This was a particularly hard weekend. In the Jewish calendar, Friday was the 9th anniversary (a Yahrzeit) of my mother’s death. We went to synagogue together: Dad, SOB (sister of blogger), HOSOB (husband of SOB) and I. We endured the endless rituals that preceded the recitation of the names of those with Yahrzeits and saying the mourner’s prayer. Each year, SOB and I ask each other “why is Mom on the list with all the dead people?” Both of us pull out worn pictures of Mom and run our fingers over them. I also have an emergency Mom slideshow on my iPhone in case we still do not feel her presence. “Blogger family does death” is not for the faint of heart. We pick every scab, open every wound, dredge up every Hallmark moment.
Dad loves the Oneg (the after-service nosh and schmooze) especially when there are Bar and Bat Mitzvahs the next day because there are really good hors d’oeuvres. The rest of us wanted to get out of synagogue because HOSOB and SOB were particularly afraid that my constant transgressions might cause a biblical conflagration that would consume the congregation and they didn’t want blood on their hands. Wow, they think I have power. I surveyed the attendees at the service and I assure you that there are others whose trespasses run afoul of Big Ten (the Ten Commandments) constantly and consistently. So, my snarkiness and anger at G-d (we are not close, G-d and I) pale in comparison. Mom might send a flicker to remind me to mind my manners, but there were way bigger fish should G-d want to fry.
Dad poured himself a wine in a water glass (good thing he is still steady at 91) and dug into the not-so-very-kosher looking edibles (it is a Reform synagogue, but STILL). The Onegs also attract homeless people who don’t abide by ritual cleansing before entering a house of worship. They should eat and be full, without curling my nose hair. But I digress.
SOB and I were heartened when people came over to say Shabbat Shalom and tell us that they still remember Mom and miss her. Each said that how shocking it was to hear Mom’s name on the Yahrzeit list. Once we counted 10 people who remembered Mom, we were ready to have dinner. We made sure she lived on in others, even nine years later. Mom was indeed remarkable and her memory is a blessing.
We peeled Dad away from the cheese tray and went off for some indigestion-inducing Indian food. We had a lively conversation because, around Mom’s Yahrzeit, Dad is really clear-headed and “present” in the way he was when Mom was alive. As sad as it is to hear her name on the list with the dead people, the people who remember her and our presence at synagogue invigorate Dad. He said he feels as if Mom is right next to him.
The conversation went along crazy tangents about Dad and others his age finding new companions and his comments about the capabilities of men his age made us need to stop the conversation and move to another direction. His comment about what an 85 year-old man can really do with a 45 year-old made us laugh, cry and turn purple. He is still married to Mom, he says. Somehow, it makes us want him even more to find a companion to fill his days in his final years.
It was a cramped place and Dad is hard of hearing so we had to talk very loud. Dad says there is nothing wrong with his hearing. I tell him he can’t hear when the ear doctor recommends a hearing aid. At various points in the conversation, I needed to repeat things right into his ear so he could catch the conversation. I always started by saying, “I love you Dad and you need a hearing aid. . . .” He laughed and repeated that his hearing was excellent. But then why was I screaming into his ear? “Everyone mumbles.” Look, everyone needs a good dose of rationalization every single day.
POB (partner of blogger) left a Yahrzeit candle out for me to light in Mom’s memory. The acts of striking the match and lighting the wick really personalize the moment in the way a recitation of a prayer in a congregation cannot. In the darkness of my kitchen when my family was asleep, I lit a candle to remember my mother and bring light into the darkness she left behind. Imagine Carly Simon’s song about losing her mother. Weep.
HOSOB had lunch with Dad on Saturday and took him to a museum. Dad called each of us Saturday night, a little bored and somewhat despondent. Imagine Jim Croce’s “Photographs and Memories.” It is a hard time for all of us. We are glad he reached out but we cannot fill the void. We can just be on the other end of the phone line. I wonder how much that helps him but I hope it eases the loneliness.
Dad is man with a past much fuller than his future. I love him because he kind, generous and able to be vulnerable in front of his children, and acknowledge our love and trust our decisions. Enter a medley of “Sunrise, Sunset” with a smattering of “Circle Game” and “Life is Eternal”.
But then there is Sunday night dinner. The weekly ritual during which my father pushes my emotional buttons the way Cole Porter could make a piano sing.
Since I was kid, Dad and I fell into this rhythm that a 8pm on a Sunday night, we would get into an argument about something. Many times, neither of us had any basis for our opinion. Other times, one was indeed an expert (me, for example, when it comes to life as a lawyer in law firm) and the other (Dad) was not. Most times, it was about politics; sometimes it got personal. Mom and SOB used to set their watches by the argument because it was more regular and constant than any clock in the house — 8pm. Mom and SOB also tempered the “conversation” and brought us back to civility.
Over the years, we have dinner earlier because of SOB (son of blogger, our source of sanity), so the argument starts promptly at 7:15 and lasts to 7:45pm. Usually, Cousin Gentle, CB (cousin Birder), HOSOB and SOB come over, too. So there are plenty of people to help Dad and me back from the brink. Tonight, everyone was busy. Dad came over at 4pm because he was lonely.
Tonight’s argument was triggered by my young cousin’s desire to go to law school and my visceral “NOOOOOO!!!!” response. I thought he should do something with a better business model and that could not be outsourced, like plumbing. My point was that law school is not the default choice of this generation if the student was paying for his or her own education. For me, it was easy. Mom and Dad were paying. But life in a law firm is hardly the easy life or the cash cow it was a generation ago. Dad wouldn’t listen to me and continued to discuss how important and rewarding was the practice of law. He did admit that it was snobbery that precluded him from considering non-professional avenues. I applaud his self awareness.
Of course, I went to law school because I was not fit for medical school and I didn’t want to be a pariah in my family. I guess I wanted some acknowledgement, at long last, that my parents’ dreams were not mine and didn’t turn out the way everyone imagined. I wanted Dad only to say, “we did the best we knew how.” That would have been enough.
These arguments are about mental exercise and the eternal struggle between parents and children for acknowledgement, acceptance, honor and respect. We have settled the struggle, more or less, but there are occasional border skirmishes. But we always leave the table hugging and kissing and saying “I love you”. And then, if SOB is not present, I call her immediately after I come back from putting Dad into a cab. I must download the events — for guilt, for the collective memory, for the continuity of family. What guilt you ask? The guilt of putting the welfare of sick people in the hospital over the mental health of her sister. SOB should be indebted to me for decades to come. [There must be some song from old Yiddish theatre that captures all of this. If I find it I will update my blog.]
Of course, notwithstanding the sometimes harsh words, Dad is coming with us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art tomorrow, because . . . he needs us and we need him.