Saturday, February 25, 2012


Similar to the Irish tradition of remaining with the body of a loved one until burial, Shemira is the Jewish ritual of attending or guarding the body. The difference is that the Shomer or Shomeret usually sits and prays alone and may never have known the deceased in life. The Irish tradition is one of family and friends being with the recently departed. Although when Tanta died Chuck and I did go to the funeral home and spent a few moments with her and with the Shomer who was attending her at that time.

It was a comfort to us to know that from the moment we escorted Tanta’s body to the funeral van, throughout the process of taharah and until we helped bury her body next to her parents and her brother, that she would always be accompanied. It was especially comforting to the caregivers who had been with Tanta around the clock in her final months to know that she would never be alone. For them it meant that their work would be carried on.

Growing up, my Dad would often tell us that when his time came he wanted to be laid out in the living room. He thought the sofa where he would stretch out to watch the eleven o’clock news followed by “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” would be just the right spot. Dad was of Irish and Scottish descent but even his Scottish side had come from Ireland originally, so the roots ran deep. I wish we could have honored his wish. But by the time his parents passed away decades before him we were already bringing our dearly departed to funeral homes or funeral parlors - named with a nod to the time when families were at the heart of the process - and that’s where they “went out of”.

The first funeral I remember was of my Dad’s mother. I was just eight. There was some discussion in the extended family that I was too young to attend the open casketed wake. My parents disagreed and I attended. I’m so glad I did. I could see Grandma, kneel down and say a little prayer and begin to understand the rituals of death and burial.

Today is my Dad’s yahrzeit. As I write this, his memorial candle burns brightly. Twenty-four years ago today Dad died. He had been surrounded by his wife and three daughters all day. Late in the evening my mother sent us home from the hospital. While I was driving home in the cold and dark from Massachusetts to Connecticut, Dad breathed his last; his wife of nearly forty-two years by his side. I wondered about so many things that night. What I never questioned was that Dad’s death was a release and a relief for him. He had been so very ill for so very long. The Alzheimer’s Disease had cruelly robbed him and all of us of the warm, intelligent, funny man who worked hard, sang beautifully, told a great story, and loved his family above all else. At times in his life Dad struggled - as do we all - but his love for all of us never wavered.

Dad wasn’t laid out in our living room. He and Mom had sold that big old house a few years before and Mom was living alone in a condominium. Dad went out of the funeral home his father-in-law had gone out of. There was no Shomer in that tradition, but we did have an open casketed wake in the front parlor of the funeral home and his children and grandchildren were there to visit and attend. We said our goodbyes, had a proper funeral mass in the church Dad helped bring to fruition and buried him next to his parents and brothers.

Zichrono liveracha ~ His memory is a blessing.
And it always shall be...

You can read the story behind how a Catholic daughter came to light a Jewish yahrzeit candle for her father by clicking here. My poem, “Your Yahrzeit” can also be found there.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Joy and Sorrow

Thursday, February 9, 2012, we spent the afternoon with Chuck’s Tanta. Age 89 and in hospice care with liver cancer, she was clearly in her final days. I sat by her bedside and talked to her. I named every family member that had been in touch with us and passed their love onto her. Then I began reviewing the bidding. I recounted all the ways she had been a good woman: a daughter, a sister, a sister-in-law, a friend, an aunt, a great aunt, a member of her community. I let a cascade of names and good memories wash over her. In the living room, one of Tanta’s caregivers, “A” could hear me over the baby monitor we had set up. She asked Chuck if Tanta was talking to me. He said no, but that we believed she could hear or, at the very least, sense, what was being said to her. “A” nodded quietly in agreement.

The next morning, just after 6:00 a.m., the phone rang. Our niece Carrie was calling with the news that her sister Kate's water had broken. With that call we were off on the Kate, Phil and Baby Finn adventure! We arrived at Beth Israel Deaconess at Noon. We have been to Beth Israel with Tanta more times than we can count. This was the first time we had ever been to Beth Israel for a joyous occasion and we have to say we thoroughly enjoyed it!

When the news of Kate's impending C-section came to "Team Finn" sometime after midnight, we all had to make decisions. The predicted snowstorm and distance between hospital and homes were factors. While the rest of the family needed to leave, we stayed. We felt that we had all planted the Baby Finn Family Flag in the lobby and that our circumstances allowed us to remain and hold down the fort.

We rearranged our camp in the lobby and dozed on and off until Phil brought us the very good news of Finn's arrival: 9 pounds, 5 ounces (4.22 kilograms), 21 inches long! He also told us the equally good news that Kate was well! After that, Chuck took to the floor and got about two hours of sleep. I followed suit across two chairs. Soon Phil came and escorted us upstairs. After the delight of being able to see Kate, to know she really was well, to meet the fabulous Finn and to see the newly expanded family settled in their room, we took our leave.

As we headed home out of Boston we thought about stopping in Brookline to visit Tanta, but because it was so early and we needed to get some solid sleep in our own bed we decided to head home. Driving along the Mass Pike and then Route 9 we felt lucky that the predicted snow was just a dusting and that the roads weren't bad at all. Just before the Shrewsbury-Worcester line the cell phone rang. It was one of Chuck’s Tanta's caregivers calling to tell us she had died peacefully in her sleep.

We found ourselves at another decision point. Home would have to wait. We began making phone calls, grabbed a quick breakfast at Blanchard’s 101 Diner in Worcester and headed back from Worcester for Brookline. We were able to be with Tanta for a bit and said our final good byes by singing the Bedtime Shema. We also witnessed a very dignified transition performed by two gracious young women from the funeral home. Then we escorted her body downstairs to the vehicle.

The rest of the day was spent making phone calls, working out details with the funeral home about Tuesday's service and tending to things at her condo. We finally arrived home about 9:30 p.m. Saturday night, fed three justifiably disgruntled cats and at long last headed for bed.

We were in touch with everyone on Chuck's side of the family on Saturday, but we chose not to share the news with anyone on little Finn’s side until the next day. While none of them were close to Tanta, we did not want any mention of death to be part of such a joyful day.

We are saddened by Tanta’s passing. Yet we know we did everything to fulfill her wishes including her deep desire to die at home in her own bed, just as her own mother had in 1989, with her youngest daughter, our Tanta, by her side.

For Tanta:
Zichrona liveracha ~ Her memory is a blessing.

For Finn and for all of us:
L’chaim! ~ To life!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Moyers On Alinsky & Gingrich

Bill Moyers has a fierce intellect coupled with a calm and dignified manner. Bill Moyers also has a way with words: "the malignant narcissism of duplicitous politicians". Oh how I wish I had written that!

In this brief video Moyers provides a biography of patriot Saul Alinsky, and why Newt Gingrich has chosen to demonize him.

Bill Moyers Essay: Newt's Obesession with Saul Alinsky from on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Romney’s Reasoning

Willard Mitt Romney, one of the Republican presidential candidates, may have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he regularly swaps it out for a platinum foot.

Read the New York Times collection by Ashley Parker of some of Mitt’s best, oddest, most out of touch statements.

And rest assured there will be endless sequels.