Auld Lang Syne

Auld Lang Syne — I have no idea what that means.  Neither did Sally in, “When Harry Met Sally.”

All I have learned, during all my “woe is I” of the last months, is that, love can come with pain.  But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t love; rather you should love more fully and more deeply because the pain of loss or impairment of (or separation from) a loved one knows no bounds, even if you love a little. So, go ahead, LOVE a lot.  Take that crazy plunge without the armor of indifference.  Without any armor at all, even.

And out of this learning process comes another very important truth:  I am lucky to love and be loved.  Period.  Heartache be damned.

Even as I reel from sadness to responsibility to exhaustion to anxiety about paying for SOS’s education, I know, in my heart, that all of this is evidence of a fortunate and full life.  So far.  I must continue to be worthy of it.

I wish for everyone, on the eve of 2013, a year of love (without pain), good fortune and humility.  The road ahead is unsure and life takes many twists.

But, today — maybe only for today — I am grateful for the pain that proves the love.

Pieces of Paper

I always thought that love makes a family; nothing more, nothing less.  Now I know that love makes a family while everyone is healthy, but blood and paper give you the rights to show your love in the bad or hard times.

Whether you are gay or straight, formalities and legalities matter.  Legal marriage and legal adoption matter.  Wills and advance directives matter.

ULOB (Mom’s brother) and AROB were together for 65 years.  AROB and ULOB were always a part of our lives.  Neither was a trailblazer or a patriarch/matriarch.  They didn’t seek out the American dream like so many children of immigrants.  Escaping from their families was probably success enough.

On Christmas, ULOB found AROB dead in her apartment and called the police.  They were never married and kept separate apartments (relationships are complicated).  The police took all the keys and sealed the apartment (procedure when someone dies) because, as a matter of law, ULOB had no right to be in AROB’s apartment.  Even though he probably spent most of the last 65 years of his life in that apartment, he had the same rights to be there after she died as a next door neighbor: NONE.

All my life, AROB was my aunt and I was her niece.  Now, I am nothing under law.

Who has decision-making authority?  Nephews she hadn’t seen more than once in over three decades.

Through the generosity of the local police, ULOB, SOB and I were able to look through her apartment (with a police escort) to find information about her blood nephews or burial plans.  We came up with nothing.

So, her body lies refrigerated at the coroner’s office.

Luckily, ULOB remembered enough information so I could find these nephews.

One nephew lives nearby.  He is willing to help so we can bury her, so that we can perform that last act of respect and love for a dead relative.  RELATIVE, not friend.  My AUNT, not my neighbor or colleague.  My FAMILY.

I want her to rest in peace.  I think that starts with being buried by her loved ones.

Christmas in Bloggerville

Today is Christmas for many around the world.  Today is day of relaxation for me, a Jew, enforced and reinforced by the closed stores, closed offices, abbreviated gym hours and limited non-Christmas TV and movie fare.

It is not a normal day, because it has all the good stuff — sleeping late, hanging with SOS and watching cartoons, going to a movie (thank G-d for movies and Chinese food) — but without a normal day’s stresses, deadlines and demands.

I could get used to Christmas.  Although I must admit that the calm was, in fact, making me a little anxious.  When is life so calm?  Ah, eureka!! On Christmas, as long as you don’t celebrate the holiday.

Because, from the outside, it doesn’t look so calm for those who celebrate.  Driving, flying, or riding in open sleigh, to get somewhere with presents that will delight the recipients, sing carols in the cold with matching sweaters, eat more even than on Thanskgiving and all, in time to sit down in front of the TV right before “It’s a Wonderful Life” starts. Whoa.  Exhausting.

Sidebar:  Just last year, I learned that in the song, “Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer,” Santa asks Rudolph to guide his sleigh.  Having grown up in New York City and imagining a sleigh full of presents, I assumed that Santa wanted Rudolph to guard his sleigh.  Oooooops.  SOS was horrified that I lacked this basic social knowledge.  (Now, let’s ponder that, but off-blog.)

There is something transcendant about this holiday that even a non-Christian can see.  Throughout the twentieth century, this day carried the power to cause warring nations to call a day-long truce in the midst of battle.  Christmas stopped the carnage of war for twenty-four hours.  (Makes one think, if we can stop war for one day, then why not two days, and, then, why not forever?)

So, it is more than a quasi-relaxing day for Jewish neurotics.  Because I don’t have to be a Christian to celebrate the message of this day:

Peace on Earth.

I just wish we all would remember that message every day.

There is always joy and hope

Ok, not always.  But even when the world is too much with me, when death and dying are all around, when senseless violence takes our young (and senseless people try to defend the indefensible), there is still joy.

Joy in a lover’s touch,

Joy in a child’s embrace,

Joy in the dark humor that binds us in loss and tragedy,

Joy in colleagues who become friends (and friends who become family),

Joy in the endless possibilities (outside of Washington), even amid the challenges, for our world,

Joy in lives that are no more but were well-lived, and

Joy that the world did not end on December 21, 2012.

And there is still hope:

in the energy and drive of kids, like SOS, to take care of the planet,

in the power of an individual’s ability to heal the world just a little bit, and

in the power of the example of a person’s life to cause others to do good in her or his memory.

Tomorrow, our family will bury a loved one, but we will not bury hope and joy.  Those live on as our inheritance.  More valuable than anything else.




And then there was one. . . .

Dad is the last of his generation in our family.  Weakened and confused, but nonetheless, here.  He is our only link with the past.

In his papers are where my great-grandparents’ graves are located. And a family tree.  And what happened to Grandma Dora’s ship-shvesters (ship sisters) whom she met making the arduous voyage to America.  I haven’t thought about that in years.  And was my great-grandfather’s wife named Tillie?  There is some confusion.

But we must sort it all out.  Because this is our history.  We are the grandchildren of the surviving remnant of formerly European Jews.  Most of the family got out before the Holocaust, but after the pogroms — the massacres — that scarred them for life.

We must now take ownership. For we are the elder generation.  And if you don’t know whence you’ve come, you cannot chart the course ahead.

We can no longer rely on others to remember, recount and record our history.  It is ours to do now.  Cousin Gentle, with great foresight, has already started that project.

We must search our minds for stories because it cannot be that the lives of our great-grandparents, our grandparents and, alas, our parents will fade from memory.  There must be someone always to light candles of remembrance in their names.  To bring their memories out of the darkness and into the light.




Rest in peace, Aunt Glue.

I will try to let in the flood of happy memories just as soon as the feelings of immense loss subside.

Say hi to Mom, Uncle Billy, Uncle Leon, Aunt Gertie, Uncle Dave, Aunt Claire, Uncle Al, Aunt Rose, Cousin Gail, Cousin Ricky and Cousin Adam.

I love you,


Helpless in New York City

Aunt Glue is fading.  The end is soon, according to her son.  Aunt Glue and her son and daughter-in-law have a plan to keep her pain-free and peaceful in these hours.  I need to respect that.  SOB needs to respect that.  BOB needs to respect that.  But SOB was trying to get coverage at the hospital and BOB was looking into flights to come here.  And I was trying to rent a mini-bus to schlep everyone to see Aunt Glue.

Because you can never say, “I love you,” too many times or squeeze someone’s hand too often.

Because death is permanent and, right now, she is alive. And she has a right to die the way she wants.  That is the last decision a person can (with any luck) make.  And that decision is sacrosanct and unimpeachable.

And, here I am, helpless and hopeless in New York City, waiting for the word that the woman

who introduced my parents,

who (with my uncle) shared my mother’s last days and minutes on this earth,

who was such a large figure in my youth,

who hosted the happiest family celebrations of my childhood (never mind, the overcooked chicken),

who was my solace after Mom died,

who embraced POB and SOS,

who, defying all odds, came to my wedding and danced, and

who was the only one to whom SOS would ever write a letter, much less maintain a correspondence,

has died.

She had a long and good life, but not an easy one.

Dad is sometimes clueless as a result of age and brain injury.  But he is so very aware of Aunt Glue’s condition and has a very heavy heart.  Some relationships are so deep that even dementia and brain injury can’t erase them.

One of our greatest generation is losing her fight with time and disease.  Maybe not today or tomorrow.  But soon.  Yet, on her terms (as much as is possible under the circumstances).

And that is the way it should be for our greatest generation.  Even if it breaks our hearts not to see her just one more time.

Up to bat

In these days in December, the world is often too much with me.  So much more so this year.

This is the tenth anniversary of Mom’s death, HOSOB lost both his parents in this year, Dad and Aunt Glue are both failing.  So, frankly, are the remnants of Mom’s family. Their deaths will seal a generation.  They were the first ones born on American soil and they laid the foundations for our generation to grow and thrive.  We stand on their shoulders.

SOB and I know that we, along with our many first cousins, will soon assume the mantel of our family’s eldest generation.  The ones who are supposed to know everything, have the wisdom of the ages, the memories and secrets of the past generations, and the answers to the questions (whatever they may be) and, yes, the next wave of those to leave this earth (G-d willing). We are up to bat in a baseball game, as it were.

It is only now that these giants of my parents’ generation seem so young and human.  Now I understood that Mom and Dad and the uncles and the aunts were as clueless then as are we now.  The mantra, just keep moving because it is better than running in place or, worse, standing still, is still the mantra of our generation.

As long as Dad and Aunt Glue are still alive, there is always the illusion (although, not the reality) that there are elders who know more, who can bless us and what we do, and who can lead us out of the darkness and into the light.

But the truth is that wisdom comes from reflecting on the past.  Humility comes from failure.  Regret comes from somehow knowing if you were sure enough of your convictions and felt strong enough to press your point of view, the outcome would have been better.

The lessons of the generations that must be learned again by each succeeding generation.  Over and over, until the end of time.

This is life and its journey.  These are some of the immutable facts that govern the species.

One day, maybe this will change.  Until then, I will try to act with kindness, with humility and with the memory of those who came before me — what they did right and what went terribly wrong.



Whence comes the light out of this darkness?

Last night, at our family Chanukah gathering, my cousin and I got into a conversation about the shooting in Newtown.  His premise was that we were being egocentric about this being a tragedy in comparison to what happens the world over — and especially in comparison to the children who die each day from our drone warfare.

I accept all he says as true.  If the United States is killing children, then those who order those attacks are war criminals.  But, just because it happens the world over, doesn’t mean that we should just sit back, throw our hands up and look away.

I cannot change Afghanistan or Congo or Somalia or . . . fill in the blank.  But I can stop my neighbor or my fellow American from spewing NRA-sponsored platitudes.

It must start somewhere.

I asked my cousin, “what am I, as a parent, to do?  Just put this in a larger geo-political context and just accept that human life is cheap?”  “My job,” I told him, “is to protect my child.  And I am not sure that I can do that when mentally ill people have access to guns.”  “Well,” he said, “you can tell your children that you will try to keep them safe but you can’t promise.”


My child deserves my unconditional promise that I will keep him safe.  Every child, the world over, deserves his or her parent’s unconditional promise.

Now, the work begins:

What do I need to do to make that unconditional promise to my child?

Stand up to the conventional wisdom.  People with guns kill more people than people without guns.  And, as a society, allowing a mentally ill person to buy (or have access to) a gun is the same as everyone of us driving the shooter to the school and giving him extra ammunition.  We all need to point the finger in the mirror.

Yeah, we need to solve the fiscal cliff and avoid upsetting the Republicans.  Yes, we need to tiptoe around the NRA with its $250,000,000 lobbyist fund.  Yes, we need to wait for someone to do something.


I have a promise to keep.  And, I better get busy.

Marching, donating, talking to people and pressuring our political leaders.

And be ready to throw myself in the way of a bullet spray should it come to that.

Lunchtime in the Coffee Shop of the Living Dead

I went down for a quick lunch with Dad.  We went to a nearby place that isn’t good, has bad service and smells like a bad diner.  But it is popular for the over-senile/decrepit set because it is a close walk from many once-bustling-high-rises-now-de-facto-old-age-homes (welcome to the Sutton Place area).   At the diner, there is a special area for canes and walkers, once the elder has been seated.  There are less chairs available than one would think necessary because — well — the proprietors need to accommodate wheelchairs. 

Dad looks better than most there. 

As we are looking at the menu, he says, “I don’t remember when I last had a hamburger.” 

Sidebar:  I think BUT DO NOT SAY, “Of course, you don’t remember, Dad.  It was last Saturday when we had this same conversation at the other diner, you know the one that is far enough away so there are fewer undead people there?  You had a hamburger.”

Still, Dad sometimes surprises me by retaining information from one day to the next.  “How was POB’s job interview?” he asked.  Whoa, POB told him about it on Thursday.  Awesome job, Dad.

I know many of the peope in the Diner of the Living Dead from the neighborhood.  I grew up here.  One, who is Dad’s friend, came over and wanted to talk to me only, almost ignoring Dad and Dad’s health aide (are people invisible?). 

Odd because he is usually a warm and friendly, if homophobic, guy. 

He was clearly in despair.  He needed home heath care information for his companion of decades.  Her kids were handling matters without talking to him and he didn’t know what to do.  He didn’t even bother to brag about his daughter’s life as a married, wealtlhy, successful, procreative heterosexual.  Now, that was a red flag for how the situation has deteriorated.

I listened and gave him what information I could.  He seemed unable to cope with the little I was able to offer.  I will follow up with him but I think he needs care, too. 

Sidebar: I might have to call his daughter.  I will start the conversation with, “as a married, well-to-do (before the crash), successful (before the crash), procreative (after a fashion) homosexual to you, the person I was supposed to be: get your ass back to New York and take care of your dad.” 

After the conversation, Dad said in a sad but resigned way, “he doesn’t look or sound so good.”  I nodded. 

And then I screamed so Dad could hear (relying on the deafness of those around me):

“Dad, you are doing so much better and you had a brain bleed that shorted out some electricity!!” 

We are nothing if not blunt.