It was a real roller coaster of emotion for me today. I was so happy to see my friends Beth and Jeff plus the assorted family members and friends I had hung out with so many times in the past. They moved to Florida a couple years ago and I miss them a great deal.
Joy at seeing Beth and her sister, mother, Jeff, his mother, sister and a bunch of their friends was overshadowed by sadness that Moe was no longer with us. As we arrived at the funeral home, John grabbed two of the special black yarmulkes for he and Tyler (this was a Jewish wake and funeral) and I couldn't help but smile at the sight of Tyler in that little black beanie skull cap. Strictly speaking, we aren't required to don the traditional headwear because we aren't Jewish, but John likes to do it.
The family seemed to be holding up well in the receiving line and I gave my friends a big squeeze and kiss on the cheek and we made our way into the sanctuary to be seated. As the officiator began singing, Tyler blurted out "TOO LOUD!" in voice that could be heard in China. He didn't like the sound of the Hebrew prayer song/chant at all. His behavior deteriorated from there. John finally carried him back out the door and entertained him in the lobby area until the service was completed.
Since we don't regularly attend church, I can't really expect Tyler to know how to properly behave in circumstances like that. He is only 3, after all. Bribery wasn't working either.
I was left alone to listen to the rest of the service. My friend Beth and her brother Ed were invited up to speak about their Dad.
Seeing my friend up at that podium trying to talk about her Dad through heaving sobs and heart wrenching tears brought back painful memories of myself being in that same spot years ago...barely able to speak through the tears. Beth spoke about childhood memories, what a wonderful dad and grandpa he was, and how devastated he was the day his granddaughter Carrie lost her battle with Fanconi Anemia and left this world at the tender age of 8.
The tears were already flowing down my face, but when Beth announced that Saturday was her parents 63rd wedding anniversary and how much it meant to Moe to see that day and wish his wife a happy anniversary...I just lost it. When she read the anniversary card that she had given to them aloud, I was reduced to audible cries of anguish.
I tried to compose myself as Beth finished speaking and Edward took her place. Edward decided to speak about his father's life in biographical form. We learned that Moe was the son of immigrant parents. He grew up on the streets of New York City during the depression. He served in the second world war and earned the bronze star, among other medals. He married in 1942, just before the war started, and after 4 years of service, returned home to his wife to start their family. He had many jobs over the years; shoe shine stand, delicatessen worker...on up to his final career as the owner of a successful dry cleaning business and tailor shop.
Edward read a jaw-droppingly amazing list of skills his father possessed...butcher, tailor (he could do everything from hem pants to make furniture slip covers and do reupholstery), carpenter, electrician, tailor, toy maker, plumber, furniture maker, and engineer. He could fix any machine, built a two bedroom and one bath addition onto their home by himself, made furniture, hung wallpaper, painted like a pro...he even played the violin. All this and he worked 12-14 hour days to provide for his family, never lost his temper, was loving and affectionate with his kids and did everything in his power to help them along in life. He had the patience of a saint and was beloved by his family, friends, neighbors and customers. No one ever had a negative thing to say about Moe.
I always knew Moe was a wonderful man...I just had no idea how amazing he really was. Just thinking about how diametrically apposed Moe is from my own father just made me start sobbing uncontrollably again. What a loss my friend has suffered. She's lost her daughter, who was the most amazing little girl I have ever known, and now her Dad. I was just overwhelmed with sadness and pain.
As the family followed the casket out of the hall and seeing the raw emotion on my friends' faces, I had to clamp my hand over my mouth to muffle my sobbing. When I finally rediscovered John and Tyler waiting for me at the back of the sanctuary, Tyler asked me why I was so sad and wrapped his little arms tightly around my neck. I immediately forgave him for his bad behavior...but we weren't out of the woods yet.
Back in the van, we got ready to follow the funeral procession to the cemetery. We took that opportunity to tell Tyler how disappointed we were in his behavior and that we would NOT be going to Chuck E Cheeses later (the bribe I mentioned above). No way we reward bad behavior. Tyler was naturally upset. We decided to give him one last chance to redeem himself. If he was good as gold at the cemetery, we would take him to Chucks. He agreed to try very hard to be good.
At the grave side service, he listened attentively and looked around with fascination at the pretty flowering trees and interesting grave markers and monuments. I whispered to him about what was happening, and he seemed to understand. He even helped his dad throw a couple shovels full of dirt into the grave. This is one of the Jewish customs that I find deeply traditional and very touching. Everyone lends a hand in filling the grave...and not just the symbolic handfuls of dirt some faiths do. They do all the back breaking labor themselves. It's a labor of love and yet another way for the family to show respect and bid farewell.
I was watching Jeff. From the moment they uncovered the mound of dirt and distributed the shovels, he worked tirelessly. The other shovels changed hands frequently, but Jeff didn't budge. He is such a sweet guy. He must have been exhausted by the time they were finished. During the work of the burial, I was approached by Jeff's mother and sister. I hadn't seen them in a number of years. It was nice to chat with them again. I've always really liked Jeff's sister. They mentioned that they would be stopping by Carrie's grave before they departed the cemetery and I told them I had planned to do the same.
We bid our last respects and said good bye to our friends. We did not plan to go to Ed's house to sit Shiva with the family. We knew Tyler wouldn't be able to maintain in that somber environment for long. He needed some fun and soon.
We stopped at the cemetery office to find out the location of Carrie's plot in the very large cemetery complex then we followed Baila and Ruth over to search for the grave stone. Along the way, I found a stone to leave behind. This is an Orthodox tradition...to leave a pebble on the grave each time you visited. I don't know the significance, but I suspect it is a visual reminder to the family of how many times their loved one has been visited and it's a token of love...more symbolically, I'm sure it has something to do with the eternity of stone and the soul. Something like that.
Finding Carrie's pretty pink granite marker didn't bring the expected flood of emotion for me. Instead, I just found myself happy to be there to say hello and remembering all the fun times we had with her when she was growing up. We had know her since the time she was a newborn. Her last days on earth were no longer the first memories to surface. Instead, I remembered one of our trips to Bermuda. (We used to go on vacation pretty often with Jeff, Beth and baby Carrie back in the day.) I remembered wearing my hair in a ponytail on the side of my head the same way Carrie was wearing her hair and walking with Beth behind her stroller as we shopped the streets of Hamilton.
A local woman approached us and admired the baby (really she was 2 years old and talking, but she was very tiny for her age) and then, looking right at me, she said "Your baby is adorable and she looks just like you!" Not knowing how to respond, I just said thank you. Beth and I laughed. Carrie and I did have the same color hair, so it was easy to see how the woman had made that mistake. It was such a thrill for me to be mistaken as a "Mother". At that time, I had recently stopped using birth control and we were waiting for nature to take it's course. I had no idea what the future held for me in that regard.
After spending a few minutes talking about Carrie with Tyler, placing our pebbles (Tyler went off and found one on his own to leave), and reading the headstones of Carrie's neighbors, at Tyler's request... I waved and said goodbye. Tyler grinned over at Carrie's headstone and said "Bye bye Carrie" and we made our way back to our cars. Tyler smiled up at me and said "Carrie was very nice, Mommy."
Yes she was, son. Yes she was.
Moe plays with Carrie during her final stay in the hospital. I miss them both.
Back in 1998, when Carrie went into the hospital for a bone marrow transplant (a last ditch effort to arrest the disease that was slowly ending her life), Beth asked me if I could create something on the internet for Carrie. A way for Jeff and Beth to keep Carrie's many many friends and family up to date on her progress. I was happy to be able to do something to help the family at that trying time.
The result was a sort of online journal (rather like a blog) where I posted daily emailed updates from Beth on Carrie's progress, pictures, helpful links and artwork just for Carrie to look at (her parents had a laptop computer at the hospital with them). Carrie asked for pink and purple with hearts...so I gave that to her in joyful abundance.
After Carrie lost her fight to complications from the transplant, Jeff and Beth decided to keep the website up as a memorial to their daughter's final battle and as a resource to other parents who are going through similar medical struggles with their own children. Beth has received countless emails from grateful and appreciative readers over the years. Carrie really was an inspiration to us all.
Here is a link to Carrie's Adventure, and below is one of the few postings I did in my own words (start at the bottom of the table of contents if you want to read her journey from the beginning):
Day 273 - post transplant:
An update from Auntie Becky (a.k.a. the webmistress) -
"Red is a very lucky color," Beth said to me as I approached Carrie's bedside yesterday, wearing red velvet. Carrie reached out her hand in a small wave and nodded yes when I asked her if Mommy was taking good care of her. The room looked so cheerful as I looked around at all the cards, pictures and artwork from so many of Carrie's friends and family. With her breathing tube preventing her from speaking, she answered my questions with a careful nod for yes, or a shake for no. She rested relatively comfortably in her little nest of pillows and blankets in the center of the bed, watching her favorite shows on the television suspended up on the wall.
After our little chat, I blew her kisses as we left the room. She had so many visitors yesterday! Aunties, Uncles, Grandparents and friends came to tell her we all love her so very much.
So today, here is a little prayer and some red (I think Carrie won't mind that it clashes with her favorite pink and purple color scheme) in the hopes that we can send love and luck their way. Carrie needs all our prayers tonight.
As Jeff said over the phone just moments ago, it seems our little Carrie is slipping away; but miracles can and do happen. The doctors have given a rather grim prognosis and they seem to think it is only a matter of hours before Carrie will be gone.
We were happy to spend some time with Carrie yesterday. She was awake and alert, but seems so weary from her long fight. Hope is still with me as I write this tonight, and I pray for the miracle Carrie so desperately needs. As Jeff and Beth continue their bedside vigil, we will continue ours here at home sending only good thoughts and wishes.