Meant to Be: Together 75 years with ‘The One’

August 16, 2017
Meyer and Mildred Lazarus, the author’s great-grandparents. Photo provided by Shirley Gill

My great-grandparents were married for 75 years. They died when I was well into my 30s. I knew them as Grandpa Meyer and Grandma Millie. He was 99; she died several years later, at 103. When I asked him the secret to their marriage, Grandpa Meyer confessed, “The secret is … we didn’t die.”

As I contemplate their almost eight-decade union, there was more to it than that.

When Grandma was 90, she began to decline from dementia. Grandpa put her in a convalescent facility and every day he would dress in a three-piece suit and shuffle down the hall, bringing her flowers and Nips, those caramel chocolates that were her favorite. Often, he found her in a haze, not knowing what was going on. But as soon as she heard his voice, she recognized it and would say his name. Her lucid moments lasted briefly, but they were just enough to keep him going back each day to hear her say “Meyer, is that you?”

I remember my great-grandparents very well. I had a long time to watch and observe their relationship, including their arguments. My great-grandmother wore the pants in the family, and she often scolded my great-grandfather for buying the wrong thing at the store or for not picking enough oranges in their backyard. Those memories are beginning to fade, but I do remember when I was 5 or 6 asking my father, “Dad, are they happy? Because they fight a lot.” He responded with, “That’s not fighting, that’s called talking loudly. They’re old and can’t hear.”

I also have a clear memory of being a small child and going with my great-grandfather to the supermarket. He loved to pick the fruit in the produce section and touched each melon as he flirted his way through the store. It was sort of adorable and hilarious at the same time. Every store clerk knew him by name. These trips often lasted hours. I remember thinking that he had not lost his own self just because he was attached to another person. He was still flirtatious and magnetic and loved people. And I know it was because his relationship with my great-grandmother had made him feel whole. She continued to foster his full spirit, so he never had to give up on those adorable habits of taking extra long to buy three apples at the grocery store.

What I remember most of all was asking my great-grandfather how he knew my great-grandmother was “the one.” He was a year and a half younger than Grandma Millie and had seen her for the first time when he was only 18. When he would retell the story of that moment, he described it, saying, “It was as if time stood still upon laying eyes on her.” Then he’d say, “I will never ever forget seeing this beautiful radiant girl, wearing absolutely no makeup, yet she had this permanent glow and these flushed red cheeks and ruby-red lips. I thought, this is a face I could wake up to every morning and be a happy man.” I must have heard him tell that story a million times.

My Grandpa Meyer worked as a bookkeeper until he retired at 85. He loved his root beer floats, his occasional schnapps, his carrot juice, his herring, his orange grove and, of course, his wife, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, even his great-great-grandchildren. When he turned 96, he was the sandek at the bris for my oldest son, his first great-great grandchild.

When I think about his long life and marriage, I think about his ability to prioritize his life with conviction. He made his wife his life. He savored every day to make her smile. Even toward the end of his life, when she started to lose her memory, he dedicated himself to find small moments to connect with her, even if it meant he would be disappointed in those muddled confusing conversations with her.

Five weeks before Grandpa Meyer died, when he was 99, he came to the wedding of my brother in a wheelchair. I barely recognized him because I had never seen him need help walking, not even with a cane. He whispered to me that he had waited all year for this wonderful party and would not miss it for the world.

My great-grandfather wasn’t waiting for a party; he was waiting to see my brother look into the eyes of his own beautiful wife so he could know that his Yakup — that’s what he called my brother Jacob — had found the one, just as he did.

CHAVA TOMBOSKY is an executive producer and a director at Deer-Vision Motion Pictures, a recording artist and an ongoing writer for The Huffington Post and for her
personal blog, “Thelma & Louise.” 

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