Autumn leaves…

I always feel Thanksgiving is near when most of the leaves have fallen from the trees, resulting in endless giant piles of decaying brown crumbs. As our giant pile begins to take over the street, we pray that the township will come soon to remove it. Inevitably, they won’t make it in time for the first snowfall of the season…followed by another…and then another…leaving us with a giant frozen pile of brown crumbs blanketed in ice and snow. And, of course, these piles always block the drainage system, flooding the streets until late spring and a much needed warming trend.

But when I was a kid, my most favorite activity in the autumn was to make giant piles with the leaves and jump in and out of them for endless hours. Other times I would ride my bike into and through them…now that’s fun! Oftentimes, our city would push all the extra leaves to the dead end at the bottom of the descending side street we lived on, making bicycle crashes at least safer by being out of the roadways. And when the leaves were not removed before the first snow came, we’d grab our sleds and race down to the bottom of the hill, head first, into the great pile of fluffy white and brown.

This time of year also reminds me that Christmas is right around the corner. In America, you can’t get away from it. Before I was Jewish, I celebrated Christmas with my family. Looking back, I think as a child that I thought it was my favorite holiday…but it wasn’t. There was such a build up of anticipation for what you might receive from Santa – you picked what you wanted out of the big Sears catalog and showed it to your mother to ensure a message would get through to the big guy. Then came the unavoidable disappointment of not getting exactly what you asked for – the generic brand Barbie or just socks and underwear or maybe a new nightgown. So much hope and energy went into this one day and all I would be left with was despondence. I knew and know my parents did their best and wanted Christmas to be as magical as it was. But as I got older, I grew more and more to dread this time of year – not being able to buy loved ones what they wanted; battling the masses at every store and shopping mall; trying to avoid the crazy drivers and the endless traffic; being berated by nasty people who have completely missed the point of the season altogether…

Becoming Jewish and no longer having to celebrate Christmas was a huge relief – no more expectations or anxiety. My husband and I pretty much hibernate until January, stockpiling supplies until it’s safe to leave the house. But don’t get me wrong – as the days grow shorter and shorter, I enjoy the whimsical decorations and the dark nights shining with colorful lights.

Right after Thanksgiving, my go-to route has Winterfest. A makeshift ice skating rink is erected that is open to the public with nightly shows by professional skaters who also teach lessons. A tent alongside the rink serves fun winter snacks and a giant Christmas tree is put on display. This year they also installed a kiddie Ferris Wheel, a motorcycle track and a carousel.

Later this month, Chabad will put up their giant menorah for Hanukkah.

Here, I met a woman in her 40s who asked me about the festival. Then she started asking about cycling. She wanted to learn how to ride a bike again, not having ridden one since she was a small child. She asked me all kinds of questions – “Where do I buy a bike?” “Do you carry water and how?” “Isn’t it scary riding with cars on the road?” “I have to wear a helmet, right?” I answered all her questions to her liking, she telling me why she wanted to learn. She liked being outdoors and being in nature and wanted to be able to go further. To her, “Riding a bike looks so free.” I told her she was right and urged her to contact a local cycling group to find lessons ASAP.

Since 2010, my dread leading up to this time of year has been the anniversary of my sister Maureen’s death. She died suddenly three days before Christmas. My family was coordinating a get together for Christmas day, which fell on a Saturday that year. My parents were making their travel arrangements and my sisters were discussing the potluck menu. The last thing Maureen did was attend a Christmas party where she worked. By all accounts, she had a wonderful time, eating, drinking and laughing along with her coworkers and friends. She died peacefully in her sleep and reportedly had no pain when she passed. Although I’m grateful that she was happy and felt no pain at the time of her death, it was still untimely and devastating for our family. She was 51 – the age I am now. She would’ve been 52 on January 20, 2011. I will be 52 on February 4, 2017. I cannot imagine my life being over in three weeks from now…this time of year sucks…

I’ve talked about totems before and have come to realize they’re not always “animal spirits.” Sometimes they’re objects or symbols…or strange weather patterns…

Being Jewish and no longer celebrating Christmas, my refusal to attend my family’s Christmas party didn’t seem to sit well with my sister. Maureen dying right before Christmas forced my presence. The day after Christmas we drove to my other sister’s home to prepare for the funeral and spend the day together in mourning. That night, on our way back to the hotel, a blizzard developed – an enveloping white that poured over the earth, making property, sidewalks and roadways indecipherable. The next morning, we cautiously made our way to the funeral home, attempting not to kill ourselves on the icy roads and large snowy embankments along the highway.

In late January 2015, I picked up my brother and his wife from the Philadelphia Airport. My mother had returned to her home to die, and despite my brother’s cancer and chronic pain, he defied doctors’ orders and flew back to New Jersey to say goodbye to our mother. As we approached the Walt Whitman Bridge heading east, the sky ahead over southern New Jersey became increasingly darker to the point of pure blackness. All day had been sunny with blue skies, yet we suddenly found ourselves in udder darkness amidst a blizzard less than three miles from my mother’s home. We managed to trudge to the house where my brother got to spend time with family throughout our mother’s last days. On my way home, the snow suddenly stopped at the border of my mother’s town…there was no snow in the forecast that day…

Three days before Maureen died, we talked about the winner of Survivor – I think we were both happy about the results (it was Fabio…). That same night, this was her last post on Facebook:

“just saw a commercial for the ‘”fockers”‘ and it was ‘”are you prepared to be a godfocker”‘ lol.”

I think it’s about time for me to watch this movie…

“I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall”

Autumn Leaves – Eva Cassidy

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Excepting Alice…

Over the years, for me, my husband and my daughter, our tradition on Thanksgiving is to wake up, watch the Macy’s parade while eating chips and dip for breakfast and cooking the turkey. At noon we turn on the radio to hear Alice’s Restaurant, wearing our pajamas all day long and watching movies. We have spent Thanksgiving alone for a number of years now, mostly because of our food restrictions.

In 2012, when my parents moved locally, we drove over their house to pick them up and bring them to our house to eat. It was the first time in 25 years that they weren’t celebrating Thanksgiving in their own home or with one of my siblings. By 2013, dad was gone and mom was having her first Thanksgiving alone for the first time in over 59 years. Thanksgiving 2014 would be her last.

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Looking at this photo again, I’m glad she was so happy that day. Believing the turkey had been in the oven cooking all morning by the time she arrived, we discovered that the heating element in our oven had broken off and disintegrated to the oven floor in a big pile of ash. After a short panic, we started to think about what we could cook in the microwave. We’d been vegetarians in the past, so not having turkey for Thanksgiving was no big deal – it was all the fixins’ and sides that really mattered anyway.

But then my husband had a eureka moment…SMOKE IT! And my husband is the smoked meat master! Still a vivid memory, years ago, long before our daughter (who will be 18 in March), my husband had a hissy fit in the middle of Home Depot because I refused to buy a very large barrel smoker with money we didn’t have. Of course, in the end, we bought it…then we became kosher and the smoker was no longer “acceptable” for cooking…and it sat on the deck for years. We ended up giving the smoker to our neighbor who helped us move out of our house, but that’s a whole other story. Regardless, my husband learned to smoke meat like no other and has mastered smoking with just a simple Weber kettle charcoal grill.

So Thanksgiving 2014, we ate little hot dogs while my husband smoked the turkey. It was probably the best Thanksgiving turkey we’ve ever had.

Last Thanksgiving was the most difficult. For the first time, my parents would not be celebrating with us nor could I call them to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving. We no longer had cable t.v. so the parade went unwatched. Eating our chips and dip wasn’t the same without mom telling us how much she loved it and asking what kind of appetizers we were making for her. The turkey cooked without incident, but we forgot to turn on the radio and missed hearing Alice’s Restaurant. I forced myself to change out of my pajamas and rode my bike to the gym to work out before gorging on food.

Riding my bike has become a newer tradition for me on Thanksgiving – not only because I feel the need to burn the calories I’ll be consuming all day, but because the roads are mostly empty and the fear of being run off the road is a lot less stressful. So today I hopped on Ole Bessie and took a spin. Looking for some fun Thanksgiving things to photograph, I came up empty handed. Although I didn’t run into any turkeys this morning, I did manage to find a flock of roosters hanging outside a dingy sports bar on the highway.

No parade again this year, but I did get in my bike ride, rushing home by noon to turn on the radio. Unfortunately, my “breakfast” tricked me into eating it first and turned on the radio only to hear the clapping at the end of Alice’s Restaurant. I’m back in my jammies and ready to build a fire and binge watch Netflix all day…

I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours. – Forrest Gump

Goin’ down the farm…

November 15, 2016

With Thanksgiving less than a week away, I decided to go where I had gone on this day the year before, Johnson’s Corner Farm.

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My mother LOVED going there. She and my father would check out the baked goods, complaining about the prices. I would remind her that it was homemade and bakery fresh – you get what you pay for, ya know. She would see what produce was available, again complaining, but this time about how they never seemed to have what she wanted. I would again remind her that this was a real farm – this stuff was actually grown and picked there. Then she would head to the freezer – the one with the Roselli’s foods in it.

Roselli’s is an Italian market right next door to Johnson’s Farm. They make anything and everything you can imagine Italian. Although I’ve never tried it, their food looks and smells amazing. Of course, Johnson’s never had what my mother was looking for – again with the complaints. As usual, I would suggest we drive next door and see what they had. Thankfully, she would always find something she liked…of course, not without a few complaints.

Although I had lived in the area longer than my parents (they would only live here for three years before they both passed away), they managed to find this place. Over the years, I’ve ridden my bike here numerous times. My husband, my daughter and I have gone there many times as well. They have seasonal hayrides that take you to a pick-your-own field – strawberries, blueberries, snap peas and cherries in the spring; corn and peaches in summer; pumpkins, sweet potatoes and broccoli in fall. There’s a kids area with a barnyard and petting zoo. Various festivals throughout the year provide ever-changing entertainment.

It’s a beautiful place to ride your bike. It’s the part of New Jersey that people question – “That’s New Jersey?!” Yup…that’s New Jersey…

Dubbed “the armpit of America,” New Jersey is known for its port terminals, Newark Liberty International Airport, Atlantic City and, of course, Camden. What people don’t realize is that New Jersey has many more pristine and beautiful sites than expected. My sister, Kathy, lives near the Appalachian Trail in the north, while I live near hundreds of farms dotted throughout the south. We have 130 miles of coastline, including a number of boardwalks – Asbury Park, Seaside Heights, Ocean City, Wildwood and Cape May, to name a few. State parks are everywhere, as are numerous Green Acre sites – land bought by the State and preserved (i.e., no building). I’ve ridden miles and miles and acre upon acre of open undeveloped space.

When I go to Johnson’s, I can’t help but think of my mother – what would she like…and what would she complain about this time?! As I look around, I still catch myself going for my cell phone and wanting to call to let her know what they’ve got – they had broccoli today! Then comes the hesitation…I no longer have her phone number in my list of contacts, nor could I remember it if I could call. Her house is just up the street, but now it has new inhabitants much younger than she and my father. I fight the urge to visit Roselli’s. Aside from their spaghetti sauce that I can buy in the supermarket, there’s nothing kosher there for me and don’t need to let mom know what’s on special. It’s a bittersweet ride where I always get off my bike for at least a half hour to walk around and reminisce.

As a convert, I really don’t miss celebrating Christmas, but I know how much my mother loved looking at the displays…

Even though it’s not my practice and I no longer miss the holidays, I can still think about the times we all had as a family years ago…

“They all asked about you
Down on the farm
The cows asked, the pigs asked
The horses asked, too…”

Down on the Farm – Little Feat

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

 

 

Getting up…

In the Jewish tradition, following the funeral of a loved one (mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, spouse), we perform a ritual known as “shiva.” Shiva is the word for seven in Hebrew, hence “sitting shiva” for seven days. Although the mourner does not need to literally sit the entire time, he/she sits on a low stool or chair when sitting. In a sense, it is a way of acting out one’s inner emotions of “feeling low.”

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During this week, the mourner remains in his/her home. They do not go outside, shave, bathe, wear leather shoes, have sex or launder their clothes. Three prayer services are conducted daily at the mourner’s house, a minyan (ten Jewish men) being made up of members from the synagogue to which the mourner belongs.  If the mourner is a man, he leads the service and recites the Kaddish prayer for the dead. Throughout the week, the mourner receives visitors who make a “shiva call.”

According to Jewish law, there is a specific etiquette for paying a shiva call. A visitor is expected to enter quietly and make a point to sit near the mourner. Nothing is said until the mourner speaks first – this allows the mourner to express their thoughts and guide the conversation toward what is comfortable at the moment.

Because I am a convert, I have never sat shiva for any of my family members. However, my first experience of this ritual occurred almost three years ago when my husband lost his mother, Katherine.

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Neither one of us was prepared for the week ahead. My husband had never sat shiva before and needed the guidance of our rabbi. We returned from the cemetery to prepare the house to receive visitors and rearrange the furniture to accommodate for the impending service that night. First came the “traveling ark” – an ornamental wooden closet that holds the Torah. Then came the Torah and the siddurim (prayer books). Next, the low chair arrived…and then a woman I did not know at the time came with the food.

My husband was nervous about leading the prayers. Although he had lead services at our synagogue, having to pray publicly while you’re mourning is a completely different challenge. Holding back tears reciting his first Kaddish, he struggled through the service…and no one said a word about it. Immediately after the service, the men gathered around my husband waiting for him to speak. As they left, other people, both men and women from our community arrived to pay a visit – and they kept coming, everyday throughout the day to pay their respects.

Another practice I was completely unaware of is the tradition of women in the community preparing dinner and delivering it to your home. Women who I did not know or had met briefly at synagogue showed up at my door daily, providing dinner for my family. When I was first asked if I wanted shiva meals, I refused them, but apparently that was not an answer to be given. Along with making a shiva minyan and making a shiva call, providing a shiva meal is a mitzvah – a good deed – something Jews strive to perform daily throughout their lives. Not realizing how difficult it would be to function like a normal household, it was one of the most necessary elements of that week.

We were overwhelmed with and wept over the kindness of the people in our community. Some people we knew, most we didn’t, but that didn’t stop them from coming to us.

Nearly three years later, we returned from my father-in-law’s funeral to our home. We quietly rearranged the furniture and set up the living room as it had been in the spring of 2014. The traveling ark, the Torah and the siddurim arrived, delivered by a friend who had just lost his mother and completed his shiva week that very morning. Then came the low chair and the email from a friend who handled the shiva meals.  My husband wasn’t nervous about leading services this time. This time we knew exactly what to do and didn’t refuse one thing. Then came the visitors, most of whom we had grown to know over the past several years. They offered us everything regardless of what we thought we needed.

As she was coordinating our meals for the week, my shiva meal friend sent me an email with the subject line: “Is Doug getting up on Sunday?” At first, the question frightened me. I thought, “Who would ask such a thing?!” He better be getting up on Sunday – no one else is dying right now! Then again, maybe she meant that after a long week of waking up at 5:00am to await his minyan, he needed the rest and would simply sleep in that day. Upon questioning my husband, he informed me that the last thing a mourner must do at the end of the shiva observance is literally “get up” from his/her chair.

At this point, it is time for the mourner and the family to move on and slowly reemerge into society. As a symbolic gesture, the mourner then walks around the block of the home – a sign that they are returning to the world and entering a less intense period of mourning. When my mother-in-law passed, our closest friend came to walk with my husband. A year later, my husband would return the favor when our friend’s father died. Again, when my father-in-law died, our friend returned and walked one last time with my husband.

I was fortunate enough this time to be home with my husband while he sat. Last shiva I was working full time and didn’t realize how impressive this process can be. And, of course, throughout that week, good Ole Bessie helped me mourn in my own way…

And now I provide the shiva meals…

“Hineni, hineni I’m ready, my lord…”

You Want It Darker – Leonard Cohen

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.”

Forrest Gump

The one less traveled by…

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
The Road Not Taken -Robert Frost

 

My go-to place is a 12-mile loop that I know really well – I’ve been riding it regularly for seven years. When I first discovered this ride, I struggled along major roads and highways littered with potholes, not to mention the insane drivers trying to run me over. However, thanks to Google Maps, I’ve discovered every back street that will get me to my destination. Needless to say, when driving, I very rarely get lost…

I look for my neighbor, Sophie the Dog, and occasionally get some “hello barks” in return. I look to see what new wind spinners the local bike shop has on display along the sidewalk and which houses or businesses have finally sold. I get excited when a newly paved road is chanced upon. Each season, I look to see what flowers have been planted and photograph the different holiday decor. I look to see who’s winning the senior men’s softball game. I know when the local pool opens for the season and went it shuts down for the winter. I know the dirt trails, which parts have sand or clay or gravel and when to change gears and what gear to change into – I remember the exact spot where I crashed and find caution in my stride. I look to see if the National Guard is meeting this weekend, occasionally spotting the blue heron that likes to fish along the pond or I watch the dogs socializing at the dog park. I look to see what’s been left behind at a small memorial for the young man who was hit by a train last year or that little boy who was murdered. I watch the kids playing on the playground and check out the crew boats at the boathouse, sometimes catching a practice or race. I know every memorial and sculpture, where they’re located and what they represent. I stop by the yacht club to see if anyone’s sailing or take a rest at the historical society building situated among the trees along the water. I delight in the completion of renovations taking place along the river. I’ve watched the park change over the years, yet these things have remained constant.

I was recently informed by a fellow cyclist that there are “two beautiful lakes” existing beyond my usual route, so last week I decided to look for them. I think the only reason I never ventured on was because of my fear of the unknown. I don’t know why I felt that way – I’ve traveled alone across the United States, as well as to other countries, some not so safe at times. As a lone social worker, I’ve been forced into some of the scariest and deadliest neighborhoods in New Jersey. I’ve ridden my bike through unfettered territory, risking attacks by wild animals or risking a crash with no cell phone service…or worse…

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Crossing over one of several major highways that envelops my path, I found myself continuing along the river that flows under an overpass towards Camden, New Jersey – a city dubbed “Apocalypse NJ” by Rolling Stone Magazine, in 2012 it ranked fifth in the highest heroin abuse and sixth in the highest murder rate in 2016. With a tinge of panic in my gut, I ventured on…

To my surprise, I first came upon the Camden County Golf Academy. Well, that can’t be so bad – if there’s golf, it can’t be a bad neighborhood, right? The river continues behind the golf academy, where local crew teams practice throughout the season. A little further along, all I see are parked cars and older gentlemen fishing along the river bank. My brain tells me they’re “shady,” probably drinking in the woods or selling drugs, but none of that seems to be going on – just a bunch of old guys fishing for leisure.

I came upon a sign at a crossroads – one arrow pointing right to the Cooper River Trail and one arrow pointing to the left, Farnham Park. Since I’ve been there, done that with Cooper River, I decided to seek out this Farnham Park. Following an overgrown “bike path” along a major roadway toward Camden, I passed some dude on a bike made for a child, I saw a sign ahead – Camden County Veterans Cemetery. Being that it was the week of Veterans Day, I decided that was where I needed to go that day…

As I meandered my way throughout the many potholed roadways of the cemetery, I came across a middle-aged couple who responded to several gravestones of individuals they knew, as well as the young men who decided to test out their new ATVs along the paths of the gravestones after my phone jumped ship from it’s caddy.

Twenty-five miles later…no regrets…

“A way over yonder
That’s where I’m bound”

Way Over Yonder – Carole King

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

 

Feeling grateful…

November 6, 21016

A week after returning from Milwaukee in 2015, I continued with my Gump Ride. One year ago today, I took this photo along the route of my “go to” place:

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Today I decided to return to this whimsical dolphin statue:

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It was a much nicer day than a year ago. Last year it was cold and rainy, the sky cloudy and gray. Although I didn’t have my usual blue sky today, the weather was pleasant and I managed to find an array of other colors waiting for me.

Also on this route is a place called Veterans Island – a small island floating along the Cooper River, honoring the brave men and women who have fought for our country since World War I.

These photos were taken last December, but I decided to make a pit stop to take another look around. As I approached the bridge to the island, I noticed various different soldiers strolling around – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. Forgetting Veterans Day quickly approaching this week, I had come across a Veterans Day ceremony taking place, flags at half mast in remembrance of those who had lost their lives in times of war.

My husband is an Army veteran.

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He often jokes about being in the “battle of Panama” a decade before Manuel Noriega was  removed from power and tends to downplay his service. Thankfully, he never served in any wars, performing the duties of a private first class over a two-year period before heading to college.

My father was also in the Army and stationed in Korea during the Korean War.

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He was very proud of his service, telling us various stories about his exploits overseas. When individual Korean War Memorials were being erected throughout the country in the 1990s and early 2000s, tears filled his eyes – the “forgotten war” was being remembered again. The unspeakable horrors my father experienced in Korea made it a very real war, its veterans never forgetting.

My mother’s brother was in the Navy after Korea.

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In the 1970s, my mother’s cousin was drafted and sent to Vietnam. Serving one tour, he returned a broken man, never quite the same again. He took his own life shortly after.

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And my brother was a veteran of the Air Force, serving over two terms as an enlisted soldier.

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My father-in-law also served during the Korean War.

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For reasons unknown, Jesse was stationed in Iran during the war. Long before the Iranian Revolution, living in Iran was slowly becoming more and more dangerous for Jews during and after the Korean Conflict. Tens of thousands of Iranian Jews would emigrate to Israel over the next two decades.

My father’s parents immigrated to the United States from Ireland and England in the early 1900s, my father being a first generation American – the same proud American who would later join the Army to serve his new country.

Also arriving on American soil in the early 1900s, Jesse’s parents were fortunate enough to have escaped the pogroms of World War II, fleeing Lithuania at a time when Hitler was a mere teenager and the Holocaust non-existent. I thank G-d that our grandparents had a safe place to go and that our fathers could  proudly serve their parents’ new homeland.

Another stop along my go-to route, is the Camden County Holocaust Memorial.

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This beautiful memorial is highlighted by a symbolically constructed eternal flame stretching toward the sky. The base of the memorial is a polygon of which each side has the name of a concentration camp inscribed within the marble stone.

This Friday, November 11th, is Veterans Day. It’s a Federal holiday, in which a number of Americans look forward to having the day off from work. But it’s more than just a three-day weekend. Throughout American history, hundreds of thousands of men and women have volunteered their very lives to serve and protect this country – my husband, my father, my uncle, my brother, my father-in-law – all willingly facing the unknown. I am forever proud to have been their daughter, their niece, their sister.

This Friday, take some time to thank a veteran for their service – they deserve it and need to hear it once in a while.

“We had no cameras
To shoot the landscape
We passed the hash pipe
And played our Doors tapes
And it was dark
So dark at night
And we held onto each other
Like brother to brother
We promised our mothers we’d write…”

Goodnight Saigon – Billy Joel

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.”

Forrest Gump

Halloween at the cemetery…

“When my father died, my mother was still alive. And I think when your second parent dies, there is that shock: ‘Oh man, I’m an orphan.’ There’s also this relief: It’s done; it’s finished; it’s over.”

Roz Chast

October 31, 2016

When I was younger, I had friends who would go to the local cemeteries on Halloween, looking for ghosts or the dead rising from their graves. I never went along – too creepy…

One year ago today, on Halloween, we buried my brother…today, on Halloween,we buried my father-in-law, Jesse…today my husband became an official member of the “Orphan Club.” We have lost all four parents in the last three years. We are now orphans together, living among the ghosts of our families.

Although it may sound indifferent, at some point you will have that moment – the one when you think to yourself, “I am so relieved…I no longer need to worry about my parents…I no longer need to wonder what‘s going to kill them or how they’re going to die…or where they’ll be or where I’ll be at the time. I no longer need to worry about when…” You will feel guilty over thinking all these thoughts, but don’t – you’re human and you’re allowed to feel this way.

Toward the end of his life, my father would apologize repeatedly over being a burden to me. Yes, he was a burden – “a load,” “a weight” – but I didn’t mind. After all, I had burdened him for decades, not just a few years. Caring for an elderly parent is a burden – it’s frustrating, it’s exhausting, it’s depressing – but you do it because they made you…they gave birth to you…they fed and clothed you…gave you shelter…sent you to school…paid for college…launched you…helped raise their grandchildren and great-grandchildren…you do it because that’s life.

My father-in-law was also a burden, but it never stopped his sons from making sure he received the care he needed at all times. We nicknamed him “Godzilla” because nothing seemed to stop him. After a double mini-stroke in the 1990s, he was diagnosed with diabetes and resorted to daily insulin injections. Eventually he would end up on dialysis three times a week and lose one of his toes to gangrene. Bypass surgery on his leg earlier this year nearly killed him, leaving him aspirated and in a coma for months. Convinced we would lose him at that time, decisions were being made as to whether or not we should continue life support…and then he woke up…and he was pissed

He was discharged from the hospital and sent to inpatient rehab, followed by his return home with a full-time aide. Eventually gangrene would return, leaving him with one of two decisions: (1) have his leg amputated from the knee down, or (2) go home and allow gangrene to take over his body until dead. Surviving surgery was minimal, but dying from gangrene wasn’t exactly an alternate choice. Asking his Rabbi for advice, he was told to leave the decision to G-d. He opted for surgery to “save his life.” Three days later, G-d made His decision…Two and a half years after losing his wife, Katherine, of 67 years and two and a half years of living in isolation and loneliness, diabetes eventually claimed his life.

When you lose your parents, you lose your connection to the past. You lose connection to your family. You lose your sense of existence. You start thinking about all the questions you forgot to ask. You can’t just pick up the phone and fill in the blanks…or tell them about your day…or just say hello…or just say I love you…This Friday, my husband will absentmindedly pick up his cell and call his father to wish him a Gut Shabbos…and we will cry together…as orphans…

Today I went back to the place I visited October 25, 2015 – the day before I flew to Milwaukee to see my brother.

I noticed more details I hadn’t the first trip – the etchings of little turtles and birds on the observation platform; the marlin house built and donated by a local birder; the accuracy of the sundial (it was 12:22 when I took that photo); the little duck footprints on the boardwalk…It looked about the same yet a little more overgrown than before – time had passed, another year come and gone.

I still miss my brother’s texted weather reports he would send to my mother daily (a ritual I kept up with him after my mother’s passing), but I don’t look for them like I did earlier this year. I miss the silly jokes and cartoons on his Facebook page, but still post an occasional funny on it. I miss knowing I can call him just for the hell of it, becoming angry that I didn’t call more often, but I talk to him daily in my prayers.

When my mother-in-law died, my brother called to ask if he should come to her funeral, but I said no, given the stage of his cancer and undergoing chemo at that time. I’d like to think that Michael will be one of the souls waiting for Jesse when he passes over…

 “A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep”

Turn! Turn! Turn! – The Byrds

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.”

Forrest Gump