Special

I’ve told you that when Kim and I were getting ready to get married we met with a priest and a rabbi. The rabbi asked us each what happens when we die.

I bring that up again because at the funeral service for Kim’s aunt, the priest finished by making some very directed statements.

He mentioned that she had been a good Catholic and now that she was dead she would meet again with people who had gone before her. The priest then read a list of some of the family members had pre-deceased her.

This is not uncommon.

It is comforting to sit at a funeral and think that you will someday see that person again.

But then the priest clarified.

She would see those people if they had been good Catholics.

He then invited people who had come to the funeral to reconnect to the church if they hadn’t stayed active.

He repeated the bit about reuniting once you die if you’d been a good Catholic and re-uniting with others who had been good Catholics.

He then repeated the part about the pamphlets the church had to help you return to the church if you needed to.

This isn’t uncommon either.

It’s good to reach out to people who haven’t been in church for a while and who have returned for a funeral and remind them of the comfort and advantages that the church provides.

I’ve asked some members of Kim’s family about that part of the service and none remember it. They are all church going Catholics. It didn’t apply to them.

As an outsider, I heard it clearly and I heard it differently than most.

It took me back to the meeting Kim and I had with the rabbi.

“What happens when you die?” he asked.

Kim said she hoped, if she’d been good, that she’d go to heaven.

The rabbi gestured at me and asked her, “and what happens when he dies?”

Kim said, the same.

But, the rabbi objected, Catholics believe that you only go to heaven if you accept Christ.

Kim waved him away, “I don’t believe that. I think you just need to be a good person.”

This isn’t just a Catholics and Jews thing. I knew an orthodox Jewish woman who told me that she loved my relationship with other people but couldn’t accept my lack of a relationship with God.

There are so many beautiful and rich teachings in religion.

And then it is used to divide us.

Kim may not have noticed when the priest said you had to be a good Catholic because in her head she may have just substituted “a good person”.

To her that was enough.

She tried to be a good Catholic too – but that was her choice. She respected those who chose to be something else or nothing at all.

She thought we could all be special.

Published in: on January 7, 2018 at 5:19 pm  Comments (1)  

The Gospel

The reading at the funeral service for Kim’s aunt was one that I’d heard before.

It was one that everyone had heard before.

But for some reason – perhaps it was this political climate – I listened differently. I don’t think I remembered that there were two parts to it.

In the first part, Jesus turns to some of the people around him and thanks them for helping him when he was in need and for caring for him when he was sick.

They are confused. They know they didn’t help Jesus. They didn’t even know he was sick or in need.

“I wasn’t,” said Jesus (well he didn’t say it in English, but you get the idea).

Jesus tells them you helped people who were poor and needed your help. You provided clothes for people who needed clothes. You provided medical attention to those that needed it.

“When you help people like that, people who have no other way of getting by, you are helping me.”

Now I’m not a Christian, but I was married to one for more than twenty years and she loved the religion but had issues with the church. One of the things she loved about the religion was this notion that your faith is measured in how you treat the people who need your help.

In this passage Jesus says that how you treat them is how you would treat me.

Kim and I had talked about this passage in the context of her sister.

By this measure, few live their faith more than Carolyn. She would do anything for you if you need. She would do anything for you if she just thinks you want something.

You can’t tell Carolyn, “I like that scarf.”

If you do, she’ll say, “do you want it?”

And she means it.

You need to say, “I like that scarf on you.”

But back to the reading. There is a second part.

There is a part where Jesus turns to some of the other people there and says, “where were you when I was in need? Where were you when I was sick?”

The people are horrified. If they’d known that Jesus needed something or was sick, of course they would have helped him.

“No,” said Jesus, “you’re missing the point.”

“There were people all around you who needed help, people who were hungry, and people who were sick. You didn’t help them. That is equivalent to not being there for me.”

This is what made Kim so sad about some of her fellow church goers.

“How,” she would ask, “how, can they sit there and hear this message and radiate with goodness for an hour and then support plans that take money and resources away from those that need it the most to give it to people who can never spend it in three lifetimes.”

I heard the priest retelling this story and thought of Kim.

I hoped that there does not endeth the lesson.

That people would carry it out of the church and into their lives.

Published in: on January 5, 2018 at 1:52 pm  Comments (2)  

Uncle Bill

A couple of months ago I went to a funeral for one of Kim’s aunts.

During the service I sat with Kim’s parents and my brother-in-law Tommy.

After the service I followed Tommy to the reception. My mother-in-law had told me it was close – it’s just the first right turn.

It was the first right turn and then another twenty minutes or so down that road.

Tommy and I sat with his parents and some of his cousins to eat lunch and exchange stories.

We stood up to get some cookies and coffee in the other room.

Three of Kim’s cousins – sisters – called us over. We stood and talked to them for a while. Kim’s uncle Bill looked at me and asked, “weren’t you guys headed somewhere.”

I smiled and told him we were headed to get some cookies but that there were a lot of Diemerts between us and the cookies so it might take a while.

The three sisters told us which cookies we should make sure we got and Tommy and I turned to head out after asking if anyone at the table wanted anything.

Sure enough, we turned away from the table and were stopped by another cousin.

I’d talked to his wife outside the church and he’d stopped to shake my hand as he went up for communion. Tommy and I stood and caught up with him.

You don’t have brief conversations with Diemert. They are a large and warm family with lots of memories and great stories.

After about twenty minutes there was a hand on my shoulder.

I turned.

It was uncle Bill. He smiled and said, “I didn’t think you were going to make it up there.”

He handed me a plate of cookies for me and Tommy.

Published in: on January 2, 2018 at 8:38 am  Comments (1)  

A Second Christmas Without Kim

About a month ago Maggie asked if we’d be getting a tree this year.

“Of course,” I said.

Kim and I were entangled in each other’s holidays.

I didn’t light Chanukah candles for the first time in twenty-some years because Kim wasn’t here.

That’s silly. I’m Jewish – she was Catholic but it was this difference that encouraged us to celebrate our respective traditions.

The Catholic traditions were hers and the girls. The Jewish traditions were mine and the girls. But we were each there to support the other in their celebrations.

I always went with Kim to buy the tree. I always paid for it. I always carried the boxes filled with ornaments downstairs so that she could decorate and carried them upstairs when she was done.

Kim or her mother always bought the candles each year. Kim carefully put the menorah away when the holiday was over and took it out in time for the first night.

I just didn’t feel like lighting candles this year.

It could have been Kim.

It could have been the political climate.

In some ways, I needed to light the candles more than ever this year as a reminder of what the holiday stands for. Of opposing occupation and oppression and of the miracles that can happen when you stand up for what’s good and right.

But somehow I couldn’t.

Somehow I didn’t.

As the time got closer, Maggie asked if I was sure about the tree. How would there be time to pick one up and decorate it.

I already brought the ornament boxes downstairs, I told her.

I’ve packed the tree base in the car and will bring it when I come to pick you up from college. We’ll stop on the way home.

She stopped to tell me she would have never thought ahead like that.

Maggie decorated the tree the day after we got home. She picked out a great tree and took so much care to make it look really nice – nicer than it’s ever been.

There’s an “E” near the top. I never noticed it before. Last night I was sitting on the radiator trying to get warm and I noticed a “K” in the back.

I asked Maggie about them.

She told me we had all four letters.

I never knew.

I searched and found the “D” and the “M”.

All four letters. I never knew.

Maggie and I exchanged gifts Christmas morning.

Well, not Christmas morning. More like early afternoon once she got up.

She got me coasters of Monet’s Water Lillies from Kim’s favorite museum – L’orangerie.

The second Christmas without Kim.

The twelfth without Elena.

After we open presents I stop at the cemetery to see their graves.

There’s a wreath by Kim’s grave. Someone has taken the tree that my in-laws placed at Elena’s grave.

It’s cold – so cold – at the cemetery.

I go to my in-laws for Christmas dinner and then back home.

I turn on the lights on our tree.

You know once you’ve seen something how they are the first thing you notice?

I see the four letters.

I see the ornaments that Kim bought at different times in our lives. I see the ornaments she brought to our marriage. I see the ornaments she bought for me, to include me in her tree, in those first years of our marriage. I see the ornaments she bought for the girls. I see the ornaments that Maggie bought for Kim and the ones I bought for them.

Are we getting a tree?

Of course.

It’s filled with Kim and Elena and Maggie and me.

One letter for each.

And more memories than you can mention.

Published in: on December 27, 2017 at 10:43 am  Comments (1)  

A Sign

This morning began abruptly.

What’s that?

I bumped my nightstand with my wrist so my Apple Watch would show me the time.

5 something.

There it is again.

The dog was pacing by the bedroom door retching loudly.

I moved quickly.

I unset the alarm and headed down the stairs.

The dog didn’t follow.

That’s not a good sign. She continued to retch.

Uggh, I hope nothing is coming up.

She finally trotted down the stairs past me and headed to the back door.

She paused to retch some more.

She hasn’t done this in a long time.

I opened the door and she ran out.

I grabbed a bag and paper towels and cleanser and headed back up stairs.

I turned on the bedroom light and looked where she’d been.

Nothing.

I followed her path from the bed, to the door, down the stairs, to the back door.

Nothing.

I smiled and said, “thanks honey.”

Just a birthday greeting from Kim.

Published in: on September 29, 2017 at 8:29 am  Leave a Comment  

The Fridge

Monday morning just after 6 and Annabelle is pacing by the bedroom door waiting for me to put on a t-shirt and shorts and let her out.

I let her back in, feed her, and start making my morning coffee.

It’s garbage day so I carry the recycling out and look around the kitchen for more things that need to go out.

And then I make a mistake.

I open the fridge.

Ohh. This doesn’t look so good any more.

That’s past it’s expiration.

This bag of herbs – I think it’s parsley – is way past its usefulness.

When I reach in to grab the bag of herbs my hand brushes past something soft and gross.

I bend over.

Actually, we need to stop there.

I can’t tell you how many conversations with Kim over the last twenty-some years were me standing wth the refrigerator open, standing there, saying to her, “I don’t see it.”

She would always say the same thing. “You have to bend over.”

So, since Kim is now wherever I am, I bend over to see what was soft and gross.

I still don’t know what it was. It’s a bag that used to contain something leafy that is now a liquid.

This is now turning into a project.

I’ve been Kim-less for over a year and now Maggie has gone back to school. I buy fewer fruits and vegetables at a time but I still haven’t hit the sweet spot so they go bad more quickly than they used to because they sit in the fridge longer than they used to.

I find two old containers of cherry tomatoes, marinara sauce that has something growing on top, celery that’s wilted beyond being useful even in chicken stock.

I should stop there but I go on to open the fruit and vegetable bins.

One of them has a pepper that has gone really bad and has passed it on to its neighbors.

Now I not only need to throw things out but I need to scrub out the refrigerator when I’m done.

I had to stop when I noticed that the floor probably needs a good cleaning too.

I’m going to pace myself.

Published in: on September 25, 2017 at 6:31 am  Leave a Comment  

New Year

I’m still not religious and yet the Jewish New Year is always a time where I pause and consider what sort of person I am and want to be and how I’ll do that.

I look at how I treat other people and how I want to change.

For me it’s a time for resolutions – not small ones like “go to the gym” or “go on a diet”.

It’s a time for big resolutions like “make sure you put your friends first”.

The religious traditions for this time of year include those things but they also include that book of life that I think of each year.

The tradition is that your name either is or isn’t in the book of life for the next year if you’re going to make it through this year. The book is written in on the New Year and sealed on Yom Kippur.

I don’t think much of that tradition.

For the last eleven years I haven’t been able to understand who would leave a six year old out of that book.

For the last year – two holiday seasons – I need to ask how anyone could leave Kimmy out of that book.

How?

Also it’s been tough for this second sweep through all of the holidays, anniversaries, and important dates.

The first time through Maggie’s birthday without Kim is a first. We were still reeling from the loss. So much was different that this different stood out but didn’t make the proper impression.

The second time is different.

Somehow it’s more permanent.

The second time is when you realize, “oh, Kim is never going to be here on Maggie’s birthday ever again.”

Ever.

The second time around is when I notice my footprints on the path and realize I’m just going to go around and around this yearly track and there are no footprints next to mine.

Those sandals taking short strides – as long as her little legs would allow.

It’s a New Year.

I need to decide who I’m going to be this year and how.

I think I did pretty well this past year.

But it was my first time around the track.

I met a ton of people for a cup of coffee. I hung out a lot. I didn’t get as much work done but that’s ok.

This is my second time around.

I guess I could do worse than just placing my feet in the footprints that got me through this last year.

Let’s get together this year – have a cup of coffee – sit and talk a bit.

Happy New Year.

Published in: on September 21, 2017 at 1:12 pm  Comments (3)  

Gotcha

Twenty years ago today, a woman I had never met, placed Maggie in my arms and I became a dad.

Such a gift.

Twenty years of being Maggie’s dad.

Here’s to many more.

Happy Gotcha Day, baby.

Published in: on September 15, 2017 at 10:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Happy Birthday

A wonderful thing happened for Kim’s birthday today.

I was at the Sharpe’s for their pre-Labor Day picnic and their daughter Jennifer told me she was looking forward to coming over for dinner Friday for Kim’s birthday for pizza.

I looked puzzled.

She told me her dad had told her and besides, she said, “it’s in my planner.”

So there you go.

“OK,” I said, “I’ll see you Friday.”

I invited Kim’s mom and sister to come over after the mass for Kim and they said they’d be there.

And then I remembered the last thing Kim texted me.

“Burgers”

I’d wanted to know would we be going out for our anniversary or did she want burgers. She figured we could go out after we took Maggie back to college. Tonight we could grill in the back yard. So she her last text to me was,

“Burgers”

Then again, I had two pizza dough recipes I wanted to try.

I could make burgers and pizza.

And potato salad to use up the potatoes from our farm share.

And greek salad to use up some of the other ingredients.

And I could heat up a can of baked beans – these turned out to be one of the biggest hits.

I made four sheet pizzas. One was cheese and basil, another was mushrooms and peppers, another was pepperoni, and the last was sausage and onion. I put olives on one of them but I don’t remember which.

The rule in my house is you have to take leftovers home with you.

People did.

We ate as much as we could and then split up the leftovers.

People left and cleanup went quickly.

Happy Birthday, Kimmy.

Published in: on September 8, 2017 at 4:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Empty Nest

This is the year that Elena would have gone away to college.

This is the year that Kim and I would have been empty-nesters.

It happened early for us. It happened a few years ago when Maggie went off to college and it was just Kim and me.

And Annabelle, of course.

Kim started traveling with me more and more. We went everywhere together and we had a blast.

It was the best of the old and the new.

She’d apologize for how much it cost for her to come too – but, man, the value from those trips was incredible.

We had twenty years of marriage behind us. We knew what each other liked. We loved making sure the other got to do the things they liked.

Traveling with Kim was great.

These last few years were like the trailer for the rest of our lives.

We were going to have a better second twenty years of our marriage than our first twenty – and the first twenty was pretty darned good.

It’s not that we were only planning on being together another twenty years, but after another twenty we’d be too old to do the things we do, to go the places we go, to move through life with ease and without pain.

So twenty more amazing years and then a comfortable fade to black.

You’re not guaranteed anything – but actuarially we can reasonably expect certain things.

I didn’t expect to be living in a house with no one there but me.

And Annabelle, of course.

I’d forgotten that this is the year that Kim and I were going to be empty nesters until I came back from dropping Maggie at college.

The house was so quiet.

Annabelle was at the kennel.

Maggie was away at school.

Elena was dead.

Kim was dead.

This – this is an empty nest.

Recently I had to give a deposition about what the loss of Kim meant to me.

The questions had to do with income and insurance.

The questions didn’t get at the next twenty years of our marriage – the part that was even better than the last twenty – the part that I’ll never know.

The questions were about money and stuff.

A marriage isn’t just money and stuff. Money and stuff is what divorcing couples argue about when they’re splitting up because the important parts of a marriage are gone or were never there.

I’m glad for my money and stuff but it’s not the important part.

The house is so quiet.

When people joke with me about their empty nest or complain about their empty nest I want to show them what empty looks like.

It’s a house with just me.

And Annabelle, of course.

Published in: on September 6, 2017 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment