Post #63: Yahrzeit

img_9912She was oh so very very difficult. Did she like me, care for me, consider me?  I was never quite sure. She held me at distance, kept me off balance.  Her temper  was a landmine waiting to be be tripped. I had learned to be careful.  I knew to be careful. Time after time I ground my teeth together not to bite the bait. It was complicated and I knew it. After all, we both loved the same man.  Her son. My husband.

We lost her a year ago. 

In spite of all antagonisms and all misunderstandings, or perhaps because of them, I asked to write her eulogy.  This is what I said on a frozen January day, 2016.

She was a woman who dressed to go grocery shopping, who dressed to go to the movies, who dressed to go for a walk in the park.

A bag to match each pair of shoes.  Everything just so.

Broadway matinees on Wednesday at 2.  A ruffled scoop of black raspberry at the Howard Johnson’s counter. The uptown subway home.

Always two slices of cake for Dad for his morning coffee break, veal cutlets or potted  chicken for dinner, hamburgers  fresh cooked for her hungry son at midnight.

Not a hair out of place nor an drawer. overstuffed. And yet,

To feed hungry and homeless cats, She could arc a meatball from her balcony to the parking lot with a curve that would have made Sandy Koufax proud.

Photographs of her grandsons were framed in gilt.

Joel listened when she insisted.  Had he not, we never would have met.

“So what are you waiting for, “ she demanded.  “ask her to marry you. “

To be honest. To be fair therefore, I owe her my life, our happiness. Our boys.

To my mother-in-law, a woman to be reckoned with, my eternal thanks, deep appreciation and love.

Eulogy for Lillian Schwartz Frank, z”l.

I wasn’t expecting what happened next.

Last weekend. A new  house, an old suitcase.  Flipping the latches I found a box of photos.

Was it really her? I squinted just to be sure. Oh my goodness.  It was.

The photograph had been taken in the 1950s.  She is sitting on a park bench.  It’s a lovely shot. But it’s her face that stunned me, her smile that cut me to the quick.  There is a sweetness, an openness, a generosity  and simple beauty in that face that I never saw, that I’d yearned to see when I knew her.

Had I truly missed the signals of who she was completely?   Had I arrogantly and woefully misjudged her?  Or had she changed so by the time I knew her that the woman in photo was stuck in time to be replaced by someone else?  If so, what had happened, what had changed her? 

I found that photo on her yahrzeit , the first anniversary of her passing.  Maybe just coincidence.  Maybe not.  Was she reaching out to us? If so, to say just what?

I don’t know. But I can reach back.  On that day I uttered the words of Kaddish for Lillian Frank, my mother-in-law.  The words of Kaddish, the prayer for the departed, is not what most people expect.  The translation of the prayer, from the Aramaic,  is herewith:

Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world

which He has created according to His will.

May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days,

and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;

and say, Amen.

May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored,

adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He,

beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that

are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us

and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

He who creates peace in His celestial heights,

may He create peace for us and for all Israel;

and say, Amen.

translation from myjewishlearning.com

There are praises to God throughout the Kaddish, and a  fervent prayer for peace.  It is that peace that I wish for my mother-in-law, for myself a renewed call for openness and for understanding.

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NOW HOW CAN THIS BE?

IMG_4258Now how can this be? I know him so well. I’ve known him for so long. I love him so much.

I wasn’t quite sure that I recognized him, the sweet and animated face of this beloved person. It hadn’t been that long. A few months? But even so.

Looking at him I felt the angles shifting, a real-life Picasso, cubist period. He seemed to be changing before my eyes. Squint as I might I couldn’t get a clear view. I was shy and awkward. He grinned anyway. My boy.

It didn’t quite make sense.   I should have been able to see him clearly, to recognize him! I kept his photos close, looked at them often. But then really I should have known.

Photos don’t tell the whole story but rather the stories we want them to tell. I look at my own photo, my profile shot, the image of myself that I want all of you to know me by. It was taken on a good day where I look relatively thin and my hair is reasonably neat.   My cat, Big Nick, is not expressing utter devotion but actually demanding lunch. My photo is not just my presentation of myself, but my shield. You’ll know me by what I want you to know. As Wilfred Sheed once said of author Clare Boothe Luce, “She crafted herself a myth and lived up to her invented creation. “ Don’t we all?

We primp, we post and we manipulate shots for best angles covering ourselves in photos like a Roman phalanx heading into battle, their overlapping shields an impenetrable barrier to the coming onslaught.

And why not? Why not, indeed.

***

After our wedding I actually refused to look at the wedding photographs for months. I was afraid if I looked at the photos my own memories might get lost. They were not. And so I remember:

*That there were lilacs strewn everywhere and the scent, as always, was intoxicating.

*The sheer terror that overcame me before I walked down the aisle.

*My husband’s adorable and scrunched face when he had to take a bite of vanilla wedding cake when he yearned for chocolate.

*The swoon that nearly overcame me as I circled my husband under the huppah. Or perhaps I swooned from something else entirely?

*The solitary wedding guest, hidden away in small room, who spotted me and thinking me lost at my own wedding, invited me to share her slice of cake.

Not one of these images is captured on film but they are still firmly etched in my memory.  I am so grateful.

***

And yet, I think, all of us deserve the right, if we so choose, to protect ourselves with the images we want to present to the world. But sometimes, maybe even often, that protection can be a barrier to what many of us want even more. To truly know and connect with those we love most. To remember things in a way that even with a photographic record we might otherwise not.

***

And so to my boy, shifting and changing before my eyes. The person behind the photos. He was still there. I knew it for sure the moment he hugged me hello.

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