


    • David
      Sep 08, 2018

      Glad to say Aunt Rita’s memorial service will include truly heartfelt comments and memories.


  3. Maxine
    Sep 08, 2018

    Beautifully expressed, David!
    After reading your piece, I started think again about a number of things regarding Aunt Rita that stand out in my mind.
    At a time in history when most women did not work out of the home, Aunt Rita was a “pioneer” and had a successful career in NYC in the advertising industry. As I remember, she continued working actively until she retired.
    She had many interests and was involved in various organizations over the years. I also remember thinking how mentally alert and sharp she was and how she remained involved with friends and family nearby, in addition to news in the larger world.
    I love my life here in Israel, with the major regret being so far from family in the States. But I do have great memories of visiting Aunt Rita and Uncle Larry in Florida during the years they were there.
    Sending hugs to you, Carolyn and the family!


    • David
      Sep 08, 2018

      Thanks for adding the info on Aunt Rita’s career. She was an exception in her day. I remember her often asking my mother and Kay (my sister) their opinions of TV commercials she was writing. Love to all.


  4. Lisa
    Sep 08, 2018

    For several years, Tsachi and I had the privilege of having Rosh Hashanah down in Florida with Gpa Sidney, Elaine, Aunt Rita and Uncle Larry. I’ll never forget those lovely holidays and how happy we all were to be together. Rita and Larry always had fascinating stories, and were extremely worldly and interesting to talk to. I hold dear the following years when Aunt Rita always stayed in touch and we even became Facebook friends. I think of her with such love and warmth in my heart.
    Shanah tovah and lots of love!!


    • David
      Sep 08, 2018

      Beautiful memories. Shanah Tovah!


  5. Lynn Sedway
    Sep 16, 2018

    David, Beautiful and heartfelt!


    • David
      Sep 16, 2018

      Thanks, Lynn. Meant it all.

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