taylweaver: (Default)
So some of you may recall that, after last year, there was much cause for many friends to wish me an uneventful yom tov as we entered the last days of Pesach. I'd link to last year's LJ entry, but I can't recall how and I am tired. (If you need a reminder, it was posted May 1st, and it was one of my first entries)

Alas, uneventful was not to be. Thankfully, this year was not as bad as last year, but it was certainly more chaotic.

Erev Yom Tov, my cousin, Ben (Yes, [livejournal.com profile] rymenhild, that Ben) ended up in the hospital. After he went in with a severe headache, they discovered a tumor on his pituitary gland. They finally operated this afternoon (they had to wait until after the MRI that they did yesterday), and the surgery was successful (they removed the gland - and they are almost certain it is not cancer), but it made for a stressful yom tov.

His older sister (also my cousin - naturally) is the one who lives up the block from my parents with her husband and three kids. She spent all of yom tov near the hospital, and therefore away from the aforementioned husband and three kids. They were all supposed to be at my uncle's for yom tov, but he was, of course, near/at the hospital as well.

So my cousin's husband decided that he and the three kids would be better off staying in their own house if already they would be on their own - which, incidentally, meant they spent most of yom tov in my parents' house. (One of the big reasons why he made this decision - there were half a dozen free babysitters down the block...)

Anyway, take three kids who are a handful on a good day with both parents around, add in a last-minute change in yom tov plans, a parent who is away to be with an uncle who is suddenly sick, two days of yom tov, and the end of a week in which the kids have eaten almost nothing because none of them like Pesach food...

Yes, chaos is a very good word for it.

The entire first floor of our house became one big playroom, the cooking took twice as long - the kids love to cook - and we went through insane quantities of ice cream and chocolate chips - even the colorful ones that my mother thought were disgusting. Especially those.

It made me appreciate my family once again. I thought it was great that my cousin's husband was able to get to shul both days (remember, free babysitting) and that we not only had them over for lunch both days, but sent dinner up the block when the kids were asleep. And we got the kids to eat at least a little bit. And we all somehow got in naps of our own - in shifts - and today even the kids sort of napped... (the youngest, who turned two in November looked so cute curled up in the armchair with a mini pillow and airplane blanket, holding her sippy cup as she slept)

and somehow, despite the chaos, it felt so normal - because, of course, our house is as natural to them as their own. They even know how to get their own cereal - well, not this week - but the point is, we are used to having them around - though not usually for an entire day at once, two days in a row - and they are used to being around. Plus, it's harder to get stressed and worried when there are three kids in various states of 8th day of Pesach crankiness (actually, they were remarkably un-cranky) all clamoring for attention (again, this may be a slight exaggeration, partly because we had a very favorable caregiver to child ratio with myself, two siblings, a guest, plus my parents and their father).

And if we were all going to be stressed and worried, it's always better to do it together.

Plus, there was this added element of strangeness knowing that the 7th day was my grandfather's first yartzeit and the 8th day was yizkor, so life and death and all that was on our minds - or at least on mine - and to add on top of that the knowledge that my cousin is in the hospital, and that we knew he was having surgery but didn't know when or what was going on - and we knew that we weren't going to know until after yom tov unless something went drastically wrong - well, it was strange. To have those two things juxtaposed was very strange. Almost a bit surreal. The question loomed large in my mind: what if he died?

And Ben is my age. Which somehow makes it even stranger.

Anyway, so things were eventful and chaotic, and there was stuff going on - but somehow, it wasn't exactly bad. Ben is going to take a while to recover, of course, since they need to get his hormones back in balance and such, but in terms of how yom tov itself went, well, it wasn't restful, and it wasn't what we expected, but it was still good to see the kids - which we weren't supposed to - and it was good to be with family. And we had a meal out with the friends who couldn't come to lunch last year (again, see last year's entry) - who invited us precisely to make up for the meal they had to miss after my grandfather died. And somehow, when yom tov ended, it felt like it had been good - just different. I am not sure if the rest of my family would agree - especially my mom, who had to do a lot more this yom tov than she had planned on - but that was the feeling I was left with.

Oh, and for those who daven for people, Ben's Hebrew name is Yitzhak Liron ben Tzirel Leah

Happy chametz

Transitions

May. 5th, 2005 11:57 pm
taylweaver: (Default)
I realized tonight that two weeks have gone by since I have seen anyone on the Upper West Side - with the obvious exceptions of M, who was my Yom Tov guest, and A, who came for a visit that was just long enough to remind me how much I missed everyone (That having been said, I very much appreciated the visit) There are also a number of people whom I have not seen for about three weeks, people I normally see on a weekly basis. It's been a while. Three weeks is a long time not to see people.

I also realized that, over those past three weeks, I have been in so many different settings - first, there was the end of student teaching and my masters project and Pesach cleaning - lots of work and exhaustion. Then there was Pesach - the sedders, with 30 people in our house in Teaneck. Then three days by myself in my apartment - during which I saw no one but my classmates. Then back home for the end of Pesach and a very subdued sort of Yom Tov. Then a lot of cleaning, a funeral, and three days being at home while my father sat shiva - all of these people in and out of the house all day long. And now, back in my apartment and maybe a bit lonely, because only one of my apartment mates is currently home.

And this shifting from setting to setting, context to context isn't over yet. Next week, I get some down time - maybe. Finishing up schoolwork and such. And then, the week after that, I graduate. And then I start my summer job. Well, my first summer job. I still need to find something for the second half of the summer...

Our house was so busy today - not in the full of people sense, but in the my father didn't really get a chance to eat lunch because there was always someone to talk to sense. For most of the day, people were there in small numbers, and my father was at the center of an intimate circle. All day, he was telling stories. I heard so many stories today that I feel like I can't remember a single one now - just this general sense that my father is so good at telling stories, and that my family has so many stories to tell.

This evening, my father was speaking with a close friend over the phone, after everyone had left. He was telling her how it's hard, having people from different parts of his life visiting at the same time, because he's not really supposed to introduce people to each other. Instead, he decided to use stories to help people get to know each other, by finding some event or experience that would connect different people to each other - maybe another mutual friend, or maybe the fact that they both went to Ramah. So he used these stories and reminiscences to connect people to each other. It just served to make me once again aware of how wonderful an educator my father is, but it also brought to a conscious level in my mind the power of stories, and the fact that my father knows how to use that power. He loves stories - he collects haggadot partly for that reason, I think - and he tells stories, and he has taught me to appreciate stories. It is amazing how much can be accomplished if only you can find the right story.

I also came to see my grandfather in a different way, through other people's eyes - he was described tonight by my brother as the patriarch of the family, and it's true. My brother pointed out that even if my father was leading the sedder, my grandfather was in the seat of honor, and that even though he was the fourth child of six, he was the one who quietly assumed that role as the leader. I never thought about it that way until I listened to my brother this evening. It's amazing what comes out when you share memories and tell stories. It was such a rich experience, sitting in that circle today, at different points throughout the day, and listening to the different stories my father recounted to different sets of people. He was very much in his element, and I learned so mcuh about who my grandfather was. In some ways, I have come to know him better over the past few days than I did when he was alive. (A comment that someone else also made when they came to visit).

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.
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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