“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” ~ Albert Schweitzer
You’re spreading yourself pretty thin. Your first major project for work will culminate on the first Friday of June in an open house downtown. Responsible for creating an array of six-foot wide presentation posters to show planning and design projects going on in and around the city, lack of materials supplied by those whose projects you will highlight frustrates you. Your regional art fair, in its 14th year, takes place Sunday, two days after the open house. Since the end of March, you’ve spent as much time as possible with your other mother, who is dying from pancreatic cancer diagnosed a year earlier. Staying long days with your mom and working nights on your other projects, you are beyond exhausted and still plagued by whatever-it-is that’s happening to your tired body. Many family friends come to take shifts, sitting with her, giving you and your other dad breaks, visiting and bringing food. Both her son and daughter arrive, giving you a chance to bond with them once again. Toward the end, the medical professionals amongst them provide guidance for the family in making important medical decisions.
Three days before the open house and four days before the art fair, your mom finally succumbs, leaving her pain behind. You are responsible for carrying out the funeral arrangements according to her requests. Mom was a very methodical, meticulously organized woman, a planner who juggled many commitments and managed always to fulfill them. One day while over making dinner for your other dad, she sat you down with pen and paper and dictated very specific instructions, beginning with “There will be no pity party,” for everything from the burial arrangements (including the list of pallbearers, all women), what to bury her in (not much makeup, “I want G-d to recognize me”), to the dairy luncheon served at the celebration of her life (“only white albacore tuna for the tuna salad, none of that cheap pink stuff”), to the shiva, the traditional Jewish service and paying of respects to the deceased’s family (use paper plates so there’s not so much to clean up).
The funeral is on Friday morning. Operating now on autopilot, you follow Mom’s instructions to a T, while completing arrangements for the Friday night open house at work and carrying out all the tasks necessary for the art fair. You must mark the site for all the booths and number each. Luckily, friends are available to help with marking the spaces on Thursday afternoon, but it rains before you can number them. The show is on Sunday—you figure you can get out there early Saturday before any artists arrive to set up. At the funeral the next morning, Mom’s friends fill the Temple to standing room only. After the service, her son will speak first; next you will get up in front of all those people and tell a funny story, and you will not cry (as per her specific instructions). You tell the funny story of how you first met this wonderful woman, your voice breaking only at the very end.
By the time you leave the cemetery to oversee the luncheon, it’s after 1:00. There are so many people, you must order more food. The guests sit around for hours, telling funny stories and lamenting her passing. At 3:30, after making sure the clean-up crew is ready to roll, you leave to finish setting up the open house, making sure the rental company has delivered and set up your order, the bar and caterer arrive on time, and all your posters are hung in the proper order, with pens and large sheets of paper attached for public comments. The doors open at 4:30, but by 6:30, you are dead on your feet, aching everywhere, including some places you didn’t realize existed. You just want to go home to bed and feel sorry for yourself. Instead, you leave to pick up out-of-town friends to attend services at 7:30. Finally, at 11:30 pm, you set the alarm for 6:00 am and fall into bed.
Waking before the alarm, you dress and go to the art fair site to finish numbering the booths, since artists will begin setting up at noon. By 9:30, you are back in bed to nap for a few hours. At noon, you return to the site to direct artists to their booth spaces. You have had no time to even consider setting up your own booth. After the initial rush, you lie on the grass, dozing in and out, getting up to help the latecomers, and by 5:00, you’re on your way home to change for the evening. At 6:00, you’re at Mom’s to set up for shiva and get ready for mourners. Another of her close friends has helped you with these arrangements, because you know there will be a crowd and lots to do.
As expected, mourners fill the house to overflowing, many bringing sweets for the carb-laden table. The rabbi conducts the service, everyone recites the Mourner’s Kaddish, and then, just as Mom wished, they eat and share funny stories celebrating the memory of this amazing, inspiring woman. After the last person finally leaves, you clean up and set up for tomorrow night. Just before midnight, you take a much-needed shower, set the alarm for 5:30 am and fall into bed. In the morning, you will be at the show site at 5:45 to begin artist check-in.
You are right on time, although not moving well. You will not set up your booth this year, for the first time ever, nor are you planning to stay for long. By 2:00, after awarding prize ribbons with the show judge, you shuffle what seems like miles to your car and collapse. You are dead on your feet and can barely walk, you ache all over, and in just four hours, you are due back at Mom’s house. Shuffling from car to house, you sit down in your comfy chair for a few minutes. A couple of minutes becomes a couple of hours, but by 5:30, you are shower-fresh, dressed in black, wearing your mom’s favorite necklace and right on time to set up for tonight’s visitors. Once again, it’s a full house. Mom touched the hearts and minds of so many people and it is an honor to carry out her last wishes. You fall into bed after midnight, grateful that you have taken Monday, the next day, off from work.
Too wound up to sleep, you lie in bed, going over the past week’s events in your head. You’re missing Mom terribly, but you give thanks that her suffering is over, for all the wonderful people who stepped up to the plate to help, and especially for hospice for their compassionate care and love. The open house at work was successful; the art fair, even though you weren’t really present, went well enough. You contemplate plans for tomorrow night; as Mom instructed, you and some friends have arranged a a cookout for your other dad’s 85th birthday, his first event without Mom. Mostly, though, you think about how fortunate you are to have had a woman of such grace and virtue, so full of life and love, to accompany you on your journey for the last 30 years. You are a better person for having known her.
(to be continued)