My Legacy. My Choice.
I recently attended my paternal grandmother’s unveiling, which is a Jewish ceremony of placing a tombstone on a grave-site, and uncovering it in front of the family and loved ones of the deceased. It usually takes place within a year of the person’s death to allow for a proper grieving period to take place. My grandmother’s three sons, two of their five spouses over the years, two of her six grandchildren, three of her step-grandchildren, her granddaughter-in law, and her soon to be two-year old great grandchild, gathered to honor her life, and the large Scheinkman family legacy she built with my grandfather, who she is buried next to.
While the ceremony was taking place, I could not help but focus on the grave on the other side of my grandmother, the one belonging to my grandfather’s sister Adele. My great-aunt Adele passed away when I was eleven years old, and whether it was circumstances beyond our control, or choices we made, now looking back as an adult, I see a lot of similarities between the ways we live(d) our lives.
We were/are both unmarried, childless women who live(d) in Manhattan are were focused on careers. Adele worked her way up to become the primary executive assistant for the head of Warner Brothers, a difficult feat at the time. We both grew up with one other sibling, an older brother, and when those brothers got married, their wives considered their future husband and his sister to be a package deal because of their incredible closeness. Adele and I also share(d) all our unconditional love with our nephews. In her case, my father and his two brothers, and in mine, that soon to be two-year old.
Adele was there every step of the way for my father and uncles, and as they grew up and started families of their own, she was there for the next generation. However, I think she and I always shared a unique bond, because after one brother, three nephews, and one great-nephew, I was the first girl, and the girl of the next generation that she got to meet, know, and spent time with.
The Gift of Memories
Many of the gifts she gave me, and experiences she provided with, I still carry with me to this day, even after all of these years. While working for Warner Brothers, she would send me VHS copies of classic movie musicals. I cannot tell you how many times I watched The Music Man over and over and over again.
She would get our family the Warner Brothers luxury suite at Yankees stadium on a regular basis. And while this may make me sound spoiled, I did not realize that there were other non-suite seats at the stadium until I was ten. She also took me on my first NY city bus ride during a sleep-over, although that didn’t end well. I stepped on a rusty nail and she had to take me to closest emergency room for a tetanus shot.
Because of her, to this day, I still get excited for baseball opening day, am one of the rare New Yorkers who actually prefer to take the bus over the subway, and sing “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Gary, Indiana” loudly and lovingly (and absolutely off key). She also gave me one of the greatest gifts a person could receive, an education, by helping to contribute to my college fund. With her help, and the incredibly hard work of my parents, I was able to graduate from a top university debt free.
As a young childless woman living with metastatic breast cancer, I often think about my legacy, who will carry on my name, and what I can I do be remembered. I have heard others in my situation have similar concerns, but after thinking about Adele, I realized that you do not need to have children, and those children to have children, to create a lasting life. We live through everybody we come into contact with.
I, however have an opportunity that Adele did not have. She passed away suddenly, and did not have a chance to think about what kind of legacy she was leaving behind, or be told by those who loved her that she will always be remembered. I have the time to forge my own path and decide how I want to live on.
This is why I chose to write. This is why I chose to educate. This is why I chose to advocate. This is why I chose to fundraise. This is why I chose to share my truth.
This is how I chose to be remembered.
My great-aunt Adele lives in me, and now in my writing, and with all of you.
This piece was authored by Rebecca Scheinkman, Outreach Coordinator of The Underbelly, which originally appeared on theunderbelly.org on May 3th 2017.