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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THE SPACE BETWEEN THE WORDS, Post #30

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You can almost always find me up in the deep early o’clocks of the morning. The darkness at that time is thick, almost viscous. It’s paired with a friendly, companionable quiet, a middle of the night symphony full of the muted hum of appliances, a counterpoint of rhythmic breathing from those that actually sleep. I crave this slightly rambunctious quiet. In fact, I truly adore it.

Middle of the night is never boring. There is always something interesting to do. When I was six or seven I would sit on the floor of my room creeping toward the slice of light that came from the bathroom across the hall. If I got there I could read. And if I didn’t feel like reading of course, there were always The Presidents.

Here’s the thing. At some point I’d been given a poster that was ornately festooned with tiny cameos of all the Chief Executives listed in the order of their terms of office. I would sit there in the slice of light, squinting at the page wondering about each of them, memorizing their faces, mulling over pertinent facts about their lives, solemnly considering the glowing accounts of their accomplishments.   Lulled, I would feel calm even if I rarely slept.

These middle of the night encounters with the Chiefs were inspiring. So much so that I eventually read my way through the entire biography section of the Eagle Elementary School library. These were some of the books I read:

Anthony Wayne, Daring Boy, Amelia Earhart, Young Aviator, Albert Einstein, Young Thinker, Thomas Edison, Young Inventor, Crazy Horse, Young War Chief all eagerly snatched up by Cindy Adelman, Young Reader

These were good lives, weren’t they? These were important people whose whole lives were inspiring, uplifting. They had to be so, I knew it was so because their stories were captured for all time, printed on rag stock and double-stitched into cardboard bindings. That makes it real, doesn’t it?

But as I grew I came to know people, not just know books. To talk to people. To listen to as many people as I could. Even to love some of them. Every story I came to know was too contradictory, too complex to be committed to 249 pages of adulation. The stories I read when I was small were not the whole stories for any of those people. They couldn’t be. Because a snippet captured for posterity in a book isn’t the whole story for any of us.

Peoples lives: their messy, complicated, heroic, fearful, exuberant and sometimes perfectly imperfect lives, are lived in the light. But that’s not real the story. Instead it’s the intangibles, the space between the words of every person’s story that can truly make for a beautiful, lasting, and worthwhile existence, no matter how many years we have on earth.  That’s what’s real.

Those of us who’ve lost someone dear know all of this. We remember the warm cloak of kindness. We remember the way we loved and were loved in return. We remember the understanding that filled the spaces between words.

These are the things not written. These are the things that are felt. Good lives cherished for all time.

z”l CSH