Friday, February 23, 2007

The Gift of Family

The reaction we had to the “Have You Lost Something” blob was both moving and flattering. While there were a few comments on the blog, I got quite a number of remarks by e-mail requesting more family stories – specifically about the way they deal with life/death situations. So I thought I would share two true stories (they really did happen but names have been changed to avoid family politics), from my first publishing disaster called “Schlepper, A Mostly True Tale.” It was a disaster because the book was not available when we launched – and people do lose interest when they can’t get something you insist they want. Anyway, near the end, Sadie (the main character) takes off from her job in the White House to join her family on the sad occasion of her Aunt Ruth’s death. In this first story Sadie and her cousins are chatting while they spend the evening in the funeral home guarding Ruth’s spirit or if you prefer, soul.

It begins:

“I don’t have any real feelings about the coming of the Messiah,” Barbie told them as they sat in a small room with low lights at the funeral home. “But I can tell you this, I don’t want to be washed and wrapped like a lettuce in a shroud. I would rather go like a roast. Just put me in a box, throw in some onions, carrots and potatoes, and cook me at until I’m well done.”

“That’s not funny. I don’t like talking about death,” Deva said. “Why are we talking about death?”

“Probably because we’re sitting here with a dead person,” Sadie observed.

“But it doesn’t feel like she’s dead. It feels like she’s here, but not in that box. Where do you think she’s gone?” Deva asked quite seriously.

“To Las Vegas,” Sadie said. Deva looked aghast. “I’m not kidding. She always wanted to go to Las Vegas, so let’s just imagine her there, gambling, going to shows, irritating the maitre d’ by sending food back to the kitchen for any of a million reasons, planning her outfits for every night.”

It was after midnight when Aunt Alma and Aunt Selma stopped by for a chat with Ruth, their dead sister. They hesitated when the entered the room. It bore no resemblance to the way they usually swooped into a place. They first patted all the cousins squeezing their arms and cheeks. Then they made a beeline for one end of the coffin and started to talk to Ruth about all the things that had happened during that day. After they were sure she was caught up on current events, they began to tell her all the other things they wanted her to know before she was buried.
After fifteen or twenty minutes, Sadie got up and walked over to where they were resting, patting, and talking.

“Aunt Alma, Aunt Selma, I have to tell you something,” she said solemnly. “You know Aunt Ruth had trouble hearing, so I thought you should know: you’re talking to her feet.”

This second story was one that happened at the funeral:

There was standing room only in the chapel and more people outside in the hallway. The plain pine box was covered in a deep blue velvet cloth with a gold embroidered Jewish star on the middle. The aunts entered the chapel one by one escorted by the members of their immediate families. This entrance, spontaneous yet dramatic, didn’t hold a candle to the next few minutes when each sister draped herself over the coffin and continued to converse with Ruth.

“You are really something Ruth, just look at this crowd,” the family banter began.

“Of course she’s something. What did you think, she was chopped liver?”

“Ruthie, I know we’re going to have to learn to live without seeing you
everyday, but I don’t know how I’m going to do that. I am not ready to lose you.”

There were many tears and a few sobs. But they were all pretty contained until Alma started to yell.


Then they started to argue, quietly among themselves, still draped over Aunt Ruth.

“Why are you yelling at her? She can hear you fine if you just talk.”

“Such a big mouth for a big sister. What? You want her to hear you more than the rest of us?”

“You always think you need to be the most important.”

“All of you. Stop this bickering. We have guests and Ruth has to get buried,”

Uncle Sam’s voice was stern but calm. “Now finish what you have to say so we can start the service. Ruth doesn’t want to lie here all day.”
The banter started to wind down.

“Ruth,” Alma said quietly, “what am I going to do without you? Who will I call when I’m not feeling well in the morning? Who’s going to drive me to the supermarket?’ Who’s going to take me to the bank? Who’s going to get me to the hairdresser on Saturday? What were you thinking?”

“She was probably thinking she wanted a vacation or to save herself a fortune in gasoline bills,” Aunt Frieda said without missing a beat.

They all looked up at Frieda. They looked at one another. Then put their heads back on the coffin and started to titter. The titter led to a giggle, which finally wound up a full-blown shoulder-shaking laugh. The Congregation assumed they were sobbing uncontrollably. Sadie again marveled at their ability to find something funny in the midst of their sorrow.

My Aunts and Uncles gave me the wonderful gift of being able to have a sense of humor under even the most difficult circumstances. I hope I have used it with some wisdom. We’re just sayin....


Anonymous said...

My mother passed away 25 years ago, because it was from cancer we had time to prepare her funeral with her direction. She wanted to be cremated, since she was a fairly spiritual person I thought she was going to give me a profound reason for her request, some word of wisdom that only a person on her deathbed could it turns out she simply didn't want to "take up space". What a gal...
Death ends a life, not a relationship.
- Jack Lemmon
"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying."
Woody Allen

Anonymous said...

everyone is just fine in Florida