A Visit from Will

“Daniel”, Kim called up stairs as I was writing the last post, “Will is here.”

Will.

I had called him earlier to ask him to stop by. By the time I had gotten downstairs my father had already broken the news to him. Dad asked, “how did you know Elena?”

“I take their trash,” said Will.

Will works for the city of Shaker Heights collecting trash from our house each Monday. Many people put their trash out at night and collect their empty barrels the next day. We’re lucky enough to know Will. Each Monday my girls rush to the window when they hear the garbage truck nearby.

In the summer they open the windows and shout “Willie”. Will gives them a huge smile and blows kisses to them and waves. During the winter they run from window to window to wave at him as he pulls in the driveway and carts away this week’s trash.

We usually have time to talk a little bit. And then he leaves us to go on to the next house. Doing his job with a love for the people he works for and with. Will has friends all over the city. Kids who wait for him to come. He has an ability to make a connection with so many different people.

Will has that same spark that Elena had. People know when he’s there and they want to be near him. At Christmas time he brought by a gift for my girls. He warned that it was something that kids would love and parents would hate. Sure enough, it was a parrot that repeats back whatever a kid says in a high pitched screeching voice.

What did you get from your garbage man for Christmas?

I look at him and think how lucky and how much richer we are for having this connection. Will lost his mom not too long ago and we watched how sad he was. We sent him a card and greeted him each week to see how he was doing. The girls wrote him notes and tryed to cheer him up and to feel his pain. Today he came to see us and talk to us about our loss.

Published in: on February 24, 2006 at 6:03 pm  Comments (3)  

Other People’s Children

Driving home from the cemetery this afternoon, Kim and I passed by a father holding hands with the cutest little toddler. The child was over dressed in a snow suit and was walking, occasionally stopping to tip his whole body back in the way that children do to look up at a parent. The father stopped each time the young one stopped to look back at his child.

How often have you been with your child and not been with them. You’ve taken the time to be at a kid’s soccer game but been on your cell phone. You’ve left work to pick your kid up from school but your mind isn’t there on your son or daughter and the day they’ve just had at school – your mind is already back at your desk on the next thing you have to do.

Kim and I had just come from picking out a cemetery plot for Elena as we passed this father and child. She asked if it made me sad. I said no. No, it doesn’t make me sad to see a parent engaged in his child’s life who is really enjoying a moment with them. I love that. All children deserve our full attention. She nodded. She isn’t saddened by other children either.

I think that I will be saddened later when I see children who are the age that Elena will never get to be. What happens in nine years when she would have been learning to drive or in eleven when she would have graduated from high school.

In the past twenty-four hours Kim and I have picked out a casket and a cemetery plot for a six year old. Seeing other parents who are present for their children is one of the things that brings us joy because we know that feeling.

Published in: on February 24, 2006 at 5:41 pm  Comments (6)  

Newspaper Announcement

STEINBERG

Elena Maxine Steinberg, age 6. Beloved daughter of Daniel H. Steinberg and Kimberli A. Diemert; dear sister of Margaret Rose (Maggie); cherished granddaughter of Ira and Priscilla Steinberg and Thomas and Geraldine Diemert; fond niece of Jill Steinberg, Ethan Steinberg (wife Rona and son Eli), Thomas Diemert Jr. (wife Patricia) and Carolyn Perlman (husband Jeffrey and daughter Lydia); loving cousin and friend to many. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Elena Steinberg Memorial Fund c/o Shaker Schools Foundation, 15600 Parkland Dr., Shaker Hts., OH 44120. Funeral Mass, Monday, February 27, 2006 at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church at 10 a.m. Interment Lake View Cemetery. Family will receive friends at the SCHULTE & MAHON-MURPHY FUNERAL HOME, 5252 MAYFIELD RD., LYNDHURST (BETWEEN RICHMOND AND BRAINARD) SUNDAY 2-6 P.M.

X-REF:   DIEMERT see STEINBERG notice

PD SAT 2/25 & SUN 2/26

Published in: on February 24, 2006 at 1:08 pm  Comments (18)  

Two Religions

We celebrate two religions in our house. There are people who think that wrong. There are people who think that that ends up serving neither religion. We do it anyway.

When I go to my inlaws house for Christmas, my parents are invited as well. My sister-in-law is also married to a Jewish man and his parents are there too. At my mother-in-law’s Christmas table there are more Jews than Christians.

When we host Passover seder in our house, my in-laws and friends join us. There are always more Christians than Jews at our Passover seder.

More than the details of each religion, this love and commonality and underlying lessons is what I want to give my children. They celebrated the Christian holidays with Kim and the Jewish holidays with me.

But, there is of course, a fundamental conflict. Sure.

Maggie put her finger on it when she was four. She figured out that Catholics believed Jesus to be the son of God and Jews didn’t. She said to me from her car seat in the back, “they can’t both be right.”

There’s been a lot of fighting over the fact that they can’t both be right. Wars have been fought and people have died over settling issues of whose religion is the most compassionate and correct.

But not in our house.

Although this question came years before we expected it to, my answer to Maggie was that it’s not knowable who is right so in our house we respect both views. If at some point in her life she wants to choose to become entirely Catholic, entirely Jewish, entirely something else, or entirely nothing that is up to her. She thought a minute and said, “that’s what mom said”.

So here are two Elena stories on religion. Elena, because she was small and cute and the life of a party could get away with being devilish. Kim took the girls to the F O P Christmas party each year. One year they came back and Elena was excited because they had had a Karaoke machine set up. She loved a microphone and was blessed with an imagination that protected her from knowing she had no sense of rhythm or tone. I asked what she had sung and she just grinned at me and went up stairs to brush her teeth.

I looked at Kim and asked “what?” Kim said she sang a song that no one but her and Maggie had recognized. She’d sung the Chanukkah blessings. Not in defiance but in that devilish little way, she’d expressed her Jewish side at a Christian event.

This, of course, went both ways. That next spring at Passover she sat between her two grandfathers. Maggie was stealing the show. She was old enough to read from the Hagaddah when it was her turn. Maggie has always been a good and fearless leader and I was bursting with pride.

When we passed the Matzoh around to split for the blessing, Elena passed it on to my father – her Jewish grandfather – with that devilish look on her face. She nodded her head to him and said “body of Christ.”

Published in: on February 24, 2006 at 9:14 am  Comments (12)  

On Choosing a Wife

When I was a grad student at Case, just down the hall from the Math department was this little cutie who sat in an office with the door open. I would stick my head in and talk for a bit and over time Kim and I got to be friends.

Our first date was fourteen years ago on January 25. We went to see the play “The Heidi Chronicles” and then out for coffee. Although it was just friends going out, it was the perfect evening. It took each of us several months to realize how much more we enjoyed each other’s company than the people we were “dating”.

Kim said that she didn’t want to date me because she knew we would get married. She is Catholic and that’s a very important part of her. I’m Jewish and I’m struggling with how important that is to me. But in either case, neither of us wanted to change. She knew that her life would be easier if she married a Catholic man. They could celebrate this part of their life together. I’m not very observant (in a religious sense) but I wanted my children to be brought up Jewish. I selfishly assumed I’d marry a Jewish woman who would do all of that work for me.

We started going out on July 25 and got married a little over a year later on August 8, 1993. I don’t know why. We liked each other’s company. We made each other laugh. We made each other think. We were attracted to each other and loved holding each other. Are those reasons to get married?

The first year of marriage was very difficult. We were both eldest children who had been single and living on our own for two long. Compromise was not in either of our natures. At the end of the first year, Kim woke up and looked at me and said “I’m going to make a list of everything I’m unhappy with in our marriage.” This didn’t sound good. We had our coffee, not saying much to each other. As she left the house she added “and you can make a list too.”

We did. We talked. We listened. We are still married. Both of us say the same thing to friends when asked. We are very happy in our marriage – it has been a great 12 years and one not so good year.

After a year or so of enjoying our marriage, we discussed having children. People who know us and know how central our children our to our lives (I can’t use the singular form yet) may find it surprising that we could see ourselves being happy with and without children. But I think that was crucial for our personalities. The fact that we could live rich and fulfilled lives without children meant that we weren’t choosing to have children to somehow complete ourselves.

We decided to adopt a child and (if we could) have a child. So many of our friends either were adopted or have adopted that we wanted to start there. If we couldn’t have a biological child we would have adopted another.

This story isn’t about our children it’s about Kim. This woman I married because she was cute and smart and had a sharp tongue and a warm heart.

She is an amazing mother. Who knew. When you are dating someone or first get married, you have no idea of how they will be as a parent. She is wonderful and has made me better. I’ve watched her with the kids amazed at her patience and instincts. My heart swells with love for her watching what she has given our children. Of course we disagree about many things in parenting but, as my mom constantly and correctly reminds me, I was so lucky to find and marry Kim.
This isn’t a stop and smell the roses moment because we’ve lost a child. I tell Kim these things a lot. When she is feeling harried and overwhelmed I tease her that this is the life she asked for. She has a husband, two beautiful, happy, healthy, bright children, and a great house in a great neighborhood with great schools and wonderful neighbors. She works part-time so that she can help out in the schools. She’s been our kids’ room mother, gone on field trips, been an assistant troop leader for the Brownies, been a soccer mom. Who knew she could or would be all this.
Our biggest fights are over the stupidest things. The only thing she’s told me I couldn’t buy (yeah – couldn’t – that left me a little puzzled) was a $25 baking scale. This was ten years ago and she shook her head for years saying she didn’t know why she said no. She insisted I go out and buy one for a long time before I did. We’ve never fought over the important things and there have been plenty of important things over the years.

I wish I had never seen Kim as a grieving mother. There is nothing I can do to help her. As with everything else she touches she has been a strength to those around her. We chose Elena’s casket last night. As nice and gentle as the funeral director was, how do you listen to “do you like this one better” when you are talking about such a thing.

Neither Kim nor I wear a wedding ring. We both have them. We just don’t wear them. You are supposed to wear a ring as an outward sign of your marriage. There’s no one who has spoken with me for more than five minutes who hasn’t heard me mention Kim or the girls.

I have a fear in all that we are going through. There are so many families that don’t pull through. There are so many families that are destroyed by the death of a child. We both understand that danger and have talked about it. On the day that Elena died, I ran out to pick up the mail and to get Maggie from school. There was a program on NPR about a book in which a man had interviewed men about their marriages. The author reported that a surprising number of men ( 80% ?) said that if they had to do it all again they would marry their current wife.

I didn’t see what was so surprising about that.
Neither Kim nor I believe there is only one person out there for you. If that were true, what are the odds that you’d actually find that person. We think that there are many people that could be right for you. And once you are ready, with love and commitment (and each mean different things over the course of a marriage), you can build something wonderful. Once it’s been built, however, then I can’t imagine building it with someone else. I hope I never have to.

Published in: on February 24, 2006 at 7:19 am  Comments (5)  

What to Say to Mourners

Over the years I’ve been to way  too many funerals. I’ve walked into wakes and into houses where the family and friends are sitting. I’ve felt awkward and not known what to say. How do you say anything that could possibly comfort someone who has lost a mother, a father, a husband, a wife, a grandmother, a grandfather, a son or a daughter? I can’t possibly know how they feel and I can’t possibly say anything that won’t be stupid.

Here’s what I’ve learned being on the receiving end.

You help the minute you walk through the door or pick up the phone.

So many people walk out of our door saying “I’m sorry but I don’t know what to say”.

It doesn’t matter what you say. You help by showing us you cared enough to come and feel awkward and inadequate. You help just by being here. (Although I could do without being asked “how are you” or “are you ok” – there is an angry response welling in my chest that I would rather not have burst out inappropriately).

Thank you to those who came to our house (except for the lady from Channel 19 news who came twice). Thank you to all who called. Thank you to all who read and commented on this blog.

But you know – not everyone can come or call or respond. Some are so moved by sadness that they just can’t or won’t. Thank you too. Thank you for feeling so deeply that you can’t come over and that you can’t call and that you can’t respond. I know you are there and you shouldn’t have to do something that is so awful and uncomfortable for you.

There’s a lot of “you have to’s” tied up with mourning. People will say “you have to see the body” or “you have to go to the house” or “you have to go to the funeral”.

You don’t. And you don’t have to apologize later that you didn’t or couldn’t.

We are grateful for those who have been able to express what they are feeling, for those who can’t, and for those who won’t.

For me, the hugs are the hardest and the best. You don’t need to say anything.

Published in: on February 24, 2006 at 6:33 am  Comments (21)