in the Month of Tishri
Here's what happened:
Her mother and father had just driven down from Pennsylvania for
the winter. It was the day after her father's eighty-first
birthday, and since it was a gorgeous day, they decided to play
golf with their good friends. Her father had a pretty good
game, parring the first two holes. His lower back wasn't
even bothering him. Then his friend ran him over with the golf
cart. There was a lot of screaming, mainly from the friend
in the cart and his wife. The cart pushed her father forward
like a snowplow with a snow mound, but eventually it ran over
him. Since it was Miami Beach with its aging population,
all over the golf course were little boxes to call for emergency
help, which arrived swiftly. Her father remained conscious
at first, then his lung collapsed, and he "went sour"
as they say in medical parlance. He died.
When Joy told
friends what happened, she soon learned to say he had been run
over by a motor vehicle instead of a golf cart because people
found elements of humor in this. She also lied and said
he was seventy-one instead of eighty-one because she could read
by their expressions that they thought he had lived long enough.
Joy called Sam.
"Get a ticket for Katie. You can ask for the bereavement
fare." Now she felt her father was watching to see
that she didn't waste money foolishly.
Sean's. She's scared."
it will be all right. It's comforting to be here.
It's harder alone. You don't have to come. Take care
of things at home." What she didn't say was that she
did not want Sam's atheist consciousness there while they sat
the rite of shiva. She wanted to manage the willing suspension
of disbelief and extract comfort from ritual. For the first time in years, Joy's radar scanning about her
daughter Katie was turned off. She did not worry or think
about how Katie would manage alone at the airport or get to her
grandmother's. Joy really didn't care, but she wanted her
daughter there for her mother's sake.
All her life
she'd had a terror that her parents would die. Her father's
death gave her some relief. Death put a lot of anxiety to
Joy and her mother
searched a shoebox full of old samples of medication looking for
sleeping pills. The one pill--in a paper folder--that Joy
was absolutely sure was a sleeping pill, she gave to her mother.
The names of a couple of other medicines were familiar, but she
wasn't sure if they were sleeping pills or tranquilizers.
They all had pleasant pictures on the folder pack along with chemical
names that didn't offer a clue. Joy took two capsules from
a folder with a woman on a blanket in a field of flowers.
After a night of tossing and turning, she decided the capsules
were allergy medications, probably a new variety that did not
cause sleepiness. Joy was on the convertible couch in the
Florida room. On previous visits, Joy had waited for her
parents to go to sleep. Then she'd sneak out of bed and lower
the thermostat on the air conditioner to reduce the muggy heat.
Without turning on a light, her father would walk silently out
with a flashlight and examine the dial reading and return it to
its original position. These temperature battles had never
been mentioned. Now there was no one to spar with adjustments.
This night when her will could have won, she left the thermostat
Joy fell into a light doze, and her father appeared to her.
He stood there looking stern.
you to take care of your mother," he said. "In
the house in Pennsylvania are many things that have to be done.
The heating element in the water boiler has to have the deposits
removed before it is turned on, and the gutters have to have the
I love you. Do you love me? What's it like being dead?"
He turned away
looking annoyed. "Take care of the little things, and
the big things will take care of themselves."
I'll pay attention," she cried, but he had left her.
At nine o'clock
the next morning, Katie buzzed to be let in. She had taken
the transporter van from the airport. She had arrived without
Joy telling her the address once, much less the usual half a dozen
oxen free. . . .
This has gone far
enough. You can come out from your hiding place.
Her mother asked,
"What if this is just a test to see how well we do?"
Her mother was
doing pretty well, considering. She kept busy. One of
her busy tasks was finding things she misplaced. "My
keys, they were just right here. I never lost things before."
class sent her a card that said on the front, "We are trying
to find the words to tell you how sorry we feel." Each
of her students wrote something. One young woman wrote, "I
don't want to intrude on your grief, but I feel with you."
Others wrote, "God bless you," or, "God will help
you." Rosa, a new immigrant from El Salvador, wrote,
just slivers of intimations of loss. Most of the time Joy
was amazed to feel sustained. From the hospital envelope her
mother took the broken glasses. Joy took the three tees, but
left the change. Later she put two of the tees into the coffin.
From his underwear drawer, Katie took all of his shorty pajamas.
One pair still had the pins and price tag on them.
Joy took the bloody
clothes in the paper bag to the dumpster in back of the lime green
Joy was sure that
when they first took him to the emergency room, he had said to himself,
"Be calm. I can take it. I'm strong."
But when things started to go wrong--his lung collapsing, a blood
clot loose in his veins, his heart going hummingbird fast--he decided,
"It's time. I'm not afraid."
hardly any plots left in the cemetery. There was another fancy
cemetery a long distance away, but her mother said she couldn't
get there alone. Joy resolved not to let the undertaker pressure
her mother again. "We'll take the close one."
said, "But there are no plots left, only a few by the right-of-way
or the sump pump."
They all started
to laugh. Her father had an illustrated book which they called
his coffee table art book, The Repair and Care of The Sump Pump.
The funeral parlor
had a Macintosh computer with a spread sheet that was able to program
the dates on the Hebrew calendar when they should light their Yahrzeit
candles for the next ten years. "How many mourners in
the immediate family?" the manager asked as the bidirectional
printer made copies.
Yisgadal v'yiskaash sh'me rabbo.
A vase fell off
here! I saw this in Poltergeist 3," said Katie.
"If it is
really Grandpa, he wouldn't drop glasses and vases. He would
repair something that was broken, make it work," Joy responded
in her logic mode.
anything that's broken?" Joy asked her mother.
He kept everything in perfect shape, not like your summer place
back in Pennsylvania," said her mother.
Grandpa's gone, we might as well kiss our cottage goodbye,"
Katie said. "He did most of the repairs."
right," Joy said, and watched Katie replace the poltergeist
vase on the bookshelf and take out the wooden puzzle her grandfather
made with golf tees stuck in a triangle. The object was
to jump the tees like checkers and try to remove all of them.
never gotten them all out yet," Katie complained.
Katie took down
the plastic lung exerciser that her grandfather had brought home
from the hospital after a hernia operation ten years before.
That was another one of the "toys" he left out for Katie's
amusement. Katie sucked in her breath and the ping pong
balls levitated in the plastic compartments. She studied
her watch. Exhaling, she announced, "Thirty-one seconds
for the three balls. I'm getting better. Maybe I should
talk about the lung exerciser at the funeral."
time," said Joy.
The four o'clock peanut butter and crackers or the eleven o'clock
o'clock one. That was the real official one."
morning cereal ritual. The Wheaties, the wheat germ, the
granola, the sliced banana, and the pocket for the milk."
lets his cereal get soggy."
he know? He's been on the West Coast too long."
should talk about the cereal at the funeral. No one would
catch on, though," said Katie, as she rocked the little vase
to check its center of gravity and stability. "Grandma,
could we break a clock or something and see if it gets fixed?
We need something scientific to see if Grandpa is around."
for everybody! He regularly sat with Mr. G. after his stroke
so Mrs. G. could go out. He had fixed the sliding glass
doors of the man who ran him over. He drained the pipes
at Joy's cottage every fall. Mrs. G. came up to Joy before
the service. "Don't worry. I gave the rabbi an
of tough tropical grass was cut away. The coffin was teakwood
resembling their living room couch up north. Her mother
was comfortable with that choice after the funeral director played
the old bait-and-switch game with the original prepaid model.
"Come in and view the selection; perhaps you would prefer
another choice. . . ." Last year, the bait-and-switch
had been the appliance stores for the VCR for their fiftieth wedding
anniversary. "We are temporarily out of stock, but
for just a few dollars more. . . ."
In the coffin
showroom, Joy pointed out a model with a blue satin comforter
and mirrors to Katie. "That one's your type."
the satin comforter. "No, you're wrong. It has
to be goose down."
Joy said to her
mother, "Let's go before I punch this guy out."
trying to be nice," her mother said.
So she closed
her teeth and pressed her lips together.
After the brief
service, the coffin that resembled the couch still dangled on
straps above the hole.
Joy's mother said fiercely.
That must have
been some signal of orthodoxy, because the rabbi then quickly
offered a child's pail of sand with a red shovel.
they all yelled, offended by the pretend playtime.
The Haitian laborers
stepped back from the pile of earth draped with astro turf as
her mother dug into the mound for a heaping shovelful of sandy
soil. All the rest in a frenzy grabbed handfuls of the gravelly
soil and tossed it into the grave. When she asked her father
once about the afterlife, he said he believed in composting.
He had driven south just the week before with a carton of luscious
Big Boy tomatoes from their garden up north. He wouldn't
have given a tinker's damn for this soil.
He helped everyone. Hehelpedeveryone!