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I'm posting this now, as I watch the final set of this year's Chanukah candles burn - at a reasonable pace this time, in the disposable chanukiah, so that my shamash holder doesn't catch fire.

I didn't bother with the oil tonight because it is late, and I didn't want to a) take all the time to set it up and b) wait an hour or more for it to burn out. (I am not experienced enough to put in just the right amount of oil for half an hour of burn time.)

The reason it is so late is because I got back from a wedding around midnight. Mazel tov to D and J.

Before the wedding, I went to a funeral.

It was a weird day.

My great uncle Henry (or Uncle Henny, as we used to call him), passed away after a few weeks in the hospital on Thursday. The funeral was this afternoon, and it seemed like the entire extended family was able to attend. There were so many stories and memories shared. He lived a full, long life, with a wife who loved him and two kids and five grandkids. All of them were able to attend, which is impressive since a few of the grandkids had been in places as far away as Africa and Prague only weeks ago. Memories were shared about how he was such a giving person, and such a content person. All he needed to make him happy was a piece of cake and a cup of coffee. And he was the one who painted and wallpapered our house, and who taught my mother how to do the wallpaper herself too. He was the uncle with the suspenders, the big, hard belly, and the bad teeth. When he was younger, he was the most handsome of his siblings.

Anyway, it was a beautiful funeral, and I was glad that I was able to be there.

Then, my sister drove me from the cemetery to my apartment, where I spent about 10 minutes changing my sweater and my shoes, touching up my hair, and dumping my bags from the weekend - I had gone to the funeral nearly ready for the wedding - and I was out the door and headed to the subway.

We left the funeral around 3. By 4:30, I was at a wedding.

It was more of a shift than I expected.

It didn't help that going to the funeral made me feel older. Of my grandfather and his five siblings, only one is alive now, and she is in a home, suffering from demetia. Otherwise, there is only my great uncle's wife, whom we hardly see because it is difficult for her to travel. Chances are, at this year's Passover sedder, my parents will be a part of the oldest generation there. So that felt weird, to be so aware of that transition. To think that there are only two left of my grandfather's generation, and then it is my parents' generation that becomes the oldest. It's scary to lose that layer of insulation.

And then, of course, I went to a wedding. So that made me feel single. Feeling the two back-to-back was not the juxtaposition I neeed at the moment...

That having been said, it was a beautiful wedding. There was real klezmer music, and at the end, the musicians played in the center of the circle, like something out of a painting.

And now my candles are burning low, and once they go out, I can go get ready for bed. Oh, and they look pretty too. :)
taylweaver: (Default)
Yesterday, three Israeli soldiers died in Lebanon.

One of them was American. His name was Michael Levin, and he was 21 years old.

He grew up in Pennsylvania and worked (and may have attended camp at) Camp Ramah in the Poconos.

He was also a Boger Nativ (an alumnus of the Nativ program, USY's year program in Israel). He went on Nativ the year before my youngest sister.

She's in college now. Had he not made Aliyah (moved to Israel), he would probably be in college now too. Instead, he was serving his compulsory time in the Israeli army.

Tomorrow or the day after, my father will be going to his funeral.

It's scary sometimes how things hit so close to home.

I don't think I knew him, so it doesn't affect me personally, but still... it's kind of strange.

It's Jewish Geography turned on its ear - everyone knows someone or knows someone who knows someone. My father's former boss lost his great nephew (as I mentioned before); one of my father's office staff lost her best friend's brother. One of my sister's group staff members was dealing with a very distraught boyfriend - he lost his chevruta partner (study partner).

On top of that, one of the members of the office staff is serving in the reserves, and the Israelis who are on the summer program staff keep getting called up - one from my sister's group had to go serve for a day or two before they let him return to his group. And then there are the families who hope and pray that their children will not get called upon next.

And tomorrow or the next day, my father will be attending a funeral of a fallen soldier.

It's strange - I feel like on the one hand, we lose few soldiers - three here, eight there - it could have been a hundred - and yet, every one of them belonged to a family and a network of friends. And so many of those few have networks that connect back to people I know.

Which makes every individual soldier who has died significant, so that it becomes harder to fall back on numbers and harder to say, "only" three.

Like I said, I did not know Michael Levin. I only know of him. I know people who knew him. But still, it has made me think.

Baruch Dayan Emet

An update

May. 3rd, 2005 08:39 pm
taylweaver: (Default)
So my bedroom is right above the dining room, and the weak wireless signal from next door is only in the dining room - but if I try really hard, and move my computer just so, I can pick it up in my bedroom as well - which is what I am going to try to do right now in order to post this.

What to say?

So my grandfather's funeral was today. My father, my brother and my cousin's husband delivered eulogies. Each touched on a different part of my grandfather's life. My brother spoke on behalf all four of us siblings. We got together last night and brainstormed memories.

I realized today and yesterday that there are two kinds of memories. There are the kind that are snapshots, little moments, all separate in your mind, and sometimes choppy - like all of the moments I remember from this past Shabbat - when I went downstairs and my mother held my face in her hands. When my sister and I cried on each other's shoulders. The look on my dad's face after he tried a piece of that awful Pesach birthday cake. All of those are moments. But then there's another sort of memory, one I can't find a good label for - the kind that is a more general sense of something. A picture that spans all those moments, a composite - maybe that's the word. A composite of a bunch of moments. The kind of image or idea that stays in your mind even after all of the moments have been forgotten. A synthesis of moments.

When we brainstormed last night, those were the kind of memories that came most easily. I don't remember my grandfather in moments as much as I remember him as a presence, in the background of my life. I remember who he was - quiet, grateful, stubborn. My brother would add to that proud and humble - that was his synthesis of our brainstorming session last night. I would second that. He had that sort of way about him. He had that balance. My father spoke of that which was most important to my grandfather - his Judaism and his family. He recounted how, when my grandfather moved into my parents' home, they got an intercom so that he could call for them if he needed them. It was because of this intercom that my parents learned that my grandfather said shema every night, and followed it with his own personal prayers for members of his family. More than one person noted how, despite the difficult times my grandfather experienced - he fought in WWII in a unit that suffered many casualties; his daughter (my aunt) and his wife died within four months of each other - he did not lose his faith. My father also said more than once that though my grandfather's life was sometimes difficult, he lived a full life. My cousins' husband talked about how my grandfather became everyone's Pop-Pop and related some of his own experiences as a newer member of our family.

At the end of his eulogy, my cousin-in-law also recounted a comment made by his daughter, my cousin, who is almost seven. She wanted to come to the funeral, and her parents let her. She also wanted to come to the cemetary - so her parents let her. But first, they sat down with her to explain step by step what would happen. They also answered all of her questions. When they were discussing how we would bury my grandfather, she asked, "You mean like we bury a treasure?" Such a beautiful thought.

The room at the funeral home where we held the service was filled not only with people who know my father and my family, but also with people who knew my grandfather, many from having grown up with my father or from interacting with my family. One of our family friends, who has known my grandfather for many years, told us she didn't know his first name until yesterday, because he was always just Pop-Pop. All of the grandchildren and spouses of grandchildren escorted the casket out of the room. It was draped with an American flag because of my grandfather's service in the military - of which he was very proud, even though he told us very little about his experiences. At the cemetary, members of the family stayed - the rest of us went back, because my grandfather's two remaining siblings couldn't stay for too long as it was chilly out - to completely fill in the grave.

Then back to our house with all the family - including some people I haven't seen in years - for food and reminiscing. We swapped stories, looked at old photos, and also caught up on our own lives. Then the family left, and things were quiet for a bit. My cousin who lives up the block came down with her three kids and they played for a bit - in the main room, because the only person paying a shiva call was their aunt (not related to us). Later, after dinner, things got busy. I learned today that there is a certain shiva ettiquette in Teaneck, that people do not pay shiva calls between 6 and 7 PM.

That having been said, that hour was the perfect time for my friends to pay me a visit, first A then M. (And thank you so much for making such an effort to come out here!) We escaped from the more public areas of the house, and I didn't realize just how much I appreciated their company until they got a ride back right after Ma'ariv, and I didn't want to let them go. I miss you guys! All of you! I feel a bit out of place at home, but I also don't feel quite right leaving when I can just stay here. I do plan on coming back for Shabbat. I need some quality friend time. I am feeling a bit needy right now. Maybe some of the stuff i wasn't feeling before is starting to catch up with me, or maybe it's just the general mood in the house right now. I am almost, but not quite, in the mood to cry on someone's shoulder right now. I can't quite articulate why. I just feel a little teary. Maybe I should have brought home the Godiva after all.

On a lighter note, A finally got to see my house. Now she knows how "cozy" my room is. And I want to apologize for not receiving guests so well today. I am not so familiar with shiva ettiquette - which food I can offer, which food I can't offer, etc. And I was caught a bit off-guard, because normally, I'd bring a guest home and walk in the door with them, not wait for them to show up while I am in the middle of hearing a story from someone else. Anyway, I really did appreciate your visit - I just wish your ride back were leaving a little later. I definitely miss everyone.

Thank you!

May. 2nd, 2005 08:03 pm
taylweaver: (Default)
I found out this afternoon that, around 2AM this morning, a number of my friends were shooting e-mails back and forth trying to figure out if there was any way they could get themselves out to Teaneck to be there for me. So I just want to say thank you to all of you, and also to let you know that I was also awake at 2 AM, but what were the rest of you doing up so late? But seriously, it feels wonderful to know that all of you care so deeply.

That having been said, you should know that there really is no need for you to come out to Teaneck, especially if it is so logistically difficult. If I weren't so free this week in terms of my own responsibilities, I would be returning to the city tomorrow evening. Because I have only one class this week (too soon after the funeral to get back for, so I'm missing it anyway) and because I have no student teaching responsibilities anymore, I was free to stay in Teaneck and be helpful to my parents.

But thank you so much for thinking of me and trying so hard to find a way to be there for me. Especially at 2 AM.

Anyway, no updates right now, and I will have less e-mail access starting tomorrow, since the neighbors' wireless is only available in the dining room, where I will not be able to check e-mail once shiva starts. (Dial-up does not sound like fun.) That having been said, I do plan to check my e-mail at least once tomorrow, and if you want to call, you are, of course, welcome to.

And I have to say, this whole blog thing is rather intriguing: the idea that I can just put information out there, and passively let everyone know what's doing, without sending out an e-mail to a specific list of people. It's like posting a message on a bulletin board in a busy hallway and hoping people will stop to check it on their way from Point A to Point B, at their leisure, because they want to know, instead of getting on the loudspeaker and making an announcement so that everyone has to listen, whether they care or not. There's something nice about that. Maybe because it's less intrusive. Maybe because the people on the other end have to put in a bit of effort and choose to read/listen.

Anyway, it's interesting.
taylweaver: (Default)
On Saturday, April 30th, my grandfather passed away.
It was his time, and he died in bed, in our home, and it was peaceful.

My grandfather has been living with my family for the past three years, in a room we added to the house just for him. He moved in with us when he was no longer able to live on his own. Over the past few weeks, he became weaker, and needed more care and attention. The woman who came in to take care of him for two hours each day told us this past week that he was holding on until Pesach. Sure enough, he was able to attend both sedders, but it was clear to all of us that he was getting weaker and sicker as Yom Tov went on. Over Chol Hamoed, my family, with his input, switched him to hospice care - a service provided only to people who have six months or less to live, in which the only care given is to make the person more comfortable, not to prolong his life. After three restless nights spent in his chair because he could not breathe lying down in his bed, my grandfather agreed to accept the free hospital bed offered to him by the hospice service. On Friday, he received the hospital bed, and was comfortable for the first time all week. On Friday evening, my first cousin came for dinner - the only grandchild he had not seen over the course of the week (all immediate family members were at the sedder, except for my brother and sister-in-law, who visited more than once over chol hamoed), and she spent time with him and helped to make him more comfortable. On Friday night, he slept through the night for the first time in a week. He woke up early Shabbat morning, and my parents spent some time with him before he died peacefully a few hours later.

My mother says it is a great zechut to die on Shabbat, and my grandfather died on Shabbat and Yom Tov. He was not taken before his time, nor did he leave us suddenly. He was lucid until the end, and he saw each and every member of the family within the week before he died. He was almost 92 years old.

There were many tears over Shabbat, but also acceptance, and, in some ways, a sense of relief. We knew he was dying, and it was better that he not continue to suffer. On Thursday night, when I got home to help prepare for Yom Tov, I asked my grandfather if he needed anything. "Strength," he answered. This was something that none of us could give him. He knew that he was weak and dependent on us. This way, he died in our home, where he wanted to die, and the indignity of relying on us for all of his needs was not prolonged.

Over the course of the past two days, many memories have been shared, and we browsed through many of my grandparents' photos. We also celebrated Yom Tov, though perhaps in a more subdued way. We ate our meals and engaged in other conversations, chatting and laughing and hanging out. This was a sad time, of course, but it did not consume all of our energy. We were still able to, well, I want to say hang out. Especially those of our generation - the grandchildren and our guests.

I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to our two guests - one mine, and one my sister's - I know only one of you reads this blog, but thank you for downplaying the awkwardness of the situation and for being there for us when we needed you. Thank you also for not being afraid to be yourselves and help us to keep things at least sort of normal, especially at the Shabbat and Yom Tov tables.

Things got very complicated here, as my parents faced the question of what to do with a dead body on yom tov, and how to let our lunch guests know what had happened before they showed up on our doorstep - especially because they are a family of kohanim. For that matter, so was one of our Yom Tov guests, and I would like to thank him for really downplaying a halachically awkward situation, since he was already in the house when my grandfather died.

I would also like to thank all those who remembered my birthday - I don't like to use names in my blog, so I will use initials - and, as they say, vehamevin yavin (those who get it will get it) - A, R and Y of the upper west side for wishing me a happy birthday before yom tov, and my "archeology pals" as the birthday card said - A and L of the Rutgers crowd for the presents A brought me on Shabbat when she came for lunch. So A gets the same thanks extended to the guests who slept over, for being here for me. The same to D and R, and to D's mom, for helping me and M (my yom tov guest) to escape from the house for a bit when the funeral home people came to remove my grandfather's body - though I hear they did so in a very respectful way. And thank you to D for sharing his mother's birthday cake with me. The one my family served me at lunch had absolutely no redeeming qualities - not in appearance, not the cake, not even the icing - there was nothing good about it. In fact, it was so bad that my father, who eats almost anything, had quite the sour expression on his face after a single bite - and we gave him fair warning! I'd like to congratulate my great uncle for owning the factory that invented the Passover cake mixes (though he has since sold the factory) because at least those are edible. The one D made tasted almost like brownies!

So my birthday sort of wasn't, but it also sort of was. The lunch guests who didn't come sent me a gift and a card - written before Shabbat. It is a hamsa, and I will hang it in our apartment in the fall, after we move. We had my cake - or tried to, anyway - because it was a Pesach cake and it was then or never. And there were the fruits we bought for dessert - which had to be eaten for the same reason. I can't remember if we sang happy birthday, but I think we did, and D, R, etc. sang later too. There was also the gift my mother didn't get around to buying - she told me on Friday: a feather pillow (finally!), a bag for teaching, and tickets to Hairspray (to go with my siblings) - my father's friend, Bruce Vilanche is in the lead role. And there was the bag of gifts from A and L that A brought with her to lunch. The two of them decided that since I was growing up, they would get me some toys - including playdough (we decided not to think about whether or not it was chametz) and a slinky. And, to quote a certain friend whose birthday celebration was also postponed this month, "yay squashy pillow!" (mine is purple, and shaped like a heart - but no, it's not from Urban Outfitters).

Anyway, I am okay. I cried on Shabbat morning. The whole thing was very surreal - I woke up around 10, and my sister was in the bathroom, so I went downstairs to put in my contact lenses. My mother caught me on the way to the bathroom - before I got my contacts in, took my face in her hands, as she had done the day my aunt passed away eleven years ago, and told me that Pop-Pop had gone to a better place. I didn't expect to cry, but I did. I hugged her, and she hugged me, and we stood there and cried for a bit on each other. I cried on and off for the next little while or so. Maybe part of it was because it was my birthday - but a part of me expected it to happen that day. Maybe I cried because it was the thing to do. I can't really articulate why. In some ways, I felt like I didn't fully wake up until an hour or two later when I finally put on my glasses - because by then, my contact lenses were a lost cause. So it's all a little blurry, because that's how the world looked - a little blurry.

But this was how it was supposed to be. And we were all home for my grandfather, and also for each other, my entire immediate family.

If you are asking, I am okay. I cried, because that's what you do. But I am very much okay. This was not unexpected, and he was comfortable at last. It was his time, and he knew we were all here in the house with him.


FYI for those of you on the Upper West Side: I returned to my apartment briefly this evening to pick up some clothing, etc for the next few days (most of the stuff I needed was still at home in Teaneck from two sets of Yom Tov), and to take care of a few things like my rent check. The funeral is on Tuesday, and so I will be home at least through then, probably longer, since I have no pressing reason to return to the city. My current plan is to return for Shabbat. If you want to reach me, try my cell, or get my home number from Yehudit (or e-mail me for it) if my cell has no reception when you try me. I would post it here, but I am a bit paranoid about doing so. If you are on the KOE list, I think they'll be sending out an e-mail with info about the funeral and shiva, but you can also call me - not that any of you should come out here, because none of you know my father, let alone my grandfather. The e-mail would, however, have our home phone number.

Anyway, so that's the update. I hope to post more as the week continues. Maybe I will say some more about my grandfather and who he was in future postings.

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