My grandma died a few days ago.

She died at the ripe age of 91, but she didn’t die from old age. No, she died from emotions she couldn’t let go.

A little over 30 years ago, on a cold day in April 1990, my parents and I were leaving Russia for Israel. We were leaving everything and everyone behind and going towards the unknown.

For people who lived behind the iron curtain, the West was an unfathomable fairytale land of beauty and possibility, but the gates only worked in one direction.

At the time there was no telephone service between the countries, no travel, no possibility to visit, and even letters took ages to get delivered not to mention opened and read by KGB officials.

This was a sort of goodbye you say when someone goes to fight in a war somewhere far away. There’s no way to know if you’d ever see them again.

I was 10 years old at the time and I remember very little, by my grandma lived through that day again and again for the next 30 years. How she sat by my bed, her only grandson at the time, awake through the night, holding my hand, afraid to let go.

The sense of anger, the betrayal and the loss stayed with her. She never forgave my father (her son) for leaving. She never accepted how much better life was for us in Israel than it could ever be in Russia.

She became more and more depressed over the years. As I grew up and started my own personal and then professional journey into depression, I tried to talk to her, tried to help.

I even tried to get her to drink some St. John’s Wart tea when I visited (it helped me a lot for a few years and there’s research backing it’s efficacy). She didn’t want any. She didn’t want to feel any better.

She held on to her sorrow and misery with an intensity that my love couldn’t match and eventually I gave up too.

Her husband, my 95 year old grandpa, stayed by her side and took care of her as she withered away. She took out her frustrations on him, called him names, disrespected him, yelled at him. And yet he stayed and kept taking care of her.

He desperately wanted to move to Israel to be with his children and grandchildren. She refused. He stayed with her.

For the last 6 months she barely got out of bed. She was still physically able to, but she didn’t have the will. The emotional pain exhausted her. About a week ago she lost consciousness, never to wake up.

She lived the last 30 years in a state of excruciating emotional pain. And even though she tried to talk about it every chance she got, no one around her could take the depth of her misery and the intensity of her bitterness.

I’m sorry I couldn’t do more for you grandma. I’m sorry I couldn’t find a way to help. I’m sorry that I was far away. I’m angry that you couldn’t put your pride aside and come live with us in Israel. But I understand.

There’s a silver lining to this story. My grandpa is coming to live in Israel. He’s  fucking amazing. He’s 94, almost blind and barely able to walk and yet he’s organizing the funeral, selling their possessions and getting ready to move to a different country.

He’s going to have a few blissful months or maybe years surrounded by family. He’s earned it.

Grandpa Mark, you’re fucking awesome!


Follow me @finereli where I write about emotional intelligence and mental health.