Sunday, September 26, 2010

September, Not So Good

We spent Labor Day Weekend in D.C. with Ari. He had much computer work to do, and so did Saul. Our journey began on Friday morning. Jessica arranged for us to pick up Izzy early from school as she only had a half day. We took her to Bahama Breeze in Towson for a lunch of her coveted black bean soup after doing some shopping at Nordstrum Rack. As we were leaving, we encountered a well-known Ravens booster in the parking lot and Izzy let it be known that she was a big Eagles fan, whereupon he got out a well-used Eagles towel and began wiping down his Ravens-purple car with it. Izzy was having no part in the joke and turned down a shiny purple bead necklace that they tried to put on her, running away from it. Saul and I took a long drive ourselves in the afternoon, after dropping Izzy at home with Jess and Alex, because between the dogs and my hay fever, I can’t stay there for long. Ari joined us for Shabbat dinner after work and drove us to DC afterward. Alex made an incredible dinner as usual, which was unique in his use of giant okra which came from the Pearlstone Farm CSA. The seeds inside the giant okra were soft and delicious, reminiscent of couscous or sesame seeds in their texture, a very unusual food experience. We spent one of the days sitting on the dock at Harris’s watching the yachts go by and shopping the outlet malls at Queenstown. We also dreamed about planning a trip around the country by yacht on the inland waterways. A long time ago, the whole family took a five-week car trip to see the United States. We were all very happy with our bargains and I finally got some new additions to my wardrobe for the holidays. Another day, just Ari and I went shopping, leaving Saul home to get his work done. We were looking for items for the new house, but not buying much. We left on Monday relatively early to try to avoid Labor Day traffic, and we succeeded.

The Jewish High Holy Days came unusually early on the secular calendar this year, so we were headed back to Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon, just two days after Labor Day. Naomi, Alex’s sister had driven up to Cranberry, NJ, to pick up her parents and bring them down to Jess and Alex’s home for Rosh Hashanah. Maury, Alex’s father, had been battling small cell cancer since November and was no longer able to drive. Along with Ari, we had booked rooms at a hotel just a few miles from the house at the Hyatt Place in Owings Mills so that we would not have to drive back and forth from DC both days of the holiday. Unfortunately, Maury was rushed to the hospital on Wednesday for an infection he had developed. Alex, who had been extremely worried about his father’s condition, had been cooking lots of soup. Alex cooks to relieve tension, so in this situation, we had lots of delicious food for Rosh Hashanah, including three different soups that were incredible. I had made and brought an assortment of desserts. We were joined by Stacy and Aaron, Alex’s brother and his wife, their three children, Jacob, Lilly and Zach, and her parents, Susan and Arnold for both days of the holiday. Saul, Ari and I took turns caring for Yona while Jess and Alex ran their respective services. Alex’s lively family services both days took place in the roomy gymnasium, were attended by at least 100 people with toddlers and small children and were absolutely spirited and amazing, galvanizing everyone to move around and participate with a combination of prayer, singing, shofar blowing, and marching around the room.

On Thursday evening, while Jess and the girls were at the indoor pool with us, Alex learned that his father would be coming home from the hospital on hospice, and Jess left immediately to be with Alex. Although Alex never travels on Shabbat, under the circumstances he decided to drive to his parents’ home after dinner on Friday evening to help his mother set up the house to accommodate his father, and return on Saturday evening so that he could be present to open the first day of Hebrew school on Sunday morning. Friday afternoon, Jess sent us to D.C. with Sami and Izzy and a carload of leftover food to make Shabbat dinner at Ari’s house. Taking Yona with her to be minded by babysitters, Jess covered Alex’s service on Saturday morning. Ari dropped the girls and me off at the nearby National Zoo the next day, while he and Saul stayed home to catch up with work. We had an absolutely gorgeous day at the zoo with perfect weather, bright sunshine, not too hot, and not too cold. Spending several hours there, I realized that the zoo is built on a steep hill. Next time I will arrange to be dropped off at the top, instead of the bottom. I was able to redeem the small stuffed panda that comes as a freebie with zoo membership for Sami and, since the membership bear cannot be purchased, I allowed Izzy to pick a different animal. She chose a small leopard. They also were very excited that I allowed them each to get a child’s adventure tool that flipped open to reveal a whistle, LED light, compass, and tiny binoculars. It kept them busy for hours. The gate where Ari had dropped us off, and where I was supposed to meet Saul and him, was padlocked and we had to do more walking around and over a bridge to which Ari drove to meet us. We drove towards Baltimore after that and Jessica met us with Yona in Laurel, MD, at a wonderful Chinese buffet, Empire, that was just as it was billed on Yelp. Thank heavens for the Internet! I think we will be meeting there often as it truly was a halfway point, the people there were incredibly helpful and friendly, the girls loved it, and Jess was able to purchase a big quantity of freshly-made assorted sushi to take back for Alex for only $5.00.

Maury came home from the hospital on Saturday, and on Monday, we learned that he was in renal failure. Alex drove again to Cranberry, NJ, this time with Yona, to spend time with his father. Sami and Izzy had just begun a new school year.

I had developed a terrible toothache during Rosh Hashanah that was sensitive to hot, cold and sweet foods. Fortunately, Advil had worked to completely remove the pain, so on Tuesday, I visited the dentist and found after x-rays that there were no signs of root damage or decay. The dentist and I decided that, probably, the sensitivity was caused by a combination of sinus problems from my hay fever and grinding of my teeth at night because of my nightmares and tension over Maury. Somewhat relieved that I didn’t need root canal work, I went home with samples of Sensodyne toothpaste and the recommendation that I use Advil as needed until hay fever season is over.

The next day, Wednesday, I was scheduled for my six-month checkup on my bad mammogram. Even though I had been told that it was probably nothing to worry about, I had a bad few hours waiting to hear the results, which thankfully, were again that the obvious small white spot on the film was a calcification and nothing about which to worry. I was feeling very relieved and lucky as I left the clinic. That afternoon, as I had requested when our three-month contract expired, the realtor came to collect the sale signs, lock box, and staging props (mostly fake ivy) that had made my life miserable for the last few months. What a relief to know that I could leave the house without having to worry about crumbs on the kitchen floor, made beds, or a hair in the bathroom sink! Late Wednesday afternoon, Jess and I discussed whether Saul and I should arrange to visit Maury at home before leaving to join them for Yom Kippur.

On Thursday, Saul left for school and I reminded Jess to check with Elaine about whether we should visit. Elaine said that there had been a long line of people in and out to visit since Saturday, that our visit would be welcome, and that if we were planning to come, we should do it right away. I called Saul at school to make sure he left immediately when classes were over so that we could drive to New Jersey to visit before heading down to DC. I made sure that our suitcases were packed and ready. Likewise, Jess and Alex were due to visit later that afternoon also so that Maury could say goodbye to Sami and Izzy. About an hour before Saul was due home, Jess called to say that Maury had only hours left and that they were leaving from Baltimore immediately. As it turned out, we arrived about 15 minutes too late to say goodbye. Maury died peacefully about 2:15 p.m. on Thursday. We arrived about 2:30 and Jess and Alex arrived with the kids about 2:45 p.m. We were met at the door by Elaine’s sister and her husband. At first, Elaine motioned us away and we waited on the lawn, but then she invited us in. Maury looked very peaceful in death. When Jess and Alex arrived, we met the girls outside. Elaine came outside to tell them that she preferred that they remember Maury as he was when he was alive. We decided right then to spend Yom Kippur at home and took Sami and Izzy back home with us. On the way, we stopped at the new Metropolitan Diner on Costco’s parking lot to get the girls and ourselves an early dinner, which was wonderful and a welcome relief from the tension. I had planned to shop at Costco, but was too exhausted when we finished eating. We called Ari to let him know what had happened and that we all would not be coming to DC and Baltimore for Yom Kippur. Our friend Larry arranged seats for us at our shul, Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu El. Jess and Yona stayed in New Jersey with Alex and his family. On Friday morning, I left the girls with Saul and went shopping for food to get us all through the weekend. It had been decided that the funeral would be on Sunday morning after Yom Kippur, which fell on Saturday this year. Jess shopped and Alex insisted on cooking Shabbat dinner for the family, his way of keeping occupied and dealing with the tragedy. Ari drove in from DC to join us. We drove again to New Jersey and had a very somber Shabbat dinner with Elaine, Alex, Jess, Sami, Izzy and Yona, Naomi, Matt (her husband), Aaron, Stacy, Jacob, Lilly and Zach. We learned that Naomi is pregnant and that her father knew before he died. After dinner, Jess came back to our house with Ari, and we brought the girls, leaving Alex to attend services with his siblings at his parents’ shul. Naomi stayed with Elaine at home, comforting her. We broke the fast at home with our friend, Larry, joining us. Afterward, Ari left for DC as he was catching a flight to Chicago for a Relativity Conference on Sunday and had to miss the funeral.

Sunday was a nightmare. The service was at 11 a.m. at Orland’s Ewing Memorial Chapel. We readied Sami and Izzy, ate a hasty breakfast and began the long drive to Ewing, New Jersey. The Chapel was clearly not expecting the number of people who arrived for the funeral and there was standing room only during the hour-long service during which several rabbis, close friends, and Alex spoke, all very eloquently. Yona, for whom I was responsible during the service, was an angel and fell asleep in her stroller as soon as the eulogies began. I was able to hear everything clearly in an anteroom adjacent to the chapel. The interment was at Mount Sharon Cemetery, where Saul’s father is also interred. The memorial chapel did not put any markings on the cars to indicate a funeral procession, did not advise the participants to put on their blinkers, and the hearse zipped through E-ZPass lanes on toll roads and took a complicated route over major highways going 75 mph most of the time. This nightmare of a procession took over an hour and I am sure raised everyone’s blood pressure to the boiling point. Somehow, everyone who was essential to the process was able to arrive within a reasonable amount of time of the arrival of the hearse. Thank heavens for G.P.S. systems! As is the family’s tradition (Maury was a participating member of the chevra kadisha), the plain pine coffin was buried completely by the funeral participants, a difficult job on such a hot day.

Then began the long ride back to Cranberry, New Jersey. Sami and Izzy had developed a relationship with one of their many cousins, Melissa, and with her parents permission, we took her with us on the long ride back. A huge traffic jam on the New Jersey Turnpike made the long ride even longer for everyone. The limousine got lost on the way back and the family arrived long after everyone else. Shiva was only to be observed for three days, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday as the holiday of Sukkot was to begin on Wednesday evening, so everyone made an effort to get there quickly. The family stayed together for those days, including Elaine’s sisters and Alex’s siblings, some staying at nearby hotels. Alex’s assistant, Abby, and her new husband, Isaac, who had been staying at their house in Baltimore to take care of the pets, made the long drive to Baltimore to pick up Sami and Izzy so that they could attend the three days of school before the holiday, during which there were some special programs that the kids did not want to miss.

On Monday, at Jessica’s request, we stayed home to put up a sukkah so that the kids and family would have the availability of it during the holiday. Tuesday and Wednesday, I prepared food for the holiday while Saul was teaching. We drove to New Jersey again on Tuesday for the last night of shiva. On Wednesday afternoon, Abby drove Sami and Izzy to Maryland House, a rest stop on I-95, where Jessica picked them up and brought them back to us so that we could decorate the sukkah and have dinner inside on Wednesday evening. Beth joined us on Wednesday. Abby rushed back to cover the festivities at the synagogue that would have been Alex’s reponsibility. Jess and the girls stayed with us the first few days. On Thursday evening, we hosted Alex and his family in the sukkah for dinner. We were 11 people, including my cousin, Anne, who drove in from Metuchen, NJ, to join us as well. The girls helped me prepare and each made a tiny challah with small pieces from the main ones. Izzy’s had a tiny Jacob’s Ladder on top as I told her the design would be appropriate for this holiday.

On Friday, honoring a request from Elaine, Jess and the girls drove back to New Jersey after services at MBIEE and a large lunch in our sukkah for another Shabbat dinner prepared by Alex. Larry had booked ahead for a community Shabbat dinner in the synagogue sukkah, and we had not been planning to be home for the holidays, so we found ourselves alone for the first time in years on a Friday night. Jess had invited us to join them for dinner, but we just were too tired to make the long drive yet another time. As it turned out, we napped for most of the afternoon and got up just in time to light the Shabbat candles and say kiddush. Then, we had a light snack and went back to bed. Ari was supposed to come in this weekend to partake of the sukkah and help Jessica return everyone to the Baltimore/DC area, but, under the new circumstances, we called and told him not to make the long drive just for us as we would be coming down to Baltimore/DC on Wednesday for Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. We spent a lot of time this past weekend resting up and catching up with paperwork so that we will be free to join the kids for this last leg of the holiday season.

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