These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

The Summer I didn’t plan for

Posted on July 11, 2012 by Laura Marder

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G-d has a plan. I believe that now more than ever. This understanding starts with me sitting on the floor of the airport waiting eagerly for my parents to land in Tel Aviv so we can start our two week adventure. It continues with me back in that same airport 20 hours later flying home with my parents.
1. Airport anticipation
I get to Ben Gurion too early even though it took me an hour to catch a cab. I rush up to the rope and stare at the doors. They are opening and shutting welcoming smiling faces with luggage into the wonderful warm Israeli day. I cry watching Grandchildren reunite with Grandparents. Open arms, balloons and tears make my heart feel like it is going to pop. My mind is racing thinking about how this could be me one day and how I could do this to my parents, or maybe I couldn’t. It is such a long plane ride in order to be reunited with family. Thoughts are racing and tears are being blinked back as I sit there waiting. I wait and the wait turns to worry. Are they ok? Why is everyone else off the plane. Irrational fears of their health and my selfishness of convincing them to come visit me become overwhelming. I think to Self Soul and Text put my hand on my chest where I feel tightness and breath. I cleanse my thoughts, close my eyes, and see them. It really is them! All smiles and warm hugs, I can’t believe I am now that girl running to the door greeting her family from across seas. We venture out and take a beautiful picture that soon becomes the top hit of my facebook, being commented on and marveled over by friends and family. All so happy to see me reunited with my parents, a trip I have thought about and talked about constantly.
2. Quickly Back on the plane
Is this real life? Am I really sitting on this airplane only 20 hours after picking my parents up to start our Israel adventure? If this is real life it sucks. If G-d has a plan I want to go off the derech. Why are we on this plane and not sitting by the pool in Sfat? Why is my Uncle in the hospital in critical condition? I sit the row in front of my parents on a night flight back to NY. I hadn’t planned on flying to the US for another 10 months. I have never flown back from Israel with anyone. I am usually alone and sobbing for those I left behind and being excited for those I will see soon. Now I am just sad, scared of what text my Mom will get when we land, scared of how my family will take another hit, hopeful that my Uncle’s youth will help him pull threw the impossible. Why is this happening? I feel so selfish fretting over my lost vacation and bonding time with my parents while I should be focusing on the health of my Uncle. I pray for his health and for my family to pull through this. I do second-guess though if I should really be on this plane. How could I just cancel my Summer in a minute’s decision? Family comes above everything, it is clear now. No plans come before being there for each other in times of need. I choke back tears of pain and anger and I focus on my hope that everything will be ok. I just breathe; it is all I can do at this point.
3.Just in time.. But for what?
Feeling like I am on a bad episode of House. The doctors don’t know exactly what is wrong. They don’t sound hopeful. How can we not know what is going on? His heart attack was so bad and now he has an infection and things are shutting down. This nightmare is becoming more and more real. My positive thinking is being clouded by thoughts of death and funerals. I push my mind and energy to G-d. I am not angry now, I am begging. Repeating mantras of prayer over and over in my head. Trying desperately to connect to G-d, pull some spiritual strings perhaps. I prepare a prayer and misheberah to say when I go into his room. I enter and immediately feel sick. This isn’t my Uncle lying there with slicked back hair and no glasses. With tubes and machines pumping his chest up and down. Eyes unaware and neck puffy. This person has taken over my healthy funny smiling Uncle. His constant hugs and kisses that I am used to when I first see him are nowhere to be found. Does he even know I am in the room? I feel weird touching him but I want to make contact with him to let him know I am there for him. I touch his hand, it feels clammy, not like his regular skin. I mumble my prayers as I hold on to him. Is this even how you are supposed to do it? I have no idea, at this moment propriety does not matter, this is how I feel I can connect and beg G-d for his life. I burst into tears trying to hide my face from my family and stay strong. The nurse brings me tissues and says how sorry she is for us. I am quickly loosing hope but trying to voice a positive energy. The walk to the parking lot I jabber on about how he is young and how he didn’t look too bad. I give my Uncle Paul a “lucky coin” from Israel to fidget with. I am trying anything possible to make my family think I have faith in his health.. but truth be told I felt like he was gone the moment I stepped into his ICU room.

3 The phone calls.
They decided to transfer him to a better hospital. It was a risk, but gave us hope. My Dad and I are happy as we talk about how my Mother did not call for awhile so he must have gotten there ok in the ambulance. My phone rings, it is my Mom. “He’s gone” she says. He didn’t make the transfer, his heart failed on the way. I don’t feel anything. I say something of comfort to her and assure her Daddy and I will tell Grandma and start the arrangements. It seems robotic. I don’t feel sad, mad or anything really. I walk to my Dad, my head spinning trying to figure out how to say it. I just repeat my Mother’s simple words, “he’s gone”. Then it hits me. HE’S GONE. How could he be? He is my Uncle, he is too young, he wasn’t even sick. We decide that my Dad will tell my Grandma. We sit her down and I get her a glass of water. He tells her what happened and she is in disbelief. I take out her phone book and start figuring out who to call. I haven’t seen or spoken to most of these people since my Grandfathers funeral. Not many people even knew he was in the hospital for the past few days. Most of them think I am in Israel still. I cry every time I have to explain the reason for my call. I hear story after story of their relationship with Uncle Steven. I hear their disbelief and shock. I hear the pain in their voice as they ask about the arrangements. It is like I am hearing the news for the first time every time I say it. As this phone chain from hell is being set up my Mom and Uncle Paul are in the hospital. I can’t imagine how they feel. I just want to hug them. I want to help with everything so they have no worries pas their personal healing. I go into my “doing mode” and trying to use my emotions to fuel my energy as I set up for shiva.
4 Is he really in that casket?
We get dressed and get into the limo. I feel like it is all not actually happening. I feel so weird. Even able to make jokes with my brothers. We sit all proper in the family room of the chapel. People my brothers and I call “funeral relatives” pile in. We hardly ever see most of these people on happy occasions. It is such a shame that this is what it takes to get together. I break when I see my Aunt Joy. She is a comfort to me, something real that breaks my fake wall down the moment I hug her. Tears become uncontrollable. I struggle in the bathroom to keep it together so I am able to say my words about my Uncle for everyone. I spoke at my Grandfather’s funeral; I felt it was owed to my Uncle to have a niece or nephew talk about him. As my Mom talks I fall apart. My morbid brain goes to thoughts of me speaking at one of my brother’s funeral. I could not imagine the pain of loosing one of them. The taste of salt floods my sensing as tears roll on to my lips. It makes me think about my Uncles matching salt and peppershakers in his apartment and how he was so amazing with details. I have to pull it together and speak highly of him to bring honor to his memory. I get up to the podium and am in shock. There are not enough seats. People are in the hallway peaking in. In just 23 hours hundreds of people came from all over to be there for him. Where all these people there for him when he was alive to? I have to tell them about my Uncle and how he took me to my first Broadway show and taught me so much. I have to tell them how much we will miss him and how we will make him live on forever through talking about him and displaying his art. Somehow the words come out and I find my seat. I look down the row of family and realize he is missing. It is always Uncle Paul and Uncle Steven. The brothers, the Uncles, they always visit together and go on trips with us. Where is he, why did he have to leave us? We get to the cemetery and I see my Grandfathers stone. When they pull away the tarp my Grandpa’s footstone is revealed. It stabs me in heart, shocking my system with even more pain. I miss him so much and think about him and still cry about loosing him. Now I have to do the same for my Uncle as well. The sun is shining just like it was the day we buried my Grandpa. Maybe now my Uncle is up in heaven with him working on an art project like they used to. I try to find solace in this thought.
5 Shiva
The mirrors are covered, but in a pretty way like he would have liked it. The door revolves with people coming in and out. Shiva is good, it makes the house so busy you don’t have too much time to sit and think or be sad by yourself. But what will happen when the week is over and everything is quite again? I worry about my family getting through this tough time. Everyone is keeping strong and moving forward, but is it a front? How are they behind closed doors? Minyan had such meaning to me throughout Shiva. I felt as if we were really raising my Uncle up with our prayers. Every word of the kaddish was said strong and with meaning from my mother. It was my first time leading mincha for a minyan. If it hadn’t been for my davening at Pardes we may not have had a service on the day the Rabbi couldn’t show up. As the prayers flowed from me I felt the true meaning of being the shaliach tzibor. I was able to help the minyan to do the mitzvah of davening. When shiva ended I stayed with my Grandmother and Uncle. The house was as I expected, quite.
We have Shabbat dinner together with two friends of my Uncle’s. I want more than anything for this meal to be one like I have in Jerusalem filled with spiritual services, perfect food, singing and smiling. It was the Shabbat my parents were supposed to be in my apartment with me and my friends. They should be seeing my life and enjoying the perfect spirit of Shabbat. How can I be here now trying to throw together a Sabbath meal? I use taper candles to act as Shabbat candles. I can feel the anger rising in me as I set the meal together. I don’t want to be here for Shabbat. I want everything to be different. I want this to be the happy grateful feeling Shabbat that I had been planning. Breathing slowly inside but staying busy on the outside I try to push myself into the Shabbat spirit. I try to accept the situation.
6. Summer goes on
I am now at my parent’s house. We are busy with the details of my Uncles apartment. I am busy seeing friends and family. It is weird because I had not planned on being home for another 7 months. It is almost awkward when I see people because they want to say how nice it is to see me but I am here for such a horrible reason. I try now to see life as moving on and making good of the situation. I have wonderful times with my friends and family spending hours in my pool. I have more than the two weeks to be with my parents and even see my brothers. There are moments I am completely happy and having a great summer. There are also times I need to bite my lip to hold back tears of sadness and frustration. It is times in life like this when I can’t be more thankful to have such an amazing support system. There is always someone there for me to talk to, cry to, laugh with or just sit together. Life goes on, I keep telling myself that. There is no perfect plan, just life. We can plan and schedule and wait, but it is sometimes out of our hands. As I look at pictures of me with my Uncle Steven I forget he is gone. I see his artwork and think, “what will his next one be of?” His art and love will always be here for our eyes to see and hearts to feel.