Firsts

It’s my  twentieth Father’s Day.

My first without Kim.

Each year Kim would get up early and go to Bialy’s as they opened and get fresh bagels, smoked salmon, and cream cheese. She’d cut up an onion and tomato and make coffee and we’d sit and have breakfast together.

“Don’t you want something fancier?” she’d asked before our first Father’s Day.

Our first.

“No thanks,” I’d said.

“I’m going to make you Huevos Rancheros,” she decided.

I know I’ve told this story before, but that’s what we do on twentieth anniversaries. We look back. We share the greatest hits.

“Do you want Huevos Rancheros?” she asked.

“Not really,” I said.

“It’s ok,” she said, “I’ll make it for you.”

Then she looked up the recipe. “I’ll pick up bagels.”

The first year she was going to pick them up Saturday night. She went over to her parents and as it got later I reminded her that the bagel store would close soon.

At some point she started getting up early Sunday morning and getting there as the store opened.

About five years ago she decided to make Huevos Rancheros.

Other than that year we had bagels, smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomatoes, and onion every Father’s Day.

This year I had a bowl of Frosted Flakes in Almond Milk.

So many things aren’t the same.

My friend Rick asked me about this yesterday – all of the traditions we had.

I told him that many of the traditions were with other people and now that Kim is gone it’s too painful for them to continue them or it just doesn’t feel the same.

I get it.

It’s not the same.

I could have gotten up this morning and gone and gotten a bagel myself. But that didn’t seem to be the point.

The point wasn’t the bagel on Father’s Day.

The point was a bagel with Kim on Father’s day.

So many things are different and we’re not even at the anniversary of Kim’s death. I’m just rounding the final turn in this first lap around the sun after she died.

So many things are wonderful about my life.

I’m sitting at our picnic table in the back yard of a house that’s paid for with my puppy sitting on the table next to my Mac Book Pro drinking a cold brew cup of coffee that I roasted.

So many things are right in my world.

But it’s not the same.

Last year I was sitting here as Kim drove in the driveway back with a bag filled with fresh bagels. I opened the garage door for her.

“Need help?” I asked.

“No thanks, honey,” she said.

So I sat in this very same spot and drank a cup of coffee with our dog while she brought out our Father’s Day breakfast.

Same spot. Same dog. Probably drinking coffee from the same cup.

It’s not the same.

It’s Frosted Flakes and Almond Milk standing at the sink.

Just not the same.

Published in: on June 18, 2017 at 8:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Brown Eyed Girl

Kim loved Van’s voice.

She loved music and knew so many more groups than I knew or know and I worked on air for half a dozen radio stations with various formats.

There were a lot of records (and CDs) that we both owned before we were married. Van Morrison’s “Moondance” was among them.

End to end it it an album filled with memories.

We had a flutist and guitar play the title song at our wedding just before the ceremony.

I had the lyrics to “Into the Mystic” printed in the program for Kim’s funeral.

“And when that foghorn blows, I will be coming home.”

Home.

It means so many things in song, in poetry, and in prose.

I don’t know why that song is about a life remembered as a loved one – a companion – dies. As they rise into the mystic.

“And when that foghorn whistle blows I want to hear it – I don’t have to fear it.”

Oh, Kimmy.

The first time we went to see Richard play, Kim requested “Brown Eyed Girl”. I think of her whenever I hear it.

“Standing in the sunlight laughing – Hide behind a rainbow’s wall
Slipping and a-sliding – All along the waterfall”

I wandered into Juma coffee shop and it was on the radio and I slipped through a hole in time and thought of Kim and our wedding and her funeral all fused into the few minutes the song played.

The song carried me back to when Kim and I were “Laughing and a-running”. Man, we had a lot of laughs. Twenty – some years and we could make each other smile and laugh.

But there’s more.

“So hard to find my way – Now that I’m all on my own”.

And Brown Eyed Girl is a happy song.

I’m still trying to figure out what to put on the side of Kim’s grave stone.

I considered putting her favorite phrase but you can’t really engrave “What an Asshole” in stone and display it on a monument to someone’s life. (Can you?)

I love the lines from Into the Mystic

“Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly ”

I’m not sure that’s right either.

I’m thinking of the line from Brown Eyed Girl, “Do you remember when we used to sing”.

I’m just not sure.

How do you capture a life?

 

Published in: on June 12, 2017 at 12:16 pm  Comments (4)  

The Clap Out

We moved to 6 blocks into Shaker Heights just before Maggie started kindergarten so that our kids could go to the Shaker schools.

The Shaker schools do so many things right but one of my favorites are their transitions from one stage to another.

Every school has high school graduation and every high school and college graduation everywhere has some speech reminding students that the exercise is called “commencement” because it celebrates a beginning and not an ending.

As much as commencements are about looking forward – they also are a time to look back.

This year was the year that Elena would have graduated from high school. Well, she would have graduated if she had progressed successfully from year to year and completed all that she was expected to complete.

Although Kim and I joked that we were likely to get a call from Maggie from jail telling us she didn’t have enough bail money to bail Elena out – we really expected her to graduate on time. Of course, that was when we looked way too far into the future. Elena died before the end of her first grade year.

Kim talked about what it would be like for us after Elena graduated and went off to start college the same year Maggie would be finishing college some where.

That was before Elena died.

And also before Kim died.

But this isn’t about death. It’s about transitions. It’s about those little things that the Shaker schools does to help mark and ease the transition from one stage to the next.

There’s kindergarten orientation.

I took both Maggie and Elena to their kindergarten orientations where they met with their teacher and a handful of other kids before school started to get a feel for the classroom and to build confidence and familiarity before the first day.

Kim always volunteered to help with the orientation. She and the other volunteers welcomed parents and kids to the school. She was part of this first transition to the schools.

Kindergarten starts the day after the day on which all of the other elementary classes begin at Shaker. The first through fourth graders meet on the lawn outside the school and then walk in to their classrooms.

The second through fourth graders are old hands at this. They find their new teachers and can’t wait for the year to begin.

The transition from kindergarten to first grade is a big enough step that Shaker has a tradition for that as well. The first graders find their kindergarten teacher that they spent the previous year with and the kindergarten teacher walks them over to their first grade teacher.

The elementary schools are K-4 and all of the fifth graders come together in a single building. So fourth grade is the first time that students will move from the school they spent the past five years in. They go from being at the top of the school with a relatively small number of peers to the youngest in a much larger school.

One of my favorite traditions is on the last day of school when the fourth graders are going to leave their elementary school for the last time.

The clap out.

The younger four grades, Kindergarten through third grade, line the halls and clap as the fourth graders parade through the halls and out the doors for the last time. The younger kids look up to these older students who are moving on – commencing a new phase – and the older students leave feeling great and appreciated.

Maggie was clapped out at Boulevard school a few months after her sister died.

Elena was never clapped out of Boulevard school – until now.

This year Shaker schools started a new tradition.

The graduating seniors put on caps and gowns and were bussed back to their elementary schools.

It’s inspiring for these elementary students to see these big kids tell them, “we went here”, “we were you”, “this is who we are now”.

I remember my first teaching job at Newton North High School. I had some hearing impaired kids in a couple of my classes. As I taught, signers stood near me and signed for these kids.

One of the kids told me that when he was little he never saw a deaf adult. He assumed that being deaf meant he was going to die soon. He never saw older people who were like him.

I imagine him seeing someone like him in a cap and gown coming back to his elementary school to show him the promise and the future and what it might mean.

In Shaker the elementary students clapped out the graduating seniors who had once gone to their elementary school. They sent them out to the world.

I don’t know who decided to do it, but the seniors who returned to Boulevard elementary school all wore yellow ribbons with Elena’s name on it.

I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

To whomever thought to do this – thank you.

To all of the seniors who carried Elena with them as they walked through the halls of Boulevard – thank you.

This helped me with an important transition this year that Elena would have graduated.

Elena was clapped out with the class she would have graduated with.

Published in: on June 5, 2017 at 9:28 am  Comments (1)  

Cancellations

When Kim and I were first married we knew women whose husbands had divorced them and suddenly they had no credit. Even though some of they had supported their husbands, none of the credit seemed to belong to them.

We thought we took care of that.

We weren’t thinking ahead to a possible divorce but we always assumed I would die first and if I did we wanted to make sure that Kim had a credit history. Really, she didn’t care much either way but I wanted to make sure.

So one car is in her name and one in mine. Some of the bills are in her name and some are in mine. The houses were in both of our names.

And then she died.

And nothing much changed. I continued to write checks and pay the bills and no one seemed to be bothered.

And then one day Wells Fargo thought they detected fraud on our credit card so they needed to reissue cards. I told them they didn’t need to send us one for Kim because she was dead.

“Oh,” said the woman, “I’m sorry for your loss, we need to cancel your card.”

“But, the card is on our mortgage which is in both of our names.”

“Yes, the mortgage is in both of your names but we have to choose someone as the primary contact for the credit card and we chose her so we have to cancel the card.”

“Well, switch it to me. It’s still tied to the mortgage.”

The couldn’t do that.

I’ve come to understand that that really means they wouldn’t do that.

So they cancelled our credit card but they’ve kept the account open. So it counts against our credit. They told me the main credit card owner has to cancel the account. I tried to explain again that she is dead. It seems that people use this as an excuse to get out of things so they didn’t believe me. I tried to point out that the account is paid up – I’m not trying to get out of anything. Really, I want them to send me a new card and we can continue.

I will have to take care of this sometime this month. They are, however, sorry for my loss.

I’ve been paying the bills and keeping up with them. I don’t, however, open envelopes marked “this is not a bill”. It turns out, this is not a good idea.

The gas company wants to shut off my gas.

They need to get in the house to check something and if I don’t let them they’re going to shut my gas off.

So I made an appointment.

The woman said, “this phone number doesn’t match the number in our records.”

I asked if she could change it. She said sure but Kimberli would need to call to make that change. I told her Kimberli couldn’t call – she’s dead.

The woman told me then they need to shut off my gas. They can’t have accounts for dead people.

But it’s not for a dead person – it’s for our house and we’ve been paying it for sixteen years – even in the nine months since Kim’s been dead. Just switch the name to my account.

“We can’t do that. We need to close this account and open a new one.”

Who do they think will be paying the balance on the account.

Doesn’t matter.

Oh and since I don’t have a history with them, they need a deposit before they can turn the gas back on.

They are, however, sorry for my loss.

Published in: on June 4, 2017 at 8:59 am  Comments (2)