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.

Ritual

SOB (sister of blogger) and I set out for the cemetery to unveil the gravestones of ULOB (Uncle L of blogger) and AROB (Aunt R of blogger).  This ceremony is not formal tradition. It is not required by Torah or rabbinical teachings. In fact, because of that, this commemoration more befits AROB and ULOB than any set ritual.

BACKSTORY:  It is a long-standing Jewish custom to place a marker on a gravesite. The marker is made of stone or metal, a permanent substance that represents that the person lives on, although the body does not. The treatment of the body itself could not be more different. It is shrouded in linen and the coffin is made of unvarnished wood with no metal hinges. The body is supposed to return to the earth (dust to dust) as quickly as possible. But the memory lives on. And the gravestone is our communal memory.

In truth, we could have blown it off and no one alive would have known or remembered.  No one, that is, except us.

It was this growing internal call to take hold of the mantle of keeping our family traditions, just as our mother did for her generation and our grandmother for her generation.  We have completed the generational shift and assumed the roles of the keepers of the memories and the traditions.

Actually, SOB and I dreaded the day to some degree.  We asked AROB’s nephew and wife to come, as well as POULOB (paramour of ULOB) about whom we learned around the time that AROB died.  Having a joint unveiling would have been hard on POULOB.  Dancing around the complexities detracted from the purpose of the unveiling and would have been hard on us.

BACKSTORY: For the crazy backstory, you need to read http://40andoverblog.com/?p=4980; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5014; http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5029; there are some others, too.

As fate would have it, only SOB and I were able to make it.  And so we were able to pay tribute in our way, to the giants of our childhood, even though we have long since reconciled the differences between who they were and our childhood memories of them.

ULOB and AROB lived their lives, making up the rules as they went along. What they didn’t like, they banished. What they loved, they gave it their whole hearts. The same with those they loved.  There were the students they taught and neighbors they helped.  Yet, they loved in their way. They accepted love in their way. They let you know you were entering a minefield when you probed a subject that was off-limits. And they guarded their independence even when they needed help the most.

They lived according to the ancient principal of our people, “love me, love my meshugas [craziness]”.

And the great moments remain in our memories. For SOB, BOB (brother of blogger) and me, growing up with them was magical — they captivated us; they spoiled us; and they opened us up to the arts.

And today, there we were, at their graves. And, looking back on their lives (and all we now know since their deaths), we remember them, with love. Always with love.  As imperfect as they were. As imperfect as we all are.

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The truths about roller coaster rides.

The first truth about roller coaster rides is that it can be scary, exhilarating, fun and vomit-inducing, but, at its end, it delivers you to its starting point and you wobble out onto terra firma.

The second truth is that you don’t need to go to an amusement park to ride one.

Thursday began like any other day.  I was late getting to the office for a call with opposing counsel. I didn’t even try to blame the trains.  I emailed him on my subway ride to push back the call 15 minutes.

When I get out of the subway, I receive a text from Dad’s home health aide (HHA).

“Have your sister call me immediately.”

My sister, SOB (sister of blogger] is a doctor.  This is not good.  I call SOB immediately.

SOB, it’s [Blogger], call HHA immediately.  She just texted that she needs to speak with you.  Call me after you speak to her.”

I am shaking.  Is this the day?  I don’t exactly remember the walk to my office.  But as I start to turn on my computer, my ringing cell phone snaps me back.

“It’s [SOB], HHA had to call 911 because Dad is basically non-responsive.”

Is this the day that Dad dies?

SOB and I know that we have to run to Dad’s house before anyone takes him to a hospital, so we can evaluate the situation.  He is almost 94 years old and has told us, again and again, that he wants to die in his bed.  And, unless there was acute pain or discomfort to relieve, being in a hospital is only torture for a person his age.  Old age is old age.  This is not a curable condition.  It is a fact of life.

I run part of the way there.  SOB is still in traffic.   I look at Dad.  He is now alert and comfortable on the gurney.  He knows me and seems relieved I am there.  He has no pain but looks so tired.  He smiles as he does when family walks into the room.  Our embrace is awkward because he is on a gurney.

“Dad, [SOB] is coming any minute and we will figure out whether you need to go to the hospital.”

“Yes, darling.  Let’s wait for [SOB].”

The EMTs tell me all his vitals are good.  Apparently, Dad slumped over at breakfast and HHA couldn’t rouse him.  She literally lifted him and had him lean on her while she got him to his bed in his bedroom.  The EMTs said he was non-responsive when they got there but with a little rubbing on his sternum, he started to wake up.

Dad hovered between life and death and came back to life.

So, TODAY IS DEFINITELY NOT THE DAY.  Still, the crisis isn’t over until the EMTs unstrap Dad from the gurney and they leave his house.

And Dad had mentioned heart disease, so the EMTs want to take him to the hospital.

“Dad is in mild heart failure.  Who isn’t at almost 94?  There is heart disease in his family, but he takes no medications, except an evening scotch.”

And then Dad says:

“They might not get paid if they came all this way and don’t come back with a patient.”

The EMTs smile.  They understand that my father wants to do the honorable thing.  They are also a little confused by his seeming clarity in one moment and his dementia in another. The EMTs wait for SOB to arrive (G-d bless professional courtesy).

Then Dad said:

“Before we go anywhere, I have to say goodbye to my wife.” 

The EMTs look at me and look at HHA, who is 50 years his junior.

“NO, NO, NO,” I say.  “Look at the wall.  See the painting?  That is Mom in 1967.  He needs to say good-bye to HER.”

341279902308_0_ALBOMG OMG OMG.  This still could be the day.  Oh, SHIT.

The EMTs were fabulous.  One was a little circumspect, probing about my knowledge of Dad’s medical and mental state.  I appreciated his concern and we walked a little away from Dad.

“Look, my father has been exceptionally healthy his whole life.  He is at the end of his life.  If he is not in pain or gasping, why would I want newly minted doctors (it IS July, after all) poking and prodding him?  But, let’s wait for the real doctor, my sister.”

Then that EMT starts to test my knowledge of Jewish culture and Yiddishkeit. The Blogger family name is stereotypically Jewish.  And he was testing me to figure out if I understood the Commandment to honor my father and my mother.

SOB walks in and consults with the EMTs.  Then she says to both of them:

“Last time he was in a hospital, it was for a brain bleed resulting from tripping on the sidewalk.  Although he was in neuro ICU and was watched by a private nurse, he got out of bed twice and fell both times.  Since then he wanders.  A hospital is not a safe place for him.  He has terrific 24 hour care at home.  And my sister and I are each a cab ride away.”

Both EMTs understood.  The circumspect EMT (who turned out to be an observant Jew) was more comfortable when we knew some Yiddish and when we told him that we had been through this drill before and we had tended to our mother in her dying days.

He said, “We have to call the supervisor.  I fear Hashem [G-d], my wife, gobblins and my supervisor, and your dad said he wanted to go to the hospital before you both arrived.

“I get that.  Make yourselves to home.  Can we give you something to drink or eat?”

The observant Jew demurred.  The other EMT said, his wife packs food.  So I asked, “you fear both your wife and Ha-Shem on this score.”  He nodded.

The EMTs and Dad start to talk.  They ask how he feels.

“It is the end.”

“End of what, sir?”

“The end of my life.”

Those words hang in the air, until interrupted by the arrival of the supervisor.  The supervisor calls the doctor on duty.  Everyone groans.

“What’s wrong with this doctor?” I ask, thinking the nightmare has just begun.

“He’s been sued a lot.  He will want to enforce transport to the hospital.”

WAIT. WAIT. I have power of attorney.  My sister has health proxy.  We, and our 24/7 nursing care, take excellent care of Dad.  We see him all of the time.  We know his wishes, his medical history and, hell, what he eats in the diner and what he hates in a museum.  We speak to him everyday and see him every weekend.  Dad has told us what he wants and he trusts us.  And we love him.

DIDN’T YOU SEE THAT HE WASN’T AFRAID ANYMORE WHEN HIS CHILDREN ARRIVED?  THAT HE PERKED UP? HOW CAN THIS DOCTOR OVER THE PHONE ENFORCE THE TRANSPORT TO THE HOSPITAL?

Well, he did.  SOB and I would not stand for it.  Dad was sitting in a chair talking and feeling comfortable.  He didn’t need to go to the hospital.

“Call the doctor back. NOW!”

At this point the EMTs are rooting for keeping Dad home.  And I was ready to name Dr. [Blank] in a lawsuit.  After the doctor spoke to Dad, he asked to speak to the daughter who is the lawyer. NOT THE DAUGHTER WHO IS THE DOCTOR.  This is some paranoid dude.

“Yes, Dr. [Blank}.”

“Ms. [Blogger], BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH. BLAH BLAH BLAH” – I made the universal hari kari sign so everyone in the room could feel my pain — “Your father could have any number of issues.”

“Dr. [Blank], he is almost 94 years old.  Can any of those potential issues be prevented by a hospital visit today? We can agree that the answer is no.  And you have our family’s thanks for not compelling transport to a hospital.  I appreciate your advice on guardianship.  Thank you, doctor.”

The EMTs cheer the outcome.  We hugged one EMT and I said to the observant Jew, “I won’t hug you or shake your hand, but I would if you weren’t observant.”

“Thank you.  In this case, I fear my wife first.  Hashem, second.”

SMART MAN, THAT EMT.

All non-essential personnel left.  I went out to get pizza for everyone.  To celebrate success after the two hours that felt like ten.  We ate.  We all sacked out for an hour.

SOB went into Dad’s bedroom to check on him.  He was glad that he stayed at home.  He was glad to have his children around and he felt loved and supported by all of his children, even though our brother lives far away.  He told SOB what a lucky man he is and what a good life he has had.  The drift toward the inevitable is beginning.

We all got up a kibbitzed.  Soon it was cocktail hour.

“Dad,” SOB started, “there needs to be a new rule in the usual [Blogger family] protocol in these circumstances:  If ambulance comes, no scotch at cocktail hour.”

Dad wasn’t so ok with it.  So I had to draw it from him.  The new addition to our protocol:

IF AMBULANCE,

THEN

58128Dad fought it tooth and nail and enjoyed the tussle with his kids.  He was present in a way he is not usually.  His mind was more clear (but still out there).  He was a little pale, but he survived.

The day turned out to be a great day, because:

We met wonderful people — the EMTs — who care about the people they help.

And, Death took a holiday of sorts for our family.

SOB and I stagger off the roller coaster.  The ride was rough but everyone survived. 

Temple of Treyf

BOB came for a visit this weekend.  Dad and SOS were beyond excited.  SOB and I were consumed by logistics (but happy).

I was running late on Friday so I asked BOB (who, contrary to apocryphal legend, was, in fact, born and raised in NYC) to take care of ordering dinner.

I walked into Dad’s house, even later than I estimated.  All gathered were waiting for me to make decisions about the dinner menu.  Clearly, I have made life too easy on those assembled.

“[BOB] and [SOS], go and figure out what we are eating from this menu!”

SIDEBARI rummaged through the menus and handed one to BOB. Seriously, I could have phoned this in.

SIDEBAR:  Cuisine? You need to ask?  Chinese, of course.  After all, it is the Sabbath and we are Jews.

After two or three calls to the take-out place, I learned that BOB was a little rusty about ordering etiquette in NYC.  Nevertheless, as soon as he hung up from the last correction, the deliveryman showed up at Dad’s door.

SIDEBAR:  More proof for my hypothesis that someone stirs the wok on the back of the delivery bicycle and, no matter what we order, we get whatever the mobile kitchen whips up.

Let’s just say that this was not our usual selection.  It had a Texas flair.  We were about to eat HOG HEAVEN.  Because pigs died for our meal.

Earlier, BOB was bemoaning WOBOB’s fixation on having a pet pig.  I almost thought BOB’s aversion to a pet pig had something to do with his cultural heritage.  The dinner menu was proof otherwise.

Then, I had sympathy not for BOB, but for the potential pet pig.  Poor pig, thinking that if the family will eat his/her relatives, that the pet pig might be next.

As I have aged (and as life has steamrolled over me) I have become less doctrinaire about most things.  Still, not eating pork or other treyf wasn’t born of religious conviction.

SIDEBAR: treyf means unclean.  It is often used to refer to non-kosher food.

I don’t digest dairy well; I am allergic to most seafood; and Mom and Dad didn’t serve pork in the house.  The last time I remember eating spareribs was before BOB’s Bar Mitzvah, in 1974.

Nevertheless, I was shocked initially at BOB’s order: pork dumplings, spareribs, pork fried rice.  Every vegetable dish had meat in it.  “Part vegetarian” is now a new dish classification in our family.

And, remembering how Grandma ate from kosher plates with her own kosher food even in her beloved daughter’s home made me a little queasy.

Secretly, I have had a yen for spareribs for about 10 years.  I was inwardly delighted at being so close to the forbidden fruit and knowing we were so far away from Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) that, well, what the hell?

And, bonding with BOB over a sparerib and breaking any number of taboos in my parents’ house were gifts. And, when Dad is the way he is, and Mom is dead, and loved ones in our generation are facing down mortality, eating pork seemed so unimportant, especially in exchange for a shared moment with my big brother.

And we haven’t even discussed what was on the pizzas for Saturday night dinner.  I couldn’t even try it.

Let’s just say, BOB likes him some pork products.

BOB is a loving guy and, I have determined after this weekend, that while he wants to make his family happy, he is just concerned that a pet pig wouldn’t be safe with him.

After eating with him this weekend, I respect that.

 

Minding the Elderly Can Age a Person

Today, the paternal side of the Blogger family buried one of our own.  My cousin was not even 37.  Family members spanning nearly a century — 4 generations — were present, as if to beam a harsh light on the tragedy that my cousin would never grow old.

BOB, who flew in from Texas for the funeral, thought that we should visit Mom’s brother, Uncle L., the last surviving uncle of blogger (ULOB), and that he should meet ULOB’s paramour (POULOB).

SIDEBAR:  Why not make it the day a total beat-down?  In for a little hearbreak, in for a trifecta.   Like that penny and pound thing.

This was so last minute.  And I didn’t want ULOB to think that BOB would come to town and not see him (even though that does happen from time to time).  So, I call ULOB from the car on our way back from the funeral and tried to frame the narrative:

“Hi, Uncle, it’s [Blogger].  [BOB] just came into town at the last minute for a [paternal Blogger] family funeral.  We didn’t want to call to early to wake you [ULOB sleeps until noon].  We would like to stop by and visit this afternoon.”

“Can I invite [POULOB]?”

“Of course.  Does 4pm work?”

“See you then.”

Great.  Death. Destruction. Tears. Lamentations. And a visit to the apartment that is gross by the slums-of-Calcutta standards.  I guess I am not getting a nap today.

BOB and I walked [3 miles] to ULOB’s apartment.  It was good to talk to BOB.  I don’t think we have an hour to talk just the two of us in three decades.

But, we were running late.  So I called ULOB’s apartment.  No answer.  Hmmmm.  Odd.

We arrive at his building.  He lives on the fourth floor of a five story walk-up in what is formerly known as Hell’s Kitchen.  We buzz his intercom.  No answer.

I call again his phone again.  No answer.  BOB leans his palm on ULOB’s buzzer.  I go inside the first door (which is never locked) and start buzzing every apartment in the building until someone lets us in.

We walk up four flights to his apartment.  There is a radio blasting.  We go inside his apartment (don’t you mind the details), expecting to find a body.  BOB says helpfully, “you know, bad things happen in threes, so this would be event no. 2.”

SIDEBAR: BOB needs a refresher in the Blogger family protocol, as in “unhelpful comments in scary, potentially life and death situations are punishable by a different kind of scary, life and death situation.”  Rule No. 3, for those of you following in the handbook.

The place looks like it has been ransacked.  BOB is a little rattled, but I remind him that that is usually what the place looks like.  I am still calm.  I start to look around for a body.  The stench of 54 years of filter-less cigarettes would cover any smell of a decomposing body.

No body here.  Thank G-d.  But nobody here either, so he must be dead in the street.

BOB and I decide not to panic.  Instead, we sit at an outdoor cafe doing our version a TV crime drama stake-out, only with cocktails.  I watch his building while BOB looks for him along the street.

We leave countless more messages on ULOB’s message machine in case he shuffled in while traffic was stopped and a bus obscured my view.

ULOB doesn’t have a cell phone.  We don’t have any contact information on POULOB except her address and her phone number is unlisted.  (I tried.)  This is the time when I wish I didn’t avoid information about her and just embraced her, regardless of their relationship’s beginnings.  Sometimes, principles just bite you in the ass.

SOB knows POULOB’s phone number.  Except, SOB is in London. My phone is running out of juice. And I am rattling off phone numbers to BOB as my phone dies.

BOB calls SOB, “Hey, [SOB], [ULOB] is a no-show at his house.  But he isn’t dead IN his house.  We need POULOB’s number.  Oh, I love you, [BOB]by.”

We abandon our stake-out after 1.5 hours.  Police work is not for me, unless lubricated with a nice cabernet.  BOB goes to Dad’s to have dinner with him.  I go home, preparing myself to call hospitals or go to POULOB’s house and knock on the door.

I get home. The doorman hands me a message from ULOB and POULOB. They were here, thinking the gathering was here. The message says they are at a nearby restaurant. I RUN there.  We clear up the miscommunication.  POULOB says ULOB told her we were having a gathering either at 2, 3 or 4.  They opted for 4:15. Ok, I am not so devastated about missing them.

I say, “we were at a funeral, although I could understand the mix-up”.  Wow, cabernet is the opposite of a truth serum.  Because, who, in the world invites guests, who don’t know the deceased, to a post-funeral gathering?

We resolve the following things:

  • ULOB needs a cell phone.
  • POULOB needs all of our contact information and we, hers, because she is here to stay.  And she does take really good care of ULOB.
  • Nobody dies on my watch.  And when I say nobody, I also mean no body on my watch.

I did remember to text SOB that we were really sorry we gave her a heart attack, especially when she would get care in the UK hospital system.  I called Dad to tell him to tell BOB that all is well, but Dad already started cocktail hour, so at some point I ask him to pass the phone to his attendant, because I could not live another moment in loopy land.

This Abbott and Costello afternoon happened on the heels of the real tragedy — my young cousin’s untimely death.  Today I experienced universal grief, elderly confusion and existential anxiety, some at both ends of the spectrum of life.

For now, I am grateful to be in the middle.

 

Seder Part 2

Seder, Part 2:  Subtitled “Kol B’Seder?” (all ok?  literally in good order?)

Meanwhile, Uncle L looked slovenly despite his well-heeled paramour and family.  Just take a look at his coat:  No wonder his paramour thought we were wolves.  A generation from the ghettos of Europe, born in the country, and still.  But he is a Yankees fan, so some things are forgiven.

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Ok, so we started the Seder.  As commanded, we go through our “emblems of festive rejoicing” which are the symbols of Passover:  rebirth, renewal, bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom, and the remembrance of the night of death in Egypt that led to the Exodus.  But wait, there’s more.

In our family, we have our own symbols of festive rejoicing, requiring a second Seder plate.  First, G-d didn’t deliver us from Egypt, then the pogroms of Europe, then the Holocaust, then to two generations of prosperity in the United States for us to drink that gross Manischevitz wine.  So, we have a “Manischevitz Free Zone” in our house, where there is (reasonably) good Kosher wine and some good other wine.  Second, courtesy of HOSOB (we love him so), we have a Moses action figure (which was a bonus with any Nintendo purchase) that has detachable staff and Ten Commandments for the requisite slamming at the sight of the Golden Calf.  Third, have a watch to symbolize the ONE hour that SOB allows for the ceremony before she takes away the Haggadot and announces the first course will be served. In a nod to the modern age, SOB flashes her iPhone timer, so I know exactly, to the nanosecond, how much time I have left.

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Finally (not pictured here), we have a brisket and not a turkey, because G-d didn’t work miracles and deliver us from five millennia of trials and tribulations so that we would have to eat dry turkey.  No, G-d delivered us so that we could enjoy a nice, juicy, marbled brisket with just the right amount of fat to make it tasty and moist.  (Unless you are vegan or vegetarian, in which case we had a delicious Mediterranean bean dish.)  That is my interpretation of the wisdom of the ages.  You can have yours, just not in my house.

We tried a different approach to Seder this year — we would go quickly through the retelling of the story (see the cheat sheet on the chalk board)

photo(12) And then we proceeded to discuss who was the most righteous in the story.  I emailed everyone with the assignment to determine the most righteous person, and people really read up on it.

Sidebar:  GDJOB, who had never cracked the spine of the Bible, was at a loss until her spouse GDKOB showed up.  GDKOB was in charge of preparing for Seder.  Unfortunately, she was a little late for the debate but her righteous person was discussed.  They brought dessert, so all was forgiven.

There was a catch:  what is the definition of righteous?  Depending on our definitions, we had different answers.  There was a second catch:  there is no right answer, except that we can agree that among the wrong answers are: (i) Pharaoh and (ii) the Edward G. Robinson’s character in Cecil B. DeMille’s, “The Ten Commandments” (did he chew on a cigar or is that just my imagination?).

We came up with four righteous people (with our varying definitions of righteousness):

  • Moses (trite);
  • Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law who advises Moses;
  • Tzipporah, Moses’ wife who saves him when G-d tried to kill him; and
  • Pharaoh’s daughter, who, knowing Moses was an Israelite, nevertheless saves the baby from the Nile.

My choice? Pharaoh’s daughter.  Who has no name, except in Chronicles, the Koran and the writings of Josephus.  In the Hebrew Bible, she is known only by her relationship to a man, Seti I, who decreed that male babies of the Israelites must die.  She defied her father’s decree and saved a life and raised Moses as her son.  She stepped outside her rarefied, privileged world and extended her hand to a slave child.  Because a child is a child.  Because a life is a life.  And she risked everything, maybe for the knowledge that she was doing the right thing and her heart and soul would not be sullied by the death of a child.

And she was exiled when later it was found out that Moses, her son, was an Israelite.

Her name was Bithia.

Bithia.  A person to be remembered as a human who saved a life of a baby who would grow up to liberate a people.

Bithia was her name.  And at Passover, I remember Bithia.  Because she is the person I most admire in this story.

Chag sameach.  (Happy holidays.)

Seder

One month ago, when I invited the “family” to Seder, there was some trepidation.

Why trepidation at just another annual ritual?  Well, here is a partial list of the invitees:

  • Dad (who is not the man he was prior to his brain injury), accompanied by his Guyanese home attendant who had never been to a Seder;
  • Shelly who is not romantically involved with Dad, regardless of what Uncle L thinks (we will get to THAT later);
  • Our g-ddaughters, who are not Jewish and one of whom has never cracked open the Bible (but she makes amazing Kosher for Passover desserts, so go figure);
  • My Uncle L, who having recently lost Aunt R just a few months ago, wanted bring his paramour of 25 years (will someone PLEASE shoot me);
  • My Aunt R’s blood nephew and his wife, who may not be so psyched to know that Uncle L had a side gig (a shonda — embarrassment — for the neighbors);
  • FOPOB who is not always emotionally or mentally “present” and SOPOB who is not always physically present;
  • Cousin Gentle, CB, SOB and HOSOB — thank G-d; and
  • my personal trainer who gave me good arms for my wedding dress.

So, bottom line:  lesbians, their baker g-ddaughter, an uncle, his lover, a Greek Chorus and a brisket.  La follie. Madness.

Ok, by the grace of G-d, my aunt’s nephew and his wife couldn’t come so we didn’t have to create even more lies about the state of affairs (pardon the pun) of the family.

Because Uncle L keeps white wine in his refrigerator for his paramour, I bought very good bottles of various white grapes. Only to find out that she likes red wine, but Uncle L won’t buy red because he thinks it doesn’t keep for long.

Sidebar:  Really, Uncle?  Dirt has thrived in your home since 1954.  New life forms and strains of antibiotics could be discovered in your slums-of-Calcutta-apartment and you are worried about whether red wine will go bad?  I know people draw lines in the sand but, but, whoa, that is really strange.

A second sidebar:  I asked S, Uncle Larry’s paramour (and our new relative), whether she had been to a Seder before, and she said she had been to four, to which SOS exclaimed, “wow, she has more Jewish connections than we thought!!”  Oy. Oy. Oy. Out of the mouths of babes, indeed, but, sometimes, a muzzle would work just fine.

Even another sidebar:  When will I stop calling her, “the paramour”?  Check back with me in 25 years.  A generation is a biblical time period and quite possibly after 25 years we will not remember that there was an “overlap” when Uncle L was with Aunt R.

I told S she was welcome in our home as long as she could handle loving references to Aunt R.  Wow, now that was a tense moment.

And I haven’t even talked about the preparation for the Seder or the Seder itself.  More anon.  Stay tuned (with pictures from SOB).

 

 

In a flash

It is day three of the second worst ordeal of my life.  The first was the death of my mother.

On Monday, Dad came to Rosh HaShanah luncheon — cheery as always, gracious as always, happy to be with family, as always.  Lest you think he was an angel on earth, he did hold forth as to matters of politics, HOSOB’s painting, or poorly behaved people in his congregation.  He doesn’t say anything in a catty way; as to the latter category, he merely sees their inadequacies as explanation of their behavior.

As the lunch wound down, we all said our goodbyes.  We all kissed and hugged Dad and wished him a happy and healthy new year.  He wished us the same with a force that can only come from a parent to child.  It was not unusual.  No portents of the coming events.

SOB and I often talk about that one day when Dad is late to a dinner or doesn’t pick up the phone.  That one day when Dad leaves us.  We always wanted it to be quick and painless – a coda for a life well-lived and a fortunate man who shared his good fortune with others.

We were not prepared for a call that Dad collapsed in the street (on his way to a doctor’s appointment) and had a huge contusion on his head and some bleeding into his brain.  SOB and I rushed to the hospital.  As the day wore on, the confusion seemed more pronounced and settled.  He knows us but he doesn’t really except that he is calm with us and he trusts us.  So, there is some comprehension through the haze.  And his essential personality is intact.  He is a lovely man and the nurses are happy to take care of someone who says please and thank you and generally grateful for the help.

Dad is in ICU and there is a kids’ playroom, so the nurse gave us a ball to throw with him that first day.

Final score:  Reflexes: 90%;  Cognition: 0%; His humanity: 100%.

For day two, he mostly slept, with notable interruptions of bursts of songs from the Big Band years.  The nurses love it but, then again, they haven’t heard Dad’s limited set for as many years as we have.  Late that night he got confused and fell.

Day three started with physical therapy.  He can walk, with assistance.  He had a vague sense of POB and me.   He quickly fell back to asleep.  He slept through an echo-cardiogram (which looked good even to a non-doctor).  He had another round of physical therapy.  He walked fast and steady.  And he did call SOB by name (no, he does not call his eldest daughter “SOB”).  I hope the anti-seizure medication will wear off because it is adding to his confusion.  He seems to remember us by name now.  A few minutes have passed.  Ok, not so much any more. Reflexes: 30%; Cognition: 0.5%; His humanity: steady at 100%.

But wait there is more.  Today, the Kumbaya Guitar Lady/The Singing Nun came by because she heard that Dad likes to sing.  Fortunately, he slept through it.  We, however, could not.

While Dad slept, we spoke with nursing services and got things in order for Dad.

Then I called his long term care carrier.  After one hour of terrible telephone music, only interrupted by being transferred from claims to intake to woman from hell, I learned that long term care kicks in after 100 days of 24/7 care diagnosis.

“So, if Dad is still alive, we’ll talk,” I said.

“Oh, no, someone will contact you in 5 business days to go over everything we just went over.”

“But we just went over everything, didn’t we? And what if I am unavailable when the  call comes?”

“No problem, m’am, you can schedule the call.”

OK, I thought, let’s schedule a call for a hypothetical need that 3.5 months from now and they won’t pay the full freight. “Great, mornings are best for me —“

“Oh, no, m’am,” she interrupted, “you can’t schedule with ME.  When you missed the first call, you can call back to reschedule.  But we promise that we will make the first call within 5 business days.”

Oh, great.  “Take your time, really,” I said.

It was 5 pm on a Friday and the private nurse service hasn’t called.  So I called the service.

“Your call is important to us so please continue to hold, or if you would like, leave a message and we will return the call in 30 minutes.”

Really?  Nah.  So, I wait on the line.   After hearing those words not less than 9 times, I have imagined that the recording said, “if you are a patient and have died while waiting for us to answer, please accept our condolences.”  Actually, they were lovely when I finally reached a human.

So now we need to have someone manage the care that Dad needs.  A house manager, as it were.  We can sit with him and talk to him and feed him, but fill out the forms?  Are you kidding me?

So, SOB, POB and I chat while Dad is sleeping.  We discuss that HOSOB should bring the painting that Dad critiques and tell Dad that he won’t change the size of the car in the street scene.  Just get it off his chest.  Or maybe HOSOB can tell Dad about the dangers of fracking, because while we agree with him, we don’t need the details.  At least not now, when we can only focus on Dad and, possibly, showering and brushing our teeth.

BOB arrived and we sat with Dad through dinner and for a while afterward.  Dad was awake but confused.  BOB got to do the manly things that we girls hesitate to do so as to give Dad some privacy and dignity.

Sidebar:  BOB asked Dad if he was sleeping well in the hospital, and Dad nodded yes.  This surprised BOB because unfortunately he has been hospitalized a few times and can never get a good night’s sleep.  SOB offered matter-of-factly, “sleeping well in a hospital requires a brain injury”.  We say the craziest things when we have to wear hair-nets and sterilized robes, while sitting on in our Dad’s room in the ICU Burn unit because there are no beds in regular ICU.  All these plastic surgeons running around and my father is in bad shape and I have to stop from thinking, “should I ask someone about my droopy eyelids?”

So, what have we learned today: brain bleeds are bad but if you have one you can sleep soundly in a hospital and everyone looks ugly in hair-nets.  Was this knowledge really necessary? Nooooooooooooooooo.

I always worried how Dad would die.  But I never worried that there would be anything left unsaid.  I am lucky that way.

Cycles

It is the year 5773 in the Hebrew calendar.  A new year.  Jews commemorate the birthday of the world (and start a 10-day introspection period culminating in Yom Kippur, the day of atonement).  We don’t sing happy birthday to the world and there is no cake.  I don’t think G-d eats cake.  And it would have to be accessible to all, so it would be gluten-free, sustainably made and of recycled left-overs of other birthday cakes.  But sitting in synagogue makes me pretty hungry, so I would have had a piece of the cake with a cup of some tea.  Well, now that I think of it, maybe I would pass on this cake.

For Jews, the world was born on the 6th day of creation and, soon after, G-d rested.  Let’s be honest, this is true for some Jews because, as Jews, we are genetically coded to be contrarians.  If you say tomayto, I’ll say tomahto.  And not only that, I will tell you that the Torah supports me.  It is not a Jewish holiday if there are not at least ten opposing views and interpretations.

But I digress.

During these days of awe and atonement, we celebrate the cycles of life and the blessings of the prior year.  And we pray for our lives.  Just in case that isn’t too big of a task, we also try to re-set our internal compasses for the coming year: do justly, love mercy and walk humbly.  It is hard to do in our crazy, fast-paced, instant-gratification world.

No year is ever the same as before or after.  I am a different person every year, shaped by my growth and my failings.  And the future always seems to hold different promises and lurking tests.  And life comes at you.  You just have to be ready for it.  I believe that every event offers a prism of paths a person can take.  The question is which is the best action to take, or is it inaction?  And the event isn’t always about you, but your action or inaction helps define and redefine your character.

And there are temptations and tests.  We all give in to temptation (did I need that extra glass of wine?) and we don’t always step up to the tests of our humanity and our sense of fundamental fairness (the person begging in the street).  Sometimes we take the easy way out, sometimes we indulge in pleasures to excess and sometimes we forget to notice that a friend needs help.

So, this year, as I have done for some many years before, I am looking to the New Year as a chance to discard the ruts of last year, to navigate the world as best I can with limited indulgences and maximum humanity.  And forgiveness for my frailties and those of others.

Yes, I have dumbed-down my expectations of me for these holy days.  Mostly, I just hope that I have the fortitude in the coming year to navigate the crises that lurk and protect POB and SOS and their happiness and security.  And for the happiness, health and life for those whom I love — my dear family of origin, my friends and my friends-who-are-family.  If they are ok, then I can fend for myself.

May it be a sweet, healthy and prosperous new year for all.

GDJOB

So GDJOB has converted to Judaism by osmosis.  In one set of email exchanges, she hit the all the major nerve centers and satisfied all of the prerequisites.

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I get an email, which is an antiquated form of communication for the younger generation, but they humor us old folks.

Somewhat cheek-in-tongue respect for elders: Check minus 1/10th point for the smirk.

She mentions that she will have a sling at the wedding.  Surgery scheduled for Monday.

Worry now, I will tell you later.  Check plus bonus points for the nuance.

We had an opportunity to get all upset, letting emotions roll and imagining the parade of horribles . . . .

Recognition that Jews need these episodes for spiritual balance.  Check.

It’s her shoulder.  But, it won’t stop her from winning a Nobel.

She understands that this does not derail our expectations.  Check.

I ask if we know her doctor and is he/she the best?  “I like him.  And the surgery is happening in a specialty pavilion where the care is more individual and the place is cleaner than a hospital.”

Independence, with a nod to the important things: he’s a specialist and the place is clean.  Two checks minus 1/2 point for independence.

GDJOB did not give us enough information to take over, but just enough to wait on her every missive.

Controlling, yet using her powers for good.  Check minus 1/10th point for being a little TOO  precocious.

Welcome to the Tribe, dear GDJOB.  Just you wait for the hazing rituals.

I love you.

~ Blogger