Tuesday, July 7, 2009

While You're Up There

I'm at the airport and the stupid Bluetooth is going off in my ear, a Star Wars theme maybe, I don't know, and the Airtran sales rep is barking at me, offering me a free trip if I sign up for a credit card, which is something we all need, another credit card.

I answer the phone and think it's FD, but it's my son. "I have bad news."

It's noisy so I walk into a restroom where there is less noise and he says, "Miriam passed away. Mo's mother."

I walked out of the restroom to cry, emote, feel the shock and outrage, to be among people. NO!

Mo is my son's best friend. Mine continues, "I'm going to come in on Sunday to pay a shiva call. I hope that will be enough. I just can't get there for the funeral."

They're calling me to board. I'm in a trance all the way home. A tzedikat has been taken from us. I can't believe it. The best person in the world, no longer with us. What will we do?

Which is the question on everyone's mind at the levayah, the funeral this morning. Whatever will we do without her? She was the reason the world kept spinning, one of the reasons. As her spouse the rabbi said, she represented the best of all daughters, the best of all mothers, the best of all sisters, the best of all friends. And she loved her own family so much that she treated everyone else as extended family, there was so much love, excess love.

The first speaker, Rabbi Gedalia Schwartz didn't ask why so much as, Why do we pray (for he had just noticed, this past week, during tachanun), why do we pray not to be struck by makas ha maves? The blow of death. Isn't death an inevitable part of life? Why would we pray that He mercifully spare us?

The Rav tells us that when someone passes on before his or her time, someone wonderful, someone that the community needs, that it is a slap to the entire community, a much different slap, much harder, than when an older person passes on. We feel the pain much more, it is community pain. And there was not a dry eye, I am not exaggerating, in the synagogue, everyone at the levayah crying. Everyone her best friend. She was everyone's teacher.

The next speaker, the principal of the school where she had taught for a few dozen years or more, bereft, a mourner himself, spoke of losing a colleague who was better than himself, who had a work ethic that never flagged, no lunch for Miryam, no break. No time to chit chat. Too many children to help. And she saved hundreds, no, thousands, educationally, many of whom may not even remember what she did for them.

Then Miryam's spouse, the rabbi, a beloved friend of all in the community, sobbed as he shared with us his life with her, his stories, gifts. He reminded us how she suffered so many illnesses with a smile, how she never complained, never burdened anyone, as seriously ill as she was, you never knew. He didn't know how she felt half the time; she didn't complain, not even to him.

Just to confirm, reality check, we were not best friends Miryam and I, and I wasn't even a half-way decent friend, although I owed her, because she helped us with our children, as she helped everyone. But we liked each other (she loved everyone, really), and when we talked on social occasions she would vaguely refer to her various physical problems, only when asked, as if they were no big deal.

We were together yapping at a kiddish in shul, seems like yesterday but it has to have been several months ago, maybe even a year, and she asked me, "What do you think? Should I get a PhD?" Me, so out of it, "Why not?!" She smiled as if to say, "So impossible, silly, as if I don't have enough to do already."

She taught us everything, how to be truly serious about life and yet to laugh at it. Once she sat next to me in shul, many, many years ago, looked over my shoulder and laughed at me.

"What's so funny?"

She says, "You're reading the divrei Torah in the Leckutai Peshatim!"

(Leckutai Peshatim is supposed to be a leaflet of thoughts and stories about Torah, learning, but most read it for the community announcements on the back page.

She continues, "You're the only one I've ever seen who reads it from front to back." Then! Now, every time I start from back to front I feel guilty about it.

The rabbi, her husband, tells us that she was more religious than anyone he knew, much more religious than himself. Her dream was to open a hotel with a barn in Yerushalayim.

Why a barn? "The third Bais haMikdosh will be built and there will be a need for korbanot so why not have a barn?"

Then why a hotel? "Everyone will be there. They'll need someplace to stay." She totally believed this.

Her son, Mo, spoke next to last. Mo is a very funny man and as wrecked as he is, he still says a few subdued, but slightly humorous things. It hurts to laugh, and very few in the full house do, and he surely doesn't mean what he says to be funny so much as to represent his mother's sense of humor, always on. She had the face of an angel, by the way, a sweetness and sincerity that you rarely see, and yet a dead-on gift to capture the joke, the uber-meaning in things.

Oh, how does this happen?

Then her brother compared our grieving, our outrage, to Israel's when Miryam died and the well dried up. The well had to dry up for there could be no one to take Miryam's place, no one compared, there is no comparison, is there? No replacement, no one from whom to draw more water. Now shovel, her aggrieved brother, our friend's brother literally cries to us, Take your shovels. And dig for water.

On my way to work, for the living, you know, go on living, I think to myself, "We'll forget, and her family will not, they'll grieve all the time, whereas we'll grieve just here and there, on occasion, when we think of her."

But I don't believe it. We'll think of her often. She'll really be missed.

On my bike I do a little self-chastisement for asking her for a favor during the levayah. You ask forgiveness, sure, at a levayah, but a personal favor for your kid? Even now? Intercession in Shamayim? But why not do both, ask forgiveness and ask for a favor, assuming she isn't too busy up there.

The correctness of this, whether or not it's really out of line to ask a favor of the deceased, I'm telling you, is something I would ask Miryam if she were around. She would know these things.

Flying Sad Like Everyone Else


  1. Baruch Dayan Emet. I am sorry to hear about this. But it does sound like people benefited greatly from her and that is a legacy to be proud of.

  2. Very sorry to hear of this. She sounded like a wonderful person.



Cry, it's okay, bubbala. Tell me everything.