True North On the Road to Siberia

I have been generally quiet these past few months about Dad.  Out of respect for him and his privacy.

But, let’s be honest: a mouth as loud as mine can only be still for just so long.

Today’s events are par for the course for so many of us.  We try to preserve our parents’ dignity, by putting cash and credit cards in their pockets and remotely monitoring the financial doings, ready to step in at any sign of trouble.  We also hire lovely, underpaid people to handle our parents so that we don’t have to give up our lives to care for them.  One such lovely person left Dad alone for 10 minutes while she changed over the laundry.  He didn’t leave the apartment (thank G-d) but when she came back, he was on the phone giving his credit card number to someone.

REALLY, Dad?  Really, Heather?  Heather, can you just take him with you to the laundry room?  Dad, could you just speed dial your children instead of handing over personal information to anyone who calls?

Ok, Heather invokes the Blogger family data breach protocol, which means she calls the daughter least likely to curse, but also least likely to know what to do.  And that sends the cell towers buzzing.

Ring, ring, ring, on my cell.  “Hey, [SOB — sister of blogger]!” trying to sound cheery even though I know that a call during the day at the office cannot be good.

Ok.  So, Heather calls my sister who calls me.  I decide not to call my brother, BOB, because, while creating a national frenzy has some appeal (he lives pretty far away), I have the information to handle the data breach.  And why give another person indigestion?  [BOB, sorry you are reading this on my blog, but if I told you, in real time, you would have (rightfully) invoked Blogger family LOCKDOWN protocol, and that would have really sucked.  Besides, I am redecorating the bunker.]

First credit card:  only an endless loop of robotic voices.  But I got it cancelled in less than 20 minutes.

I know what you are thinking, Blogger is a rock star.  She is making this elder care seem like a walk in the park.  And I am so feeling the need to put on my sunglasses on a cloudy day in New York.

Second credit card:  Same company.  This time a real person.  Whoa.  This will be a cake walk.  I need darker shades because my light is so bright.

“I am sorry, but your information appears nowhere on this account.”

“I have power of attorney.  I have had it for years.”

“I am sorry but we need your father on the line.”

After much back and forth about the information on the customer service computer screen and the facts of life, I conference in Dad.

It was the crazy ordeal you would expect.  Heather got on the phone to make sure it was ok that Dad was talking on the phone about his credit card.  [SOB, she redeemed herself.]  Dad did what he needed to do and then hung up.

“Ok, we can cancel this card and issue a new card, but I will have to ask you a few questions.”

I am soooo ready for this. Sunglasses on. Check.

“What are the first three letters of your father’s mother’s maiden name?”

“ITZ”

Silence.  It had to be right because I used it to cancel the card with robot customer service.

“That is not correct.”

What is this?  F#$%ing JEOPARDY?

“Itzik or Itsik.  It is my grandmother for Goodness sakes!! Itzik  Itzik  ITZIK

Itzikkkkkkkkkkkk. Or it could be spelled with an “s” I suppose,” said I meekly.

Silence.

And it worked for the efficient robotic customer service that canceled my other [Bank name] card in a snap.

Yep, I threw it down.  Hard.  I can be (sort of) charming and then, presto, like a light switch, not so much.

What am I, an idiot? [DO NOT answer.]

“You will have to answer the following [trick] questions so we can verify that your father’s authorization was really to his daughter and you are in fact his daughter and he is in fact the card holder [and totally mess you up and enjoy doing so].”

“I am not charging anything.  I am trying to cancel something. But, ok, ask.”  I shouldn’t have added that verbal swagger at the end.

What am I, a schmuck? [DO NOT ANSWER.]

“I am sorry but you answered one or more questions WRONG.  I will need to conference in a security adviser.”

Brief hold with bad music.

“M’am, I have another person whose job it is to make your day miserable.  She will need to speak to your father again to authorize this next level of security.”

Are ya kidding me?

“It would be too confusing for him.  Aren’t there super-secret decoder ring-type questions you can ask me?”

“No, m’am.  We need to speak to your father.”

“No, you will not.”  And hung up.

What am I, the stupidest person ever? [DO NOT ANSWER. ZIP IT.  ZIP IT.]

It was too much.  I could not say why I needed to cancel the card.  I was trying to gloss over my dad’s infirmities.  I was trying to protect him.  And me.

So, what did I do?  I threw my phone against the wall and cursed in frustration.

DO NOT SAY IT. BUT, YES, YES, I AM.

When the future loss seems real right now

I have chronicled Dad’s decline, and his surprising cameos in reality.

Something has changed.  I couldn’t articulate it until I bumped into SOB (sister of blogger) in the gym locker room.  Because why not discuss our deeply personal business when naked women are blow-drying their hair, I said:

“Something is different with Dad”

“He is winding down.  It is sad.”

“It isn’t just his heart failure —

SIDEBAR: everyone over a certain age is in heart failure.

— have you noticed that he doesn’t annoy us so much anymore?”

We both had a think about that.

Dad was once a maestro at making us nuts.  When Mom was dying, we knew that we would move in and disrupt our lives to care for her.  Dad was different; he was too damn annoying.

Now, we are talking about taking turns staying over (along with his 24/7 care) if necessary.

What is different? 

Dad is now a lovely old, nutty man who has — maximum — two or three habits that make SOB and me nuts.  That’s it.

Wait. 

Whaaaaat?

WHERE IS THE MAN WHO, WITHOUT EXERTING A MUSCLE, COULD MAKE ME NUTS BY TALKING ABOUT THE PRICE OF BANANAS OR COMMENTING LOUDLY ON OVERWEIGHT PEOPLE ON THE BUS? OR COULD BE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE WHEN A CAB DRIVER WAS TALKING ON THE PHONE INSTEAD OF ASKING HIM TO END HIS CALL?

Yes, the change.  Dad being Dad as he is now doesn’t make me nuts.  (Dad’s dementia, however, makes me sad, mad and crazy.)

I wished that my father would stop torturing me all these years.  Now I understand the maxim: “careful what you wish for” because the quid pro quo in my case is too heartbreaking.

Thankfully, dementia is not linear.  The old Dad shines through sometimes.  Just this weekend, in advance of Thanksgiving, where we serve brisket instead of turkey, he asked:

“Did you remember to get the lean cut of brisket and did you find someone who knows how to carve it?”

Oh, Dad, the miracle of your annoying ways made my eyes well up when I responded:

“Daddy, I am good at a lot of things, but not carving brisket.  You may have to deal with the usual thick slices, ok?”

Pause.  Silence.  Resignation.  “Of course, darling.”

Ah, the gifts that can light up an evening sky.

Trumpet in the Time of Migraine

I heard he played a good song . . . .

Ok, that is from Killing Me Softly.  A classic song that alludes to a song — not actually sung — that speaks of a woman’s (or every woman’s) hopes, desires and yearnings.

My son is learning to play the trumpet.  I was having a migraine.  We live in a NYC apartment.  “Killing me softly” were not the words that came to mind.

Torturing me screeeeeeechingly, but please kill me quickly.

In truth, my son is getting better (even said the curmudgeonly upstairs neighbor).

But if this be the music of love? (asked someone in a Shakespearan play).

Then stick a sock in it.

Love my child?  Of course.  Every tone that come out of his mouth?  Nah.  I have evolved from the true Yiddisha mama.

 

Dear Dad,

These days, I keep thinking of the old times.  How you were so playful when we were toddlers, too strict when we were teenagers, my rock during the turmoil of my twenties, and, along with Mom, your kids’ greatest cheerleader.

Sometimes I think that I see the glimmer of the old you.  Beneath the bizarre outfits and the confused talk.

Our weekend of celebrating your big birthday was wonderful.  (After 90, they are ALL big.)  Sometimes you didn’t really understand what was going on, but you were happy that your family was around you.

10630568_10202625072736212_3324593164443517949_o(And you knew to wear the appropriate outfit your aide set out for you.)

And I know you didn’t need the luncheon to be in such a fancy place.  I know if we said, “Dad, we are coming over and we are eating cardboard for dinner [fiber-rich],” you would say, “how wonderful! I can’t wait to see you.”

But you might worry about whether you would get an evening cocktail.

And so I know you have not lost your mind completely.

In the light of day, you know you get confused at night and, appreciating the humor, refer to the nighttime aides as your guards.

Your kids prefer the term, body guards.  So, let’s use that term, shall we?

Today, you were mostly discombobulated and, yet, and yet, you were ready to go to the aid of an old friend whom we didn’t see in the diner today, and whom the waiters hadn’t seen since last week.  You called him to pay a visit and bring food.  In a clutch moment, the old you comes shining through.  (P.S.:  Sam is ok.)

This is a hard road, Dad, for all of us, and, most of all, for you.

And yet.

And yet, even in the waning days of your life and the continuing diminishing of your faculties, the essential you shines through.

You won’t ever read this.  But I had to write it.

I love you, Dad.

~Blogger

P.S.:  See you tomorrow, Dad.  Same time.  Lunch.  But let’s change it up a little; let’s order something different.  Because I cannot watch you try to put jam in your coffee or on the tomato slices that comes with your usual order of scrambled eggs.

 

 

 

Hello! Yes, it has been a while. Part 1

I hope everyone had a good summer.

Time for Fall.  Time for the Jewish High Holy Days.  Time to sit in sack cloth and ashes and mourn the long sunny days and the sultry nights of summer.  And that my summer was not anything like the summers I remember when I was younger.

I have learned many things this summer, some profound and some not so.  All important.

Dad continues a slow downward trajectory but never loses the essential elements (and annoyances) of the man he is.  Dad called me one morning.

SIDEBAR:  how DOES he call on my cell phone and office phone simultaneously???

He was quite fussed about the bank calling him about credit and debit cards, etc.  He couldn’t understand what the caller was saying.

Dad, I will call Chase and find out.  Did you give the caller any information?

No.  Nothing, but the caller seemed to know all my card numbers.

That’s a good sign, Dad.  There is no odd activity on your accounts [I have them linked to mine and pulled them up while we were talking].  I will call and find out and call you back.”

Thank you, darling.  I feel so much better.  You will call me right back?

I have a colleague in my office and a deadline, but this is my dad.  “As soon as I get some answers.  Don’t worry I am ON it.

I call.  Chase is being cautious with recent security breaches, and is sending my father all new cards.  I asked about any odd activity because what I see on the computer looks to be in real time but there may have been odd charges rejected.

I am sorry, M’am.  I will need your father on the line to answer these questions.

I have power of attorney.  His accounts are linked to mine.  Why do we have to involve my Dad?

This has to do with his profile.

I have no idea what this means.  The most important aspect was that for all of the planning, for all of the day-to-day handling of my father’s affairs, there are some places I cannot go without his express permission on tape.

I LEARNED THAT WE NEED TO MAKE BANKS ISSUE “FORMS OF POWER OVER EVERYTHING, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, WHATEVER” so that we can sign these and be finished with the chaos.  Because there is the law and there is banking law.

I call Dad back on a three-way conference.

Dad, I have you on the phone with Chase, so that I can talk to customer service about our inquiry.

Don’t you already have that authority?

SIDEBAR:  I love that Dad can still identify stupidity, even in dementia.  Which really makes a person wonder about banking in general.  (Sorry, Mighty.)

The woman talked, doing her level best to ascertain that my father was who he was, etc., but he was too stressed and needed a familiar voice to prompt him.

Dad, Stacy needs your name. Dad, would you tell her your name?

Dad“.

SIDEBAR:  I love that Dad thinks that being dad is who he is.

Daddy, that is great.  Can you give your full name now??

So, he pretty much got the information right.

Dad, that last question was do you give me, [Blogger], permission to talk to Stacy about your affairs.

Of course; I thought we did that already.”

Ok, Dad, you can hang up now and I will call you back shortly.”

Ok, darling.  I love you.

I love you, Daddy.  Thanks.  I will call you back soon.

All was ok.  I resolved the matter and recapped with Dad.

I am a lucky man, to have the kids I have.

We are lucky.  These things are complicated and we can do this for you.  And we want to do this for you.

With nothing to worry about, I might live past 120!!

Don’t worry, Dad, we have that covered, too, but your children will be on social security, so we will have to pool resources. . . .

Another day, another problem resolved.

WHAT I LEARNED (AGAIN):

  • Little kids, little problems.
  • Big kids, big problems.
  • Aging parent, a combination of both and . . .

And I can only hope that, from day-to-day, there are mostly little problems until the day that it is THE BIG PROBLEM.

 

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. 

Life Is Beautiful

Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the immense joy in seeing my nephews happy and proud.  Never did I think I would have a child, much less adore him, warts and all.

Never did I imagine that I had warts.  (Ok, we ALL grow up.)

Never did I imagine that my brother-in-law would be my brother, too. Or that my sister-in-law, 7 years my junior, would evoke such respect, love and awe for her “male management” in the Shap Shack.  [I wish we were closer in geography, time and heart.]

Or that my brother and I, sometimes so diametrically opposed yet so alike in manner, in humor and in comic timing, would sit companionably at a table where he and my son were feasting on pork in a Jewish home.

Or that my brother’s son would come north and share sleep away camp with my son, his cousin.

These are the gifts of family.  Gifts of age. And, with age, the gift of perspective.

But most important, these are, yes, the gifts that make life beautiful and bountiful and safe.

The gifts that wait for us to grow, change, reject what was, and then, coming full circle, accept what was and, as a consequence, what is.

And the gifts for which, even in the moments of sorting out the affairs of the living and the dead (and those hovering in between), I am grateful.  Because it means that SOB, BOB and I will have each other. And, that, in bad times, in desperate times, in unfair times, we can rely on each other. 

Because no matter how far off any of us travels, or how bad things get, there is, at long last, the ties that bind. The door that is wide open.  Even more important, the loving arms that beckon us into a secure embrace.

And that makes life, indeed, beautiful and full.

[P.S.: I rented a Texas-size car for visiting day at camp.  Just in case SOB and HOSOB want to join the road trip.]

 

 

Life as told by a snail’s shell

fossil spiral snail stone real ancient petrified shell -

I have listened to a lot of people these last months, because I needed guidance through the morass of life.

Many friends recently have expressed regret about not having visited so-and-so and spent more time with great aunt [fill in the blank].

I have lived almost two years in the eye of family death and destruction, some of which I have not shared on the blog out of respect for others.

In the last few months I haven’t had so much to blog — I have been so overcome by illness, loss and regret.

I have come to a conclusion.

And the snail shell is the guide. 

See how it moves out from a tight center and gets larger?

The ones we hold very close are at the center.  If everything is all right with them, then we move on out along the spiral to others or adventures  — we become expansive and welcoming.  We reach out and explore. We are intrepid.

But, like a snail, if we or those who are close are threatened, we recede to the recesses of our shell.

We, humans, prioritize expenses, resources and goals.  And that affects the people in our lives — those immediate and far flung. There is no shame in that.  But there are regrets.

Sometimes we prioritize out of selfishness, fear, worry, competing needs, inability to cope. Name the issue or “ism”.  At some point, I think we mature toward a more stable and responsible and loving set of criteria for the core and then the outer spokes of the snail’s — or, rather, our — shell.

So, AROB’s nephew needs to be ok with not visiting with ULOB in the few months before he died following AROB’s death. CLSFOB needs to be ok with not visiting her childhood neighbor in the years before he died. Both had loving families, watching over them.

And I have to be ok with so many, many, things I didn’t do in my life when it mattered most.

There is a life lesson that sticks with me from 2007.  My beloved cousin, Ricky (z”l), knew he had little time left.  But he believed that he had enough time to reach out to, and settle issues with, those whom I would view as on the outer spokes of his life.  Time is not something we can control.  He ran out of it — time — and had to skip over people who were meaningful to him and whom felt his impending loss acutely, when saying his final goodbyes.

My cousin was unique in so many loving (ok, and controlling) ways, that he was true to the person he was, in reaching out to those “outer spoke people”.  Over the course of time, “his way” gave comfort to those, like me, who didn’t enough time to say, “I love you and, if we are lucky, we will all be on the same rung of hell together.”

SIDEBAR:  Because who, really WHO, makes it to Heaven? And, for what, a tuna on rye because G-d and you are the only ones who made it?  SOB says she doesn’t want to go to Heaven because she will miss me.  So, HOSOB and she have made that eternal sacrifice to go to Hell.  SOB will follow me, and well, HOSOB will follow her.  HOSOB is such a wonderful human that he may, in due course, get promoted to Heaven and have to live off of tuna sandwiches.   Poor, poor, man.  And then SOB will be really pissed at me for keeping her in Hell.  I will let her go, but she lied to get into Hell, which is a problem for Heaven, so you see the eternal issues that could go on if there is an afterlife.  I am really hoping that Mom (z”l) has serious yechas (Yiddish for influence) in the hereafter.  Otherwise . .  . . well, I will be in the worst shit because I actually will be in Hell and there ain’t no getting lower.

But that is where my cousin and I are different.  I need to start from the core and travel outward because life can be cut short — as his was.  He remains a force in my life — a measuring stick for my accomplishments and failings — but I have come to some different conclusions.

Because I am getting older, too.

I am starting to understand that, if you have young children and an aging elder generation and a stagnant economy, life is about running from responsibility to tragedy to work and back again.  If, you are lucky, you have the time to spend with people outside of your core group and grow from the experience.

So, if you don’t have time — or simply don’t have the physical or psychic energy — to visit with those on the outer rung of the shell, forgive yourself.  If it were your responsibility, these people would be in the inner part of your shell.  The hard and important truth is that these kind people who helped along the way in life were not in your inner shell when they were sick and dying.  Maybe ten years earlier.  But not now.

Mourn these people, because you loved them and they touched your lives in meaningful ways — even if only for a short time, a long time ago.  But not because you should have been more attentive.  They may never have expected that from you.  Or have been comfortable with your seeing them in diminished capacity.

Forgive yourself.  And focus on the core people and move outward from there.

SIDEBAR:  And, if your core group is 50 or more (counting Wingate), you will get in shape just by running.  But you will have a smile on your face.

Life and Loss

I often think I am special (ok ok ok, “NO SHIT,” says the Greek chorus).

But this weekend was a reality check for the things that humans share — love and loss (and, a little gossip, but for another blog).

On Friday night, in synagogue, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.  My mom is dead and her name would be read among the so many dead.  Nothing special.  But Mom is special. 

And then SOB pointed out that Anne, who lost her mother one year ago, was there.  That wound is so fresh.  And her mom was special (indeed, she was an incredible person).

I discommoded some random individual as I made my way to Anne’s pew.  I reintroduced myself and we embraced.  I beckoned SOB, who didn’t want to start a commotion (tish, tosh) and pulled up the velvet rope to let her in through the main aisle of the sanctuary.  The usher glared at me.  I motioned “as if I care!”

SIDEBAR:  I later apologized to the usher and explained that we had all lost our mothers and this was their Yahrzeits.  She asked the names of our mothers and when I told her, she said, “I would break any rule for them.”  I decided I loved this usher like family.

It was perfect timing.  It was time to sing Sholom Aleichem, which involves joining hands and swaying in the Kumbaya sort of way.  I am glad that Anne and SOB were together in that moment.

SOB’s tears were more than I could handle during the service.  I think SOB was crying for many things, especially that Mom was not there to comfort her in the scariest moments of her life. I did not cry during the service; I cried before.  My eyes were on Dad and SOB.  Dad was happy for the company and the service.

SOB has a gentle spirit.  She wishes Mom were here; I am unforgiving.  I am mad at Mom for not being here, when her children are facing problems that no one can kiss away.

But, as the evening went on, I was humbled so many times.

First, the Yahrzeit list was filled with friends of Mom and Dad.  Sam Brodsky was also on the list.

Second, Mickie and Carolyn were there because Mickie lost his sister.

SIDEBAR: Mom, I refer to Mickie and Carolyn by their first names ONLY for anonymity, so Mom, please don’t send a lightning bolt down because I did not call them Mr. and Mrs. B—–.  I swear I was polite when talking to them. Just like you taught us.

Third, when we got home, Mimi called because it was Mom’s Yahrzeit and her husband Danny’s first Yahrzeit.  I had to prep Dad for the phone call so he would say the right things.

People remembered Mom; SOB and I were happy to hear them talk about her. But there are so many others to remember, so many people whom we loved and so many we never knew. 

And my pain and loss continue to feel acute and extraordinary, but — forgive the oxymoron — it is not different from the pain and loss that others feel.

Yes, I have learned that.  Finally, after all of these years.

Life with Father

On Friday night, at 11:35pm, the phone rang for the third time in 30 minutes. Everyone else in the house was asleep (or trying to sleep anyway).

The first two times were wrong numbers.  On the second call, I said to the guy, “I am sorry to tell you, but you wrote it down wrong or the woman just gave you the wrong number.”  I felt bad for him and angry at Denise — the woman he was calling.

The third time, I was steamed at the spurned would-be lover.  And I answered the phone with a serious attitude.

Hello!!”  I answered gruffly and angrily.

[Blogger], it’s Dad.”

Uh oh.  This was late for Dad and there was a worried sound in his voice.

I don’t know where Mom is.  She isn’t home yet and I have been waiting for her.  And I don’t know how to reach her.

My heart leapt into my throat.  I knew I could not tell him the truth in stark terms — that Mom is dead almost 11 years, so I opted for:  “Um, Dad, Mom isn’t around anymore.

SIDEBAR:  If I were a member of my grandparents’ generation, I would clear my throat (“achem”) and say in a thick East European accent:  “Vhat-vhat? [Mom] is dead.  Years ago.  Go to sleep alrrrready.  Staying up won’t bring her back.”  So much for the warm and fuzzies.

I don’t understand!” Dad continued.  “No one told me!  What kype [“type” and “kind” mashed together — a Dad signature mashable] of an operation are we running around here?

Ok, so no gentle reminder of Mom’s death was going to snap him back into today’s reality.  I swallowed hard and close my eyes.  The last thing Dad needed at 11:40pm was to relive Mom’s death.

Dad, I meant that Mom isn’t around at home tonight.  Mom and [SOB] are having a mother-daughter sleep-over.  They spent the day together and now Mom is staying over.  But don’t call because [SOB] has to get up early for work and they are already asleep, ok?

Why didn’t anyone tell me?  I have been worried for hours!

Dad, I am sure that you were told.  It is that sometimes, people forget.  And maybe you did, too, at least this time.

I heard the sound of Dad’s displeasure.  A little muttering that he does when he is unhappy or feels he has to worry needlessly.

This is good news to me.

Phew.  That meant he was willing to accept this explanation.  Because this explanation preserved Mom’s existence.

Everyone will call you in the morning, Dad.  I promise everything is ok.  Will you go to sleep now?

I wish someone would let me know what is going on around here.

Daddy, I know.  Please go to sleep and you will see everyone tomorrow.  Good night.  I love you.

I love you, too, darling.  But we have to change things around here so I am included in the plans.

You are so right, Dad.  Good night.

Good night, darling.

Next call is to SOB who was asleep.  I dialed, she answered, and I cut to the important stuff:  “Dad called me looking for Mom.  I told him that she was sleeping over at your house but you had all gone to bed already.  Just in case he calls.  Go back to sleep.

SIDEBAR:  I am closer to my grandparents’ generation than I thought.

This episode is not uncommon for older people at night or in the early morning, after they wake up.  On Saturday morning, he was confused but in a different way.  By Saturday lunch, he was generally ok.  Lunch today (Sunday), SOB reported that, with gentle prodding, he was able to remember that Mom died.  But he repeated something he always says: Mom surrounds him in the apartment and he is happy there [a true love story].  And he is comforted and reassured by talking to his kids.

So, he needs to remain shrouded in his happy memories, in that apartment, until he is reunited with Mom.  And his children must keep him grounded in the present.  Or lie to him, if necessary, until we can be face-to-face until we can gently guide him back.

Next week:  Mom goes on a week-long synagogue retreat for the Sisterhood organization.  And she is rooming with Judy Zimmerman, our former rabbi’s wife.  [Just like she used to.]  Are you listening, SOB and BOB?