Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The End of September, Not So Good Again

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Each year, as the High Holy Days approach, our tradition requires that we do some serious soul-searching so that we may soberly reflect on culpable behavior, repent for our mistakes, and try to do better in the coming year. Rosh Hashanah, which begins this evening, represents the hope that the new year will bring all good things to us and our loved ones. The metaphor is that God’s book is opened and we pray that we will be inscribed for life. Yom Kippur represents the sealing of the book, with our future year, for good or bad, about to unfold. Before I began writing this, I looked over last year’s September entry. I had all but blocked out my memories of the High Holy Days last year because of the trauma we all felt dealing with Maury’s death.

Although the holidays are mostly a pleasant time spent enjoying special meals with friends and family, ours have certainly had their share of trauma at this time of the year. I think it began many years ago when Uncle Ed died suddenly in the hospital of an aneurysm following surgery after being struck in the head accidentally by falling debris while doing repairs around the house. Because of a family split, my mother had not spoken to her brother for several years. When she received a Rosh Hashanah card with a personal note asking for forgiveness, she and I immediately went to visit him in the hospital and they made their peace, unbeknownst to any of us, only a few days before his sudden death. We attended his funeral right after Yom Kippur. Saul’s father was rushed to the hospital hours before Kol Nidre many years ago, and Saul spent that evening at his bedside. He required a second round of bypass surgery after that. My mother signed herself onto hospice just a few years ago just as the holidays were approaching. She died late in August the following year. Larry’s parents both died at this time of the year, a year apart. Perhaps it is merely coincidence, because we know so many people, or perhaps it is the serious way in which our tradition at this time of year asks us to contemplate our mortality, but I have begun to feel a certain amount of trepidation as the holidays approach. It is remarkable, also, that as part of our tradition, a person’s death during this season is taken as a sign that he or she were notable among the righteous, and so, perhaps, we walked among angels.

A few days ago, we received a call from Saul’s brother-in-law, Paul, that he had received a call from Lion’s Gate at 4:00 in the morning that Saul’s mother had fallen and that she had fractured her femur and collarbone. He told us that the leg fracture was not bad and that nothing much needed to be done about it except to give her pain medication to keep her comfortable. Collarbones heal on their own. The next day, we had a conference call from his sister, Rif, who had accompanied a friend returning her car down to Florida, and Paul. Evidently, their mother was taken to the hospital and had remained there. Her surgeon was pushing for her to have surgery and gave Paul the impression that it was very serious and that the surgery should be performed despite her advanced dementia. He went to see her in the hospital and found her happily finishing a hearty lunch, moving about in bed freely and not in any apparent pain. Thus began the tearful, hour-long discussion of what to do in this difficult situation. Putting her through the expensive surgery would surely cause more pain and she would not exactly be the ideal candidate for rehab, not to mention that she would forget from moment to moment that she could not just get up and walk away. After a long discussion, Saul and his sister agreed that she should be sent back to Lion’s Gate in the hospice program, so that she would be able to have access to any pain medication she needed to keep her comfortable. Jessica went to visit her the next morning in the hospital and also found her healthy-looking, cheerful, moving about freely in bed, and with a good appetite. She was on pain medication and was feeling okay. Jessica also learned that she had broken her shoulder, not just her collarbone, but the doctor was not recommending surgery for that. The next morning, while the nurse was away from her station, Sima got out of bed and fell again. They did a c.t. scan because she couldn’t tell them her name or what year it is and they did not seem to be aware of the advanced dementia when Paul spoke with them. Luckily, she did not do any further damage. Today, she is back at Lion’s Gate in the hospice wing with an “elixir” of pain medication. Tomorrow, after services and lunch, we will go and visit her there. We sincerely hope we made the right decision, but there is no way of knowing. Before her mind disappeared, she told all of us that she did not want to ever suffer if given the choice. She had seen way too much suffering all her life, especially as an inmate of Auschwitz as a teenager. We hope that this is the decision that will cause her the least amount of suffering and that somehow, the bones will heal themselves in time, or that she will just die a peaceful, medicated death in bed in a place that really has cared for her very well over these last several years.

Like Alex cooking soup last year to deal with the death of his father, I have been busy in the kitchen, compounded by the fact that my freezer needed to be emptied for 24 hours. My Sub-Zero freezer had created huge chunks of ice at the bottom so that my drawers were frozen to the bottom and could not be opened. I spent an afternoon with a hair dryer, and Saul turned off the water to the ice-maker. Since the home warranty we have doesn’t cover ice-makers, we called in the people who had replaced the ice-maker a couple of years ago, First Rate Appliance. They sent a man who told us that there was nothing wrong with the ice-maker and that we needed three parts replaced, the thermostat, and two different types of drain heaters to the tune of $429.30. I gave them a check (big mistake) for $150.00 as a deposit. But then, we realized that we might be covered since it was not the ice-maker, and we called the home warranty people back. They agreed to cover the repair. The new company, that the home warranty company sent, Home Zone, checked it out and told us those parts were not necessary. According to their instructions, I turned the freezer off for 24 hours, sending Beth whatever would fit into her freezer. The man came back and fixed my freezer as he said he would the next day. Now, I will have to try to recover my $150 from the rip-off company.

I made a bunch of dishes to use up defrosted items like phyllo, puff pastry and frozen strawberries that didn’t fit in Beth’s freezer. Some will soon be appearing on my recipe blog. Last weekend, Saul took the fruit down from our two quince trees and I spent the afternoon cleaning and slicing the sink-full of ripe fruit and turning the results into jars of natural ruby red slices packed in light, vanilla-scented syrup. Some of this, in turn, was made into a strawberry, quince, and dried cherry strudel for us to enjoy during the holidays. We also found the time to turn a small sheet of thin copper that we ordered over the net into a copper roof for a bay area of the dollhouse. It looks amazing! I have found that, besides cooking, for some reason, staring at the progress of the dollhouse when I am stressed is a useful way to make me feel relaxed. Perhaps it is the eternal nature of a dollhouse. They get passed down through the generations and allow grown-ups, as well as children, to escape reality into a fantasy world of their own creation.

May all of us be inscribed in the book of life this year so that, come next September, I can write a happier and thankful blog post.

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