Riba Rambles:
Musings of a Mental Magpie

About the author: Elisabeth in early 2007, photo by Todd Belf
Elisabeth "Lis" Riba is an infovore with an MLS. This is her place to share whatever's on her mind, on topics both personal and political. [more]
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Monday, September 14, 2009
At a loss for words
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:40 PM

Two months ago today, my grandfather died.

Tomorrow, we would've celebrated his birthday.

While this is something I feel I should blog about, I just haven't had the words to write about it.

So, instead, I'm going to reprint the eulogy I delivered at his funeral.

"Survivor" is a word that you hear a lot as people talk about Zayde. And it's a good word for him. But perhaps an even better word would be "fighter". For Zayde, "survival" wasn't sufficient. He needed to win, to triumph.

And he raised his family to be fighters, too.

As you can imagine, this didn't always make things easy or smooth. But it's who we are.

Everything could be a battle to Zayde. And he had no intention of losing battles. If the rules of the game were against him, he'd just go and change the rules. He had an amazing ability to seek out and find advantage, even if there was no apparent way to win. This is one of the great lessons I've taken from him, and one my husband has sought to emulate, too.

He saw Zayde's combination of guts and chutzpah, Zayde's refusal to believe in unwinnable scenarios, Zayde's ability to see a route to not only survival, but victory, in the most impossible situations.

I do, too. When I'm at work, or in a negotiation, or dealing with unhelpful people, I often ask myself what Zayde would do. It helps. If you don't accept the possibility of failure, and if you don't accept the limitations that everyone else assumes exist, sometimes you find a way to win.

The most important thing in the world to Zayde was us, his family. Not only because we are a group of people he loved, although we are. But also because we are, each of us, symbols of his survival, and of his victory. Each child, grandchild, and especially, great-grandchild is a triumph over those that tried to destroy him. Those that killed his family. Those that burned his world to ashes.

We're here. They're not. He won.

His overwhelming joy when the family got together was not only at being with the people he loved, although it was that, but also a celebration of survival, and a mark of victory. Every phone call from a grandchild was a simple reminder that his victory had a purpose - to allow all of us to exist, and to live well, able to go to college, and have good lives in a country where we could grow up free from fear.

He often gave me a hard time over not phoning him enough. But one reason I didn't was because he was never far from my thoughts. Zayde shaped who I am. I am his granddaughter. I am a Riba, of the family that he created.

Zayde was stubborn, creative, charismatic, passionate, dramatic, infuriating, and loving. It's a cliché, but he was a force of nature, that couldn't be ignored. He raised a family of passionate, stubborn, loving, creative people. There is no greater legacy.

PS: If you want to read more about my grandfather's remarkable life, The St. Petersburg Times printed an extended obituary.

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