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While invitations to weekly Cafe Europa events give many lonely survivors something to look forward to, my grandfather’s excitement is often short-lived. Last October, the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles chartered a party yacht for its two Cafe Europa groups and took the survivors on a dinner cruise around the marina, complete with a live band and gift bags. It was all he could talk about for a few days. Then reality set in: another week of long hours in a dialysis chair, no peers to spend time with and an endless loop of bittersweet memories.
Sometimes, family can try to pick up the slack: Children often take responsibility for their parents’ care and navigate the complex emotions that come with that responsibility. My mother’s relationship with her father is tense and protective. She readily admits that she’d feel like a failure if she couldn’t continue caring for him. Meanwhile, he feels frustrated by his lack of independence but acknowledges that living with her is his best option.
My mother’s parents taught her to stoically cope with almost any task. But the job of making my grandfather feel at ease may be an impossible one. And my grandfather, who has lived through so much unknowable tragedy and started over countless times, now rails against the physical limitations that will ultimately prevent him from doing so again. So he sits, waits and hopes for opportunities to tell his family about his life. “I don’t talk much, but I try to think about my grandchildren as much as I think about the bad things,” he said. “I don’t know how long I’ll be here. And I want to be among my own.”
A technology journalist based in Los Angeles, Rachel Rosmarin is the granddaughter of four Holocaust survivors. Follow her on Twitter at @rachelmrosmarin.