The Wreckage

Mom’s and Dad’s house is empty of the objects that made it our home.  In fact, worse — the built-ins have been torn down with the most ginormous crowbar and sit as wreckage in the living room. 

The apartment looks like sullied shambles of an ordinary place. 

But it isn’t ordinary.  It is where our young lives happened and generations argued and celebrated, laughed and cried, welcomed new life and mourned those who died. 

And it is ok that realtors fix a value to a life-battered, empty, and unrenovated space.  The price is what the market will bear.  Memories don’t add value.  How could they?  They are only priceless and unique to us who lived them.  And those memories — the love and hurts and pain and epiphanies (few) — don’t live there.  They live in the three of us — my siblings and me.

So, on Saturday, as we schlepped the last boxes of slides and books that HOSOB (husband of sister of blogger) so lovingly packed up, POB (partner of blogger) asked me if I wanted to take down the mezzuzah on the doorpost of house.

I couldn’t.  At the time, I didn’t understand my visceral “nooooooo!”

Later, I realized that removing the mezzuzah was the final, symbolic gesture that would transform my parents’ home to a vacant apartment up for sale.

But, at the time, I knew it was too much for me to bear.  And too much to do alone.  It was a moment that needed all of us kids to do.

So, I will wait for SOB (sister of blogger).  Next weekend, she and I, with our brother on the phone, will take down the mezzuzah.  We, three.  Together. 

And, we, three, together, will close a chapter. 

Dear Mom

 


Dear Mom:

SOB (sister of blogger) and I had to have a little time today.  She went to Dad’s and your apartment alone and looked through pictures. What was she thinking?

The house is still filled with happy memories, even with your and Dad’s deaths there.  For each of you, the months before your deaths were the most honest, hilarious, screwball-comedic and emotionally devastating episodes of our lives. 

If you read my blog, you know that we made sure Dad had everything, including his cocktail hour — his sacred time with all of us.  Even if we had to use an eye-dropper to share wine with him.  And I know you would have laughed at all of this, because you loved that your kids were crazy when it came to you and Dad.  And you loved that, when we took over, it was gently and lovingly.  You raised us right — with love and humor.

You died before your peers.  They were there to mourn you and comfort us.  Luckily, there were many to mourn Dad.  He staked out a place in people’s hearts after you were gone.  Hard to believe but true.

He never forgot you.  We tried to get him interested in others.  But he was married to you and that was the beginning and end of the story. So, we took special care of him because he, like us, live every day with you in our hearts.

SOB and I are having a hard time on the weekends, because they centered on visits with Dad.  I think I drink a little too much wine on Friday nights so I can’t get up on Saturdays for the usual routine. 

But, the hole needs to stay for a while because, to fill it, would erase Dad.  And we cannot figure out how to fill our weekend and keep Dad’s spirit with us.  Yet.  Maybe soon.  But it is a process.

I don’t think we ever thought that both of you would be gone and we would relinquish our home with all of the memories that soaked right into the walls, shoring up the very building’s foundations. 

The other painful part is memory.  We can’t figure some of the faces in the pictures.  That is too scary for us, because maybe in two generations, no one will pick out you or Dad in the pictures.  And that is more painful that you know. 

Life is a journey.  And death is a legacy and that legacy is a gift to the generations that follow.  If only we make sure they remember.

I love you, Mom.

~ Blogger

Darling, so good to hear your voice

My calls with Mom and Dad (and then just Dad) always started:

“Hi [Mom][Daddy], it’s [Blogger]”

And every time, no matter the hour and what I might be interrupting, Mom or Dad would say, in the most enthusiastic and happy way:

“Darling!!! So good to hear your voice!”

Everything else was gravy.  And now I just smile at the memory.

Dear Dad

Dear Dad:

I am writing but I don’t know what will spill out or whether it will make any sense.  I am not going to edit it afterwards.  I am just going to write.

Friends from high school (and Facebook) lost their dad a day ago.  It seems we are at that age.

And, a young girl whom we know from Benny’s school died from an anaphalactic reaction to medication when traveling in Asia on a school trip. 

So, I feel so lucky that you lived a long and happy life.  Even when I resented the pressure, and frankly the fear, of how to make it all work financially.

I think you died exactly when you knew it was going to be more than I could handle emotionally or figure out financially.  You never wanted to be a burden.

I am going to the apartment this weekend.  I am scared.  Right after you died, I cleaned out some rooms.  I think I was channeling energy into something that seemed constructive.  SOB (sister of blogger) and BOB (brother of blogger) have taken some stuff that they wanted.  I haven’t been back in more than two weeks.  Because the place will not look the same.  

We all talked about what would happen to Mom’s portrait.  But I didn’t think about what would happen to our portraits.  The ones that hung over your bed for literally 50 years.

BOB took his.  SOB took hers. 

Mine is left.  I will take it this weekend.

And, with that, the deconstruction of our home.  A small place.  Way too small for all of us.  I know we had the country house but we were crammed into the apartment growing up.  I know Mom and you wanted to give us the best of everything, and some things had to give.  I get that now.  I used to be embarrassed, but now I get it. 

And now I want to emulate you both as models of parental love and sacrifice.

And this weekend, I will take my portrait down from its place since 1967 and I will take more boxes of pictures.

And I will try to absorb all the memories dancing in the ether.

And I will relish the years in this house and regret the toll of my adolescent years and my embarrassment in front of my rich friends.

I will learn again that I am so lucky.  That I didn’t bury a sibling or child.  That I can take care of my family.  That I have wonderful memories of the old days and the knowledge that Mom and you enjoyed your lives.

But I will still be a child in the deafening quiet of an emptying house, taking down my portrait.  One of the three that hung above your bed for 50 years. 

50 years.

50 years.

And a generation of the family, and my childhood, comes to an end.

I love you forever, Dad,

Blogger

P.S.: I imagine that being with Mom again is the same as it was.  She is deep in conversation with a stranger and you are worried that you are going to be late to meet people to go to a museum.  I bet the show is “Earth on Heaven: The Horror, the Horror.”  If Mom doesn’t know about Trump, don’t tell her.

Life Cycle

sc0003369c - Version 2This is a picture of my parents at Jamie’s Bar Mitzvah.  Jamie is my second cousin once removed.  I have seen him three times in my life.  But he and his father, my mother’s first cousin, had special relationships with Mom.  I get that. That Bar Mitzvah was probably a little over 30 years ago.  Don’t Mom and Dad look great?

My son will be called to Torah as a Bar Mitzvah in June.  My mother won’t be there in body.  My dad will be there mostly in body only.

The only child of our Mom’s and Dad’s grandchildren to be called to Torah. And they should be kvelling (filled with pride), standing next to him, making the blessings before he reads from Torah.

I robbed my mother of this moment by having him so late in my life.  Fate robbed me by taking Mom to her grave too early and by taking Dad’s mind from him.

My son’s Bar Mitzvah will be a joyous day but it will be incomplete. Because Mom and Dad will not be there — in the ways I imagined they would be — and I will miss what I imagine as their inevitable tears of joy and pride.

But I know that Dad will labor up the steps to the Bimah, with help.  And he will say the blessings, from memory instilled long ago.  And he will be present, infused by Mom’s spirit hovering over him, as he stands next to his grandson as his grandson reads from Torah.

And, in my mind’s eye, I will see Mom and Dad as they are in the picture.  Vibrant and proud.

And I will cry tears of joy and loss.

That Moment

That moment when you are bare, when you have nothing else to give, when the walls are closing around you.  When everything you believe in, every milestone you marked, means nothing.  When you are about to lose your foundation and you lie bare in all your awful and selfish thoughts and all that you would never were, but could have been.

All that you are, with all the lumps, with all of the triumphs and with all of the shortcomings.  And it is not your time to answer for your life.  But, almost. It is your mother’s reckoning, which is also in that weird mother-daughter/sister-woman way, a referendum on you.  It is titled, “Mom’s day with G-d’ but it is the start of your days piecing together her legacy, to you, to your children and to the world.  And, oh, yeah, to your siblings and your father.

But a mother’s death is principally a demarcation in the relationship with her mother and her daughters.  And the dialogue doesn’t end with death.  Not even the heated ones.

The joke that your arms are too short to box with G-d is all about how you can’t land a left hook, but your mother has arms so long she can reach your most tender places at will.  Yes, Heaven (or Hell) has a huge advantage over us mortals.  Take the punches, but wear boxing gear.

The judgments don’t end.  They just have this $1.99 halo attached to it.  Don’t be fooled.

But be humbled. A life, perhaps unfulfilled, has ended.

And it is not your job to fulfill that life.  Each life must be lived by the owner. 

But it is your job to pick up the part of the legacy that you can advance.  Not fulfil.  Don’t think about fulfilling.  Just embody it forward.

It may be achieved in your child’s extended hand to a friend that evolved into her changing the world.

But every moment is not a success or failure.  In fact, only with the passage of time, and the graying of your life, will you know whether you advanced your mother’s mission or, in fact, healed the world a little, in spite of your mother.

Life is a journey and death a destination and, if we are lucky enough, we leave a legacy of love, grace and healing.

And today, it is time to redouble our efforts, for our own mothers and for the mothers of our friends who have fallen recently.

May they rest in peace and their memories be blessings for us all.

The Years Spin By and Now the Girl is 50

Dear Mom:

So I have moved 50 times ’round the seasons.

And my dreams have lost some grandeur coming true.

There were new dreams along the way.  Some of them still matter; some were fantasies of youthful exuberance and abject cluelessness.

I am not scared of growing older.  (Ok, I am not happy with droopy eyelids you gave me.)

And now I drag my feet to slow down time (or the circles, to keep the Joni Mitchell motif).  Really, to hold onto to the stories and memories of you, Dad and the older generation.  I look at the old pictures to remind me of the people who made me (for better or worse) the person I am today.  Those fallible, lovable and wildly eccentric (ok, our family once was poor, so I think we only qualify as “crazy”) people.

I am starting to forget some of the stories. Dad has forgotten almost everything. I can’t lose you any more than I already have.  And I need room to experience and remember the joys of your grandchildren, all three wonderful boys, and especially my little guy, SOS.

Years ago, when I imagined turning 50, I thought I would have security, maturity and direction in life.  And I fully expected that you would be telling me the story about my birth, as you always did.  Life doesn’t conform to expectations; they are really hopes and desires locked into a time and place.

Even though life at 50 is nothing as I expected, I feel lucky looking in my rear-view mirror and I am (cautiously) hopeful about the road ahead.

Ok, maybe I am scared a little about the road ahead.  I have to remember that I am strong and the road these past years hasn’t been a cake walk and I am still standing.  And I have to draw on the memories of those who made me strong without wallowing in the past.

But it is hard when you, my biggest cheerleader, are gone.  And sometimes, late at night, when the world is too much with me, I need a guiding hand, a loving voice, and my Mom who had lived through so much, quieting my fears.  I try to imagine you.  It doesn’t always work.

Tonight, we had a pre-birthday dinner.  SOB and I fought over the check.  (Could you tell her to let me win just a few times?)  SOB and I told the stories you would have told about SOB’s birth, BOB’s birth and my birth on our birthdays.  The same stories, over and over again.  And they get better with each telling.

One of the best stories concerns SOB’s birth.  Aunt Gertie, who had three sons, waited until you opened your eyes to storm into your hospital room and screeched at Uncle Leon [Dad’s brother], “See, Natie could give Elsie a girl!!”  Mom, you always said that was the most painful part of childbirth.

Have I mentioned recently how much you would have loved and adored HOSOB?  Such a pity you never met.  And I know you would be so happy that Cousin Gentle rounds out the crew.  I know, I know, why can’t Dallas be closer to New York?  You tell me, Mom.  You are as close as they get to the Big Guy.  Ask Him to work on plate tectonics or something.   See what you can do.

Mom, you are the missing person at every gathering, every simcha and every sad time.  And I miss your warm hand always reaching out to hold SOB’s or BOB’s or mine.  Even at the end, you always reached for us.

And we still reach back, hoping you feel us across the great divide.

I love you forever, Mom.

~ Blogger

Big Game

Yesterday was game day.  The big one.  The game that unites more Americans in a single activity at the same time than any other event at any other time:

THE SUPER BOWL.

SOS was very excited.  I found this odd because SOS is not so much a player as he is a (more-than-slightly reserved) spectator.  Let’s be honest, his favorite sport is rigorous reading of incredibly sophisticated tomes.

On Saturday, I asked SOS why he was so interested in the Super Bowl.

“I am interested in all cultural phenomena, [Blogger]!”

Well, all right, then.  While I loved to play sports, I am a pop-culture moron.  He will be far better equipped for the real world.

As late as Saturday, we were non-committal as to which team to support.  The Sea Hawks are from Seattle and we have family in the Northwest Territories.  But, Peyton Manning is Eli’s brother and Eli is our home town-ish QB.

Two things tipped the balance in favor of the Sea Hawks: our Washington and Oregon family were in town and we saw the first play of the game which was a disaster.

By 6:35pm on Sunday, we were firmly in the Sea Hawks’ camp.

SOS brought out a football to hold during the game.  And, I thought, there are things that all boys do.  It is on the Y chromosome, along with smelly feet and spank magazines.

We started to throw the ball around the living room and we “ran the ball in” and tackled each other during some commercials and some play time.  All the time, I was scared that his brains will spill out of his head in a bad fall.  Nothing more than a few scratches and bruises — on me.

(That boy can tackle.  OUCH.)

I had to throw a red penalty schmatah [Yiddish for rag] on our field.  And I stood up and declared:

“TOTALLY offensive and painful jab to a mother’s breast.  10 yard penalty.  3rd down.  Time-out, [Blogger].”

Then we giggled.

“[Blogger], you are the dad I will never had. But you are also my mom which is a bonus.”

I got misty-eyed and proud.  And that is probably politically incorrect, but I don’t really give a damn.

In a split-second, as if to remind me that we are not the family in a Lifetime made-for-TV movie, he announced:

“The Sea Hawks are winning by so much that it is boring.  I am going to catch some Downton Abbey until bed.  Tell me if anything exciting happens.”

He scurried off into another room to watch a drawing room soap opera already in progress.

But he left the football with me.  Thanks, bud.

Oh, no!! Another “Dear Mom”

Ok, snuggle in for some navel gazing.  If you hold your iPad low enough you can gaze at yours while you read about mine.

Dear Mom:

Tomorrow at 4:23pm, it will be 11 years since you died.

I have learned so much since then.

I have learned that your life was cut too short for your family, but it was long enough when compared to younger lives lost.  Your mission was unfinished but close enough; others never got to start theirs or, if started, they may only receive posthumous accolades.

You had a good life; you said so before you died.  You had more life in those years than many who outlived you.  And as Cousin Ricky said, life is not linear.

Still, I need you even more now than when you died.

Because life is so complicated.

And no one can replace you.

Still, I do have some perspective, I guess.

POB says I should be a type of doula — you know the person who is like a baby nurse but doesn’t let you get sleep or really do anything other than coach you through it.

She says I should be a death/illness doula.

Because I have life experience.  I know how to make it in and out of a funeral home in less than two hours, including buying the coffin and burial plot(s).  I know when to tell a mourner to stop eating during shiva because she/he will forever associate the dearly departed with weight gain.  I know when someone is making a stupid decision and I won’t hold back. I have called a bad situation “toxic” and started decontamination procedures.  And I have kept the scary relatives at bay while the mourners are composing themselves.

So, your death, and Cousin Ricky’s and Aunt Betty’s and AROB’s and ULOB’s and Dad’s brain injury, gave me strength to handle bad situations.  Not all of them.  I still turn away sometimes.

In 11 years, so much has changed.   Your grandsons are young men.  Your children are middle-aged.  Your husband is, well, less than he was.

And yet so much is still the same:  Part of me still wonders why my mother was taken away.  And parts of SOB and BOB wonder the same.

I love you, Mom.

~ Blogger

Vestiges of a past cast off

ULOB was not a religious man.  During his adult life, he went into synagogues only for family rites of passage.  And only if my mother told him he had to be there.

When he was a boy, his mother wanted him to have a Bar Mitzvah.  His father — my grandfather — renounced religion and didn’t care.  But it was so important to Grandma.  She wanted ULOB to be a man — a Jewish man –before G-d.  Even though she was persecuted for being a Jew.

ULOB often talked of sitting with the foul-smelling rabbi learning to read Hebrew and practicing his Torah portion while the rebbetzin (the rabbi’s wife) washed the floor and did any number of back-breaking jobs.

I think his Bar Mitzvah was on a Thursday.  I got the sense that it was mid-morning.  My grandmother was possibly upstairs but definitely behind a curtain (michitza) and at least 10 old men were in the main room of the shtebl.

Grandma brought whiskey and some cake for the celebration afterward.  She had to save to put out that meager spread. ULOB said the rabbi and the other men scarfed down the food and drink so fast that there were barely crumbs left.  No one said a word to Grandma.  She was invisible.  But Grandma was proud.

ULOB never wanted to go back after that.  Even more, almost every touch of Yiddishkeit and every tradition that a Jew learns by osmosis in a Jewish home seemed to drain out of his body over the years.  The transition was so complete that he worked on Yom Kippur, ate ham and cheese on rye during Passover, and AROB and he celebrated Christmas.

Imagine my surprise when, as SOB and I were cleaning out ULOB’s apartment after his death, I found his tallis (prayer shawl) in a bag.  He had kept that tallis for 73 years.

The one vestige.  I bet he couldn’t let go of it because of what that day meant to his mother.