Tag Archives: grief

Focusing on the positive in times of sorrow

14 Apr

I sit in a courtroom called up for jury duty. It is a strange day. April 14. Snow is falling. Tonight begins Passover. It is Monday morning.

Last Wednesday night, I chaired an interfaith event for National Council of Jewish Women, Kansas City Section. Women and men of many faiths came together to learn about divorce in Judaism, Islam and Catholicism. It was an interesting debate, and indicative of Johnson County, Kansas. Peaceful discussions.

On Saturday night I went with my family to the Jewish Community Center in Overland park to see a production of “To Kill A Mockingbird.” We saw how bigotry and racism led to the death of innocence. The sold out audience was riveted by the presentation. Was this show an indication of what would come?

Sunday, an act of evil disrupted the peaceful world of Overland Park and Johnson County, Kansas. A demented, bigoted man entered the parameters of the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom, a retirement center, and murdered three innocent people. A grandfather and grandson, a woman, none of them Jewish. But they were participating in events at the places where Jews gather. I cannot understand these acts.

But I refuse to focus on the hatred this individual embodied. I chose to focus on all the love.

I chose to focus on the women and men to came together to learn about interfaith issues. I chose to focus on the sold out performance of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I chose to focus on the outpouring of love to my family from all over the country and the world from family and friends, Jewish and non-Jewish.

Phone calls, emails, Facebook posts, text messages. Tears and anguish from both Jewish and Non-Jewish friends. All saying we love you! All saying we are shocked. And all who live here know how good the Jewish Community is.

I should have been preparing for Passover last night. But we were all in shock. We had planned to celebrate my niece and nephew’s birthdays. And we did. Because we were going to focus on the good.

Overland Park is a wonderful spot to live, to raise children, to feel part of a community.

The Jewish Community Center is part of my life. I served as a board member for nine years. I am on the advisory board. My children grew up there. They went to the preschool, to the day school to the camps. My husband and I exercise there several times a week. We attend shows and presentations.

Hatred such as this man’s invades the soul. But I refuse to let it make me fearful. Sad, yes. I will always think of those who died and their families. But I plan to focus on the love.

As I sat in the courtroom, I knew I would be excused. Passover is tonight. I have a holiday to celebrate and I will. I have family and friends to be with, a community of love. And I will be embraced.

The Joy of Jerry

13 Apr

Silly Uncle Jerry…as soon as my daughter could string three words together, this became her name for my sister’s husband. Silly Uncle Jerry could make her laugh by just entering the room. She anticipated that he would do something silly.

His booming baritone voice would vibrate through the room. Singing songs from Broadway shows, quoting lines from old movies, making references to obscure topics…that was Silly Uncle Jerry’s usual behavior. He used his wonderful voice for years volunteering to read books for the blind on a local New York radio station.

When he read books to the children they were entranced by the different voices he used. One time when they were stranded in an airport for hours, my brother-in-law pulled out a bunch of books to read to his own children, soon he had an audience of dozens of children and parents also stranded. He just kept reading.

Jerry in a calm Hawaiian shirt.

Jerry in a calm Hawaiian shirt.

Jerry’s bright Hawaiian shirts echoed his bright and cheerful inside spirit. He had dozens of designs and colors to wear for any occasion. There really was no time that he was not comfortable in a Hawaiian shirt. (Okay, he did wear a suit to his wedding and all the bar/bat mitzvot.)

It was Silly Uncle Jerry who sat on the floor with my daughter and took a corner of her blankie and held it the way she did. It was Silly Uncle Jerry who called her Larabee, and would say, in the tone of a Maxwell Smart character, “Larabee….Get me the Chief!”

As more children arrived, including two of Silly Uncle Jerry and my sister, he became the ringleader for fun and excitement.   Raining in the Catskills with nothing to do? Wait, let’s put on swimsuits and run around in the rain. Wait, that is not enough, let’s play follow the leader in the rain.   Four little children under the age of eight running around in the rain with a giant bear of an Uncle having a great time!

 

Jerry and the children in Follow the leader.

Jerry and the children in Follow the leader.

But then the leader, one of the little boys, decided he had to go potty….so he ran over to the woods, pulled down his suit and pees….and the other two did the same thing.   My daughter ran away and screamed as she came up to the porch and into the house. Silly Uncle Jerry fell to the ground laughing hysterically. It was perfect. But he got up and set a new follow the leader rule…”No Urinating when being the leader!” My daughter went back outside.

Jumping for joy in the rain.

Jumping for joy in the rain.

It was Silly Uncle Jerry’s love of comic books that made him send comic books to my children for their birthdays. I wonder if he knew that reading comic books is what got his nephew to finally read. Eventually my son read manga and then regular books. Now he is studying computer animation. All this started with an uncle’s love of comic books.

When my daughter decided to go to New Jersey for college at Drew University, I knew she would be safe as my siblings and parents all lived no more than an hour away.

When she and a friend got stuck without a ride, after a program away from the university, in a horrible rain storm — the busses and trains stopped running — it was Silly Uncle Jerry to the rescue. He picked them up, drove them back to school and then home, skirting flooded and closed roads and spending hours to help. In the meantime, my sister was at home dealing with a flooded basement.

It was Jerry who could lighten up the spirit of a room, when people were feeling blue. He could make his eyes bulge out and run through a Marx Brothers’ or Laurel and Hardy routine.

Silly Uncle Jerry was not just family funny, he was a professionally funny man. Part of an improv comedy troupe, the Lunatic Fringe, he was perfect because of his quick thinking and tremendous sense of humor. Every once in a while Uncle Jerry and his comedy group would perform in Madison, NJ, area. My daughter would meet up with my sister, have dinner with them and then go to the show. She tried to see as many performances that Silly Uncle Jerry was in that she possibly could. He was in shows all around the New Jersey and New York City area, appearing in regional theater, like the Garage Theater, and off Broadway.

That was they way Silly Uncle Jerry lived. He was a big bear of a man, with a heart as big. He would do anything for his children and his nieces and nephews. His family and friends made his life complete. Most of all he loved to make life fun for his wife and children and sisters.

But it was he who left us way too young. And left a hole in the fabric of the joy of the world. April 18, he would have been 54.

We miss him.

But the joy of Jerry stayed with those who will always love him and the memory of him. Whenever I see someone in a Hawaiian shirt, I think of Jerry. And, in his memory, we — his family and friends — wear brightly colored Hawaiian shirts on his birthday to keep him with us on that day! And for a few hours he is here with us.

Lunatic Fringe:  https://sites.google.com/site/lunaticfringeimprov/home

Garage Theater: http://www.garagetheatre.org/

Missing My Mom

15 Dec

My mother was a weather witch. Whenever she came to visit, the weather would go berserk.  Often my neighbors would call to find out exactly when Mom would arrive, to plan for snow.  

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So it was not surprising that my Mom died during one of the worst snow storms ever in New York City, over 27 inches of snow in less than 24 hours.  Everything shut down.  The day of her funeral, her coffin was placed in front of a window.  As my niece stated,  “ I know Grandma is in heaven,”  a great, giant, massive clump of snow fell off the roof and on the ground outside the window.  Lovely torrents of snow arched upward.  Mom was there … heading to heaven.

My mother had the mind of a vault.  Any information that went in stayed there.  She remembered everything.  So when Mom suffered her first TIAs, mini strokes, we were very concerned.  My sister and Dad took her to a neurologist.  Mom scored a 100 percent on the test.  The doctor said something like,  “I believe you when you tell me that your Mom’s memory is not as good, but if this is bad, your Mom was very high functioning.”

And that is true. 

My mother was the glue that held people together.   She taught school for 30 years.  And the group of teachers who retired would often get together.  My Mom would make the plans.  After she died, the meetings basically ended.   One of the group, Pat, told me,  “It was your Mom who would call us all and tell us when we were meeting and where.  Without her, we just don’t have anyone organizing.”

It is true, all my organizing skills come from my Mom.

My mother was the kindest person.   Another teacher told this story at a memorial for my mother:  “The first day I taught at the school, I was worried.  Where would I sit during lunch?  Would the other teachers welcome me?  I was black and Cuban.  I don’t know why I worried.  I entered the lunchroom, and it became quiet.  Frances turned around,  “Oh there you are.  I have saved a seat for you next to me.”  And I sat there that day, and the next day and the next day.  And I realized I did not have to worry where I was going to sit.  I was going to sit with Frances and her friends for the rest of the years I taught.”

And she did sit with them for over 20 years.

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My mother was a great friend.  Her two best friends, Wini, who she knew since kindergarten, and Judy, who she met in 8th grade, are still alive.  It is difficult sometimes to think of them without thinking of my mother.  They shared so many memories and adventures together.  After my Mom died, Wini and Judy were there for my Dad during the nine months he lived.  They still call me to keep in touch and to send love to my brother and sister.  Their love for my mom continues.  She was also a great friend to mine and my siblings’ friends.  She opened her home to them, always making them welcome.

She was a warm and loving hostess.

My mother was an excellent teacher.  Two stories.  Many years ago, when my grandfather was ill and staying with my parents, a young immigrant named Selma came to stay with Papa, while Mom and Dad went to work.  My mother gave Selma homework every day.   Not cleaning or cooking, rather her work was  learning to read and write English.  And when my mom got home from school, she would work with Selma on her studies.  Second story.  Several weeks before she died, I had to take my Mom to the emergency room.  An intern came over.  This young doctor said, “Mrs. Rosenberg. Oh my, you were my fourth grade teacher!  You were the best teacher ever.  When I found out I was going to have you, I was so afraid, because you were so strict.  But you were the best.  I am a doctor today, because you encouraged me.”

And it was true.  My Mom touched the lives of hundreds of children.

My mother was the best grandmother.  Every one of her grandchildren can tell you stories about staying with her and learning from her.  She made each child feel loved.   As my father said, for both of them, they did not divide their hearts of love with each child or grandchild, their hearts got larger. 

They both had very strong and large hearts filled with love.

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My mother had a wonderful sense of humor.  Mom loved people and spread joy quietly wherever she went.  She had a wonderful way to make people feel comfortable and an easy way to laugh.  A story, after my Mom’s TIAs she lost the ability to sequence things.  So cooking, cleaning and laundry became difficult.  One day she asked me.  “Ellen, Dad says my memory is not as good.  What do you think? “   I answered:  “Well Mom, do you cook anymore, or does Liz (their helper) cook?  Do you do laundry anymore or does Liz do the laundry?  Do you clean any more or does the service clean?  My Mom got very quiet and then said,  “Well you know Ellen, I never liked doing any of those things anyway!:  

And that is true.  Cooking, cleaning, doing laundry were not high on my mother’s to do list.   Teaching, visiting, talking, loving were her charms.

December 27, 2010, my Mom left us on Earth forever. But she is forever in my heart and the hearts of all her children, grandchildren and the many people she loved.

My Dad was A Proud Veteran

26 Nov

My Dad was a proud veteran.  He instilled a love of country and duty in my children. And my children loved him.   I know that my son adored my Dad.  But I guess until this past Veteran’s Day I did not realize how great that love was and remains.

My Dad died in 2011, ten days after my son’s 21st birthday.  On his birthday, Dad called.  I did not hear the phone call. But my son called me immediately after to tell me that Grandpa called to wish him a happy birthday and to say he loved him and would always love him.

My Dad was in the hospital.  Very ill.  When he hung up, he turned to my sister and said,  “No more treatments, no more food, and I am not talking to you anymore.”  Those might not be the exact words.  I wasn’t there. I was in Kansas. Dad was in a hospital in New Jersey.  But both my sister and brother agreed that he stopped talking and eating, and refused all treatment.

Did I tell you my Dad was very stubborn?

But in this case, he was right, because he made his own choice.   And he passed away 10 days later.

It was very difficult.  I had plane reservations for that morning.  But it was too late.  The phone call came at 12:30 am.  My brother calling.  I did not want to answer the phone.   But I had to face the reality…losing my Dad nine months after losing my Mom.   My grief was overwhelming.

I flew home to New Jersey, where my brother met me at the airport.  His words were in a way helpful.  “Dad saved us from making very difficult decisions,” he said.  And he was right.  Because we might have fought with him to do the one thing he never wanted…putting in a feeding tube.

Dad was strong willed.

My father was the recipient of both the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.  Even though he died on a Saturday, the funeral home was able to contact the military.  At my father’s funeral were two soldiers. At the cemetery they removed the flag covering his casket with great ceremony as they folded it.  While  the commanding soldier delivered the flag to my brother, saying the scripted, but heartfelt, words of the military, the other soldier disappeared.  A few minutes later, I knew why. From a far came the sound of  a soldier playing taps.  I still cry thinking of how proud my Dad was of serving his country.  And how the grateful nation return his respect with the tribute of a bugle.

 

The flag from Dad's funeral.  His favorite Korea Veteran cap.

The flag from Dad’s funeral. His favorite Korea Veteran cap.

We kept the flag in the room where we sat shiva.  It seemed right that it be with us.  As it seemed right that my brother now has the flag.

So what does this have to do with my son?

Well first off, my brother and sister agreed that we would give my son my Dad’s newest tallit as a 21st birthday gift.   My Dad had three tallisim  (prayer shawls).  One from his bar mitzvah, one from his wedding, and then the beautiful one my Mom gave him when he became president of his synagogue.  In Jewish tradition, you bury the tallit with the owner.  But at the funeral home, the director told us, “Keep this one.  Use it for a huppah (wedding canopy)for his grandchildren.  Burying two is enough.“

My son was very quiet when I gave him the tallit. He held it for a while, then stroked the velvet case.  I cried because I could see the emotion in that gesture. Now  he  wears Dad’s tallit when he goes to synagogue.  My sister recently said to me that this Dad’s most personal item….his tallit.  That is true. My Dad was proud to wear his tallit.  Proud to be Jewish. As he was proud to be a veteran.

What does Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day have to do with this story?  So much.  My Dad served as a forward observer/radio man in the Korean War.  As he told my children,  “There were no cell phones then.  Someone had to go in front of the front line to lay the radio wires.  That was me.”

Korean Vet

My Dad explaining the Korean War.

 

So when they built a Korean War Veteran’s Memorial near my home, I helped fund it by buying a inscribed stone in honor of my Dad.   One Thanksgiving, when my parents were visiting,  I took them and my children to the Memorial, where Dad told them all about the war… He started to cry….even after over 55 years, the trauma of Korea still was fresh for him.

After my father died, in October 2011, I started going to the Memorial on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, to say hi to my Dad.  I cannot visit his grave, as he is buried in New Jersey. But this year, I could not go on Veteran’s Day.  I was out of town.  It bothered me that I could not make this important visit.

A few days after we got home, I had lunch with my son and his girlfriend.  I asked if I could take their photo to send to my daughter.  They said yes.  But then my son started making funny faces.

“Why are you doing that?”   I asked annoyed.

“I am channeling Grandpa,” he said.  “He would have done worse.  He would have also made bunny ears.”

I smiled.  But what he said next made me cry.

“I went to the Korean War Memorial on Veterans’ Day,” he said.  “I went there because I wanted to pay my respects and honor his memory,” he told me later.

When I told him that I went twice a year.  And I really appreciate his going for me.  He looked at me astonished and said he did not go for me.  “I never knew you went there to do that every year,” he said.  No he went there just to say hi to his grandfather.

There are no words….but love.

My Dad always said that with each child and grandchild your heart does not divide more, it gets bigger.  My Dad had the biggest heart, something he gave to his grandchildren.

So each year on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, I will continue to honor my father by visiting the Korean War Veteran’s Memorial. I will think of him and of all the veterans who served with pride.