My mother’s parents, my Bubba and Zehda, passed away 6 hours apart in Holy Redeemer’s hospice on June 13th and 14th. Zehda had lung cancer for years and was able to survive an aggressive round of chemotherapy. His cancer started growing again late last year.
Bubba had been in and out of the hospital for the last few years for a yearly tune-up with interrelated heart and lung problems, but amazingly, she developed abdominal cancer of unknown “primary” origin (bad bad news) in April.
She was very insistent that she wanted to economize by having one funeral, and amazingly, they were stubborn enough to pull it off. They both passed away within a few days after checking into hospice.
Here are the comments I prepared for the funeral:
My mother, Barbaba Freedman of blessed memory, and my father, Allan Freedman, raised us, supported us, and mostly by example and advice, shaped us.
They were there for the 1960s, but must have missed some of the hairier aspects of it, as they wound up being very down to earth people. Some people grow up resenting their parents, but my biggest problem with their criticism was that it was usually clear that their criticism was correct.
My mother in particular helped me bridge the gap between my inner swift but lazy nature, and the more traditional world of business. She showed us, almost entirely by example, the path of correct and wise living.
Her parents, my Bubba and Zehda, Robert and Lillian Widman, also participated in our upbringing and helped, also by example and with love, but sometimes (usually in Zehda’s case) with pointed insight and course correction.
They were both smart, funny, independent, loving, concerned, and most of all, accepting people. As is the role of grandparents, love was there without judgement – but that wasn’t only true for us. I have heard from many other members of the younger and middle generations of the extended family that they feel the same way.
In my earlier years they welcomed us into their business to do (real) but paid work.
In my early adulthood, they welcomed me into their factory with office space and guidance, and they, with my mother formed the informal board of directors of my Internet company.
They both went through the most difficult thing imaginable, losing a child, and kept going, doing what needed to be done, and being there to be Bubba and Zehda for grown and growing grandchildren and family.
I could just ask you to google yiddeshe Bubba and read, and you’d get a pretty good description of part of the Bubba experience. Fierce unconditional love and support and nurture.
But as you know, Lillian was a smart and wise woman with experience in business, real estate, and finance.
I’ll try to give you an echo of Bubba with some anecdotes that I fondly remember and repeat often to others.
My first memory is of Bubba from when she came up to Boston when Reena was born. We visited them frequently when we first lived in Elkins Park, then moved into the house that had fond memories of those visits when they moved 3 miles down the road to Glenside.
Later on, as I grew my first business, they were right there next door and upstairs in the factory.
She was wise and occasionally frustrated with me, but eventually some of her wisdom got through my thick skin.
Bubba would frequently ask me how many customers I had. Then she’d ask me how many people were late in paying. If the delta was too large, she’d say “If they’re not paying you they’re not your customers”.
She was thrilled to watch a 2nd generation business develop. She didn’t quite understand what we were doing with it, but when we put a satellite dish down in the parking lot she frequently said that it was great and she felt that she was really plugged in to what was going on in the world.
One time when a local businessman wanted to become involved with my ISP, we had him come by to chat on the porch of 315, with the gentle rhythm of the machine drifting overhead. After he left, my mother turned to me and said “You realize that your Bubba knows more about the Internet than he does”.
My Zehda was a non-nonsense man. He could laugh and play, but he didn’t support intellectual dishonesty and if he thought that something could be improved, he’d let you know. He provided observation and course correction more frequently than Bubba did, but like my parents, he was usually right on and was saying what needed to be said.
Though busy with Dramco, he spent time with us as we were growing up.
During my middle school years, he worked with me on a multi-year project to build a robot. We went to electronics parts stores and he taught me basic electronics and woodworking in his machine shop lair, while we (mostly he) built a robot.
Like Bubba, he taught himself what he wanted and needed to know, and the term sweat equity, in profession and later in his business, is apt.
He worked as hard, as long as he could, as long as I can remember, even during his chemotherapy. It made me proud to tell people about him. He had fun arguing with social security that he WAS only working part time,now that he was only working 60 hours per week.
Back when he was 80 years young, he was my 80 year old grandfather who worked harder than most 45 year old men. It made me proud to tell people that he wouldn’t let me lift 100 pound rolls of film to help out because he was afraid I’d hurt myself!
He was an expert and world-class machine designer, inventor, and problem solver, and with Bubba and Russell, wound up turning his skills to an unfilled market niche and creating the business that wound up defining the 2nd half of his life.
He thus also showed me by example, that if you see something that can be done but isn’t, and it can create something that people want to buy, you can go for it and make a good business.
I wound up working in the business, and worked on my first large software program, extending a system written by Larry, which was important in developing my skills and confidence and helped turn my interest and hobby into a profession – but then he lovingly kicked me out, saying that it would be a waste for me to not pursue my avocation, especially since the world was coming to need those skills.
One last story, that I think is instructive about my Bubba and Zehda’s relationship and about them both.
Bubba was always upset that Zehda wouldn’t see a path to retirement, or even take trips down the shore with her. She would comment on this regularly. Gail had been working in their business at the time and once, she said to Bubba “I am concerned that Avi is just like Zehda and will work forever and never retire” – to which Bubba said “What? There’s nothing wrong with that!!!! Work is good, it helps keep you healthy!”
Bubba and Zehda had great love for each other. Even as their energy declined they remained sharp and present.
There is a great video of Bubba serenading Zehda in the hospital before a difficult group meeting. I put it online on my homepage at freedman.net.
The next day in the hospital, I asked Zehda if Bubba’s decision process had always been the same and he smiled and said “for 68 years”.
The last few months were difficult, and the last few weeks in particular, but they spent time with all of the generations of the family and made more treasured memories.
We worked with them to navigate the decisions around care and they went into hospice last Friday, in the same room.
Bubba had been saying for weeks that she didn’t want to survive Zehda, but the practical reality was more complex.
However… As the resourceful and determined people that they were, they managed to find a way to make it happen. As the weekend progressed it became clear that they might get their wish. Bubba knew that Zehda had been sleeping peacefully since Friday night and followed him into sleep on Saturday. They both passed away peacefully Sunday night and overnight.