What do you say to a parent who has just lost their child?

What do you say to a parent who has just lost their child?

What words can possibly have any effect?  What can break through layer upon layer of grief and sadness and desperation and fear and senseless guilt and anger and bereftness?

What prayers can you offer them?

I would not be able to breathe.  I would very likely lose my will to live another instant, knowing that Son was not here.    I don’t have any other children, so there would be no need to be strong for the others…

I wouldn’t want to talk to anyone, be comforted by anyone.

There is no comfort when you lose a child.

My heart is breaking for my old, dear friend.  To lose a child so senselessly.  So suddenly.

Being so far away there really is nothing I can do, except grieve along with her.  Leave a message telling her that I’m so very sorry, and that I’m thinking of her.  Lose sleep myself, and check on Son ten times a night.

And hug him tight.  Tight.

I pray she can find a way to breathe.  I pray that she and her husband and her other two  sons can allow themselves to be and do and feel whatever they need to be and do and feel to get through today.

And I pray for the  same thing tomorrow.


And the Soul Wears Out the Breast…

Death can come in an instant, or it can be a long, lingering process as the soul fights the body for just one more day.

When my stepmother died it was nine days from beginning to end, and I didn’t actually believe she was going to die until the day she did. I’ve always thought it was a blessing that she went as quickly as she did, both for her and for my family. Watching a loved one suffer and deteriorate is ravaging to all.

If it’s a sudden death, though, you feel robbed. Robbed of time to say everything you want to say, robbed of one more look, one more smile, and you’d give your right arm for just one more hug. If you believe in G-d, as I do, it’s hard to understand why He would want anyone to linger. Perhaps He’s giving people time to resolve their lives, or perhaps sometimes He thinks the soul has more work to do (have you ever seen the movie Defending Your Life? Go rent it!), or perhaps He thinks someone has more of an impact to make.

That last can certainly be said for Randy Pausch, the computer science lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University whose “Last Lecture” became a huge sensation when it was posted on youtube. I’m sure Randy hoped he’d make an impact on those present, but I doubt he could foresee that his speech would be viewed nearly 4,000,000 times, not to mention the news coverage and clips millions of others were lucky enough to see.

So, yeah, he definitely had more of an impact to make.

Job well done, Randy, but now you can rest.

Thank you for sharing, Randy.

She’s gone…

My cousin’s heroic battle against MS & leukemia ended last evening.

To the end she maintained her cheery disposition and displayed remarkable courage. Her struggles are a lifetime lesson to us as her bravery was of the highest order.

Thank you, Cheryl, for wanting to be a mother so badly you refused to allow any doctor to put the words “Multiple Sclerosis” in your medical record until Cam’s adoption was final.

Thank you for all of the funny e-mails you sent.

Thank you for looking at my Dad’s Playboys with me when we were kids, and for explaining a few things to a doe-eyed seven year old. As Deb said, isn’t it ironic that with all the looksies we did at those magazines, none of us wound up with a Playboy body?

Thank you for teaching me the value of disability insurance. I’m so glad yours made your life easier.

Thank you for being the only one of my cousins to come to my wedding, even though you were the one with the most reasons not to.

Thank you for being so honest and open with me these last months. I feel so honored to have been on the receiving end not of smalltalk and platitudes, but of your real emotions, real life and death issues, and real warmth.

Thank you, Cheryl, for being such an inspirational woman.

I love you, Cher. You will be remembered for how you lived. Valiantly.

Love Uncluttered

I spent the past two weeks pretty entrenched in family stuff. My Dad is selling his house and buying a condo on the beach. My sisters were in town, so we’ve been furniture shopping and started to sort through some of the stuff in the house, figuring out what he’ll take with him (15%), what my brothers and sisters and I will take (15%) and what will be sold at the massive garage sale we’ll have (we can all figure out this percentage, I hope).

I’ve talked in the past about the mounds and mounds of clutter and crap my stepmother amassed. My Dad lived in a house full of clutter with her for thirty-five years and never complained. The house was always relatively clean, but there was nary a surface unoccupied. And as each of us moved out of the house she took over our rooms and filled the closets and drawers with little gifts she thought the kids would like, or napkins for a future dinner party, or address books (we’ve found at least twenty, filled with the same addresses over and over and over again). There are hundreds of glasses, every kitchen gizmo and gadget you can think of (and some we still have no clue about), family heirlooms and enough serving dishes to give one to every soldier in Iraq. Well, not really. But a LOT.

Now that she’s not there my Dad’s innate need for order (I am an accountant’s daughter) has resurfaced, and with a vengeance. He cannot tolerate any new mess, any new clutter. Extra food brought into the house for the duration of my sisters’ stay is already out of the house, and my sister doesn’t leave until tomorrow. This after noon he asked us to clean up the kids’ toys, about 1/2 hour before more grandkids were showing up. We explained and he relented, but the mess really bothers him.

His new home will be very different from the one he lives in today. The furniture will be less ornate (his new bedroom and dining room sets are lovely and elegant with very clean lines), there will be surfaces uncluttered, and likely there will be empty drawers. To me a much more relaxing place to be.

But that’s not the point.

What’s so fascinating, so wonderful, so cool, is how he adapted for the woman he loved. She brought him so much joy that he learned to live with the clutter, the shopping bags, and the bills. He didn’t try to control the house or her love of stuff. I don’t think he even noticed that much; not until she was gone.

We all deserve to be loved like that, don’t we?

And So The Next Phase Begins

My father just bought a condo on the ocean.

It’s been just eight months since my stepmother passed away, and he’s not been having an easy time. They’d been married thirty-five years, spending twenty-nine of them in a rambling five bedroom house in the suburbs. The last of us left the nest over fifteen years ago, yet they stayed in a home that was way too big just so there would be room for all of us to visit at the same time.

Now he’s there alone, and the motivation to keep the house has waned. He’s trying to have a social life again, but there’s just not much for him there in his family-oriented community. He drives down to see a friend of his who lives on the beach, and there are restaurants and piano bars and a whole other lifestyle that perfectly fits his vision for his life now.

So, he went and looked. Even though the experts say not to make any major decisions the first year after losing your spouse. And he bought the first one he looked at. After all, why look further when you’ve found the perfect place for you?

We think it’s a terrific decision. With three bedrooms we can’t all stay there at the same time, at least without sleeping bags. But three of five kids live within a 45 minute drive, so we’ll let the out-of-towners stay there, which is really no different than before.

He told me today that he had a rough night last night, thinking about all of the changes that are to come. Feeling grief and sadness that his wife won’t be sharing these things with them. Reliving memories of their time in the house, feeling reluctance to let it go.

But today he’s excited. Excited to start the next phase of his life, to make new memories with us, and with new people he’s yet to meet.

He was able to finagle a fifteen minute showing today so that I could see it, and so we could take some pictures and some measurements.

Excited is good.  Moving forward is good.  The new condo on the beach?  Very, very good.

Today I Stole a Camera and Found a Treasure

Well, I really borrowed it, sort of.

Since my stepmother passed away last year my Dad has been having a hard time. He immediately asked my sisters and I to go through her clothes and jewelry in their room, and get them out of the house as soon as possible. So, we spent the first few days after her funeral doing that for him. It wasn’t easy, but we really wanted to do whatever we could to ease his pain. The rest of her things – books, knicknacks, and a houseful of other treasures and, frankly, junk, was left as it was. Not much has changed in the six months since. Really, there’s no rush.

Today I was at his house, and he was looking for his casino Player’s Club cards, as he’s off to Las Vegas next week. He isn’t sure where she kept the cards, so I helped him look in some of the most likely places.

I ran across her camera. She has a really cute little Canon Power Shot. She’d asked me to go with her to choose it, which was unusual because we didn’t get along much of the time, and in the thirty-five years I’d known her she had never before asked my advice on pretty much anything.

So, as I was looking for those cards I found myself with the camera in my hand. And I noticed there were pictures on it. Without asking my Dad I took it. Not to keep – it will be back where I found it before he returns from his trip. Still unusual, though, because I ask him before I move or take anything.

I took it so I could upload the pictures. I wanted to see what the images were. If there were any great shots of the two of them I’d have it framed. That’s what I thought.

There were only twenty-five, and most of them was from their last trip to London. The last few, though, were from Father’s Day, just three weeks before she died. We’d celebrated it at my brother’s house, and there were some cute pictures of the kids.

There was also one very unusual picture in there. One of she and I, each with an arm around the other.

Except for perhaps my wedding and my Bat Mitzvah (and I’m not even sure about those), I think it’s the only one there is. In thirty five years.

So there will be a photo framed. Just not the one I thought.

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