Expected and not

There are moments I can prepare for and those I can’t.

I spent this past weekend at my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah in Santa Monica.

I know that the mourner’s kaddish is coming. It’s a moment we think about and pray for those who have died.

I don’t go to services that often and I’m not religious. And yet that prayer just rips me in half every time.

I know that before the service begins.

I feel it coming.

There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m going to feel my losses sharply and deeply.

It kind of surprises me. I’m not religious and yet that part of the service seems to speak right to me.

I’ve learned to embrace the prayer and sink into it and be comforted by others thinking about lost loved ones. Some are thinking of Kim and Elena too.

Some aren’t thinking of anyone or anything at all.

I remember being one of them.

I remember seeing someone near me truly grieving and feeling the moment through their eyes.

Friday night I sniffled through it.

Saturday morning Maggie had passed me a tissue by that point.

It was the second time that morning that she’d helped me through a tough moment.

The family gathered before the service to take pictures.

The photographer arranged us for our family’s group picture.

She waved towards me to ask who I was.

“I’m his uncle,” I said.

She waved me in closer.

“Are you married?” she asked.

I looked at her blankly.

“Where’s your wife?” she asked.

I just couldn’t find the words.

She wasn’t wrong to ask. I just lost all ability to respond.

Maggie said, “we’re together,” and walked over and quietly stood next to me.

We moved on.

Some days Maggie just astounds me. Saturday was one of those days.

Published in: on April 24, 2018 at 3:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Benjamin

The first Mother’s Day that Peggy lived with us, she came downstairs with a gift for Kim and told her that Kim was her american mother.

It meant so much to Kim.

Peggy was one of the Chinese teachers in Shaker. She’d been living with us for six months.

A week later while I was out of town, Peggy asked Kim if she could live with us the following year as well.

What could Kim say?

She was Peggy’s american mother.

Peggy and Kim spent time together talking – mainly when I travelled. Peggy’s own parents are about our age so we always felt parental and protective of her.

Peggy lived with us the following year and moved into her own apartment during the school year after that.

She was only a couple of blocks away but we didn’t see her very much.

Kim missed her.

Peggy would visit now and then and we’d sit and talk but it wasn’t the same.

We remembered her zooming by in the morning on her way to school. No time for breakfast – just a cup of coffee.

We remembered her coming back to take a nap before zooming to graduate school.

We remembered her cooking in the kitchen.

We remembered her in her room talking to her mother in China every day.

Peggy lived in Elena’s room – although the whole time Peggy lived there we called it Peggy’s room. Once Peggy moved to her own apartment we referred to it as Elena’s room again.

Peggy got married and she and her husband bought a house on the corner of our block.

Her parents and her grandmother would come from China for long visits. Although we didn’t see them often, we loved getting together with Peggy’s family. Just the nicest people.

A year and a half ago they sat with us in the hospital as Kim lay dying.

They were there for us like family.

Kim’s chinese daughter, her husband, and her parents.

After Elena died twelve years ago today, Kim would sometimes muse about the moments Elena never lived to see.

I think about last June when Elena’s class graduated from High School. ¬†Elena never lived to graduate from high school. Then again, she didn’t live to finish first grade.

And if she had lived? Kim wouldn’t have lived to see her daughter graduate from high school. Kim wouldn’t have lived to see Elena start the twelfth grade.

A little over a week ago I had the privilege of holding Benjamin in my arms.

Peggy and Eugene’s beautiful baby boy was born a week and a half ago.

They let me visit them in the hospital.

Peggy’s mother smiled and placed Benjamin in my arms.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I walked and rocked back and forth.

It was the same hospital where Kim had Elena almost nineteen years ago.

I brought Peggy the same flowers I had brought Kim almost nineteen years ago.

I held our chinese daughter’s son.

There aren’t many “Kim would have” moments that I can truly be sure of, but Kim would have loved meeting Benjamin. She would have been proud to have been his american grandmother.

I could just be projecting.

I handed Benjamin back to Peggy’s mother, sad that I wasn’t handing the baby to Peggy’s american mother, but just so, so happy.

There is just something so perfect about holding a baby.

It focuses me on this moment.

On this child.

On Benjamin.

 

Published in: on February 22, 2018 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

She Said “Yes”

Twenty-five years ago today I asked Kim to marry me.

She said, “yes”.

We never made a big fuss about Valentine’s Day. I didn’t choose today because it was supposed to be a romantic holiday – I chose it because Kim was so bad with dates that I figured she could remember this one.

January 25, 1992 was the first time we went out together.

July 25, 1992 was when we decided we would start dating.

Kim would later say that she avoided dating me because she knew if she dated me we would get married – and she wanted to marry someone with whom she shared her religion.

September, 1992 we went on a trip together to San Francisco, Napa Valley, and Lake Tahoe.

On Valentines Day, 1993 we were engaged.

Six months later, on August 8, 1993 we were married.

It’s not that we didn’t ever argue and it’s not that we weren’t ever moody or mean to each other, but our marriage was as perfect as a real marriage can be in real life.

We never fought about big things – it was always stupid things.

Towards the end, we were learning that if these were little things, why did we bother to fight about them. We weren’t quite there yet – but we were close.

We never really celebrated Valentine’s Day.

I got Kim flowers when if felt right – not just on a day when you were supposed to.

Valentine’s Day in our real marriage was affectionate but it was also about us standing in the kitchen in the morning, drinking coffee and eating some of the candy we had bought for the kids.

I loved touching Kim – just putting a hand on her.

The look she gave me depended on where I put my hand.

She’d roll her eyes and I’d tell her, “you’ll be sad the day I don’t reach out to touch you.”

She’d smile.

The Valentine’s Day before she died, Kim said, “I got us something.”

It was just a little something but it said that as we aged together there was still a spark that we would continue to enjoy.

There was all the promise of the rest of our lives together.

Our health was good enough to travel the world together. We had the time and means to enjoy the things we wanted. We loved to talk to each other or just be together quietly. We still reached for each other – just because.

Someone asked me this week if I was angry at Kim for dying.

No.

It wouldn’t have been her choice and it certainly wasn’t her fault.

The man asked if I’m angry at her for being in a convertible on that day in that place?

No.

I’m angry at the person who killed her. I’m not angry at Kim in any way.

I feel cheated.

The man nodded and said, “you were.”

It was the second time I said that to someone this week and the second time I heard that answer.

Twenty-five years ago today I asked Kim if she would spend the rest of her life with me.

She said, “yes.”

And she did.

Published in: on February 14, 2018 at 7:52 am  Leave a Comment  

Two Candles

After Elena died –

Sigh.

How many sentences and stories have I started with that phrase over the past nearly twelve years?

Any way.

After Elena died, whenever Kim and I would visit a church on our travels, she would light a candle for Elena.

We’d be walking around the interior of the church and come to the shrine for the Virgin Mary. Kim would look at it and lean over an whisper, “do you have a Euro?” or whatever it was. It got to be that I would already have the coins in my hand and put it into her palm before she even asked.

I’d stand and watch as Kim put the coins in the box and lit a candle for Elena.

And then Kim died.

Last year, before we visited Paris, I asked Maggie if she would mind lighting candles for Elena and her mother.

I know that’s a lot to ask.

It seemed that a Catholic should light the candles. Kim always said a prayer when she did it. It may be a stretch to call Maggie a Catholic – but she was raised to know the religion and, whether she believes or not, I think they count her as one since she was baptized and confirmed.

Maggie agreed and when we got to Sacre Coeur I went off to get change for the candles and returned and put the money in the box.

I watched as Maggie lit the candles for her mother and her sister.

It meant so much to me to see her light the candles with so much respect and love.

This year Maggie is back in college.

I was in Italy during her fall break so she joined me.

In Venice as we entered a church she asked me if we would light candles for Kim and Elena.

I nodded.

It meant so much to me that she asked.

Over winter break I was preparing for my upcoming trip to Paris. Kim always lit candles in Sacre Coeur and Maggie had lit them the year before. I asked Maggie if it would be disrespectful if a non-Catholic lit the candles.

She said, no, she didn’t think so.

I told her I wouldn’t be saying any prayers.

She thought it was enough if I thought of Kim and Elena as I lit the candles.

So I did.

After nearly twelve years I lit a candle myself for my dead daughter.

It felt completely different. It was a combination of honoring Elena and of not having Kim there to light it.

I cried as I’d cried as I watched Kim light the candle for her daughter.

I cried as I’d cried as I watched Maggie light the candle for her sister.

It was different.

If I had to explain it, I think this time I was crying for my loss whereas before I was crying for theirs.

Then I lit a candle for Kim.

It was as intimate a gesture as the first time I reached out and held her hand.

I felt her there for a moment.

I don’t mean in a creepy way that she was really there. But I felt the way I felt when she stood next to me.

I stood and watched the candles flicker for a while.

And then I felt her gone.

I stood a moment longer. And then I moved on.

 

Published in: on January 28, 2018 at 4:38 am  Comments (2)  

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