Archive for the 'Missing her' Category

She’s been gone a year…

My sweetheart of nearly sixty years died a year ago today, August 23, 2017.

I’m not sure if it seems like a long time ago or just a blip in the universal clock. I do know that I have been counting the months since she died. And the weeks. This has been a particularly tough week for me, grouchy, snippy and all too ready to argue about meaningless slights. My temper, usually under control, has exhibited itself in ways that do not please me. I look at my face in the mirror and wonder where the smile has gone. I sleep less and eat the wrong things. I often skip meals and find food tasteless.

I look at the collage of Ila’s photos on the wall. They span the time between her grade school graduation and an older, wiser person sitting on the couch in the living room. She’s ill, but still smiling at the camera with that honest, loving face. The face that always left me smiling too.

In Costa Rica last month we were without her. A family incomplete because of her absence. A family that felt just a little bit guilty while laughing and playing together. We posted photos of the trip on a website we created to memorialize the adventure. We posted too many photos, I thought. Until my random clicking landed me on a photo of the kids…Isaac, Bella, Morey and Sammy. Smiling with honest faces. Casual in their posing. Full of young life and brimming with happiness. I smiled, then I cried. Not tears of sorrow but ones of joy.

I sent the photo to Jackie. I knew she would like it because Sammy was glowing and being a kid, free from any artificial constraints and loving every minute of it. Happy to pose, not because we asked her to, but because it was the most natural thing to do.

I sent an e-mail to son David thanking him for posting the Zip-lining and river rafting photos. I told him that I hoped Mom was looking over my shoulder and getting high from it all. That she could enjoy her family and get pleasure from the happiness of others.

And then I cried again, by myself. Like my heart was going to break. It’s been awhile since I did that. Without constraint. Without embarrassment. Remembering. And it felt good.

Ila died one day after her sweet daughter’s fifty-sixth birthday. Nancy always tells me that she will easily remember Mom’s passing since it was the day after her own birthday. But I know she will remember it regardless of when Ila died. She’s that way. Loving, focused, serious and a crier. She seems tough but she’s really a closet pussy cat.

I bought Ila’s diamond engagement ring when I was twenty. I really should say my father bought Ila’s engagement ring when I was twenty. It must have been important to him since he was not a man who could, nor would, throw money around.

Ila accumulated other jewelry during our sixty years together, including a treasure chest of pieces given to her when her mother Marge died. Marge was a collector of fine clothes and jewelry. Ila was the opposite. The engagement ring was very special to Ila. She didn’t wear it much because she thought it too valuable to lose. But I really think it was because she felt it was too showy. It lay in the dark for the last twenty-five years in a safe deposit box.

Over time , Ila gave most of the other jewelry to the kids, but she held onto the ring. I was never quite sure what she intended to do with it. It’s quite beautiful, like its owner was. It sparkles in the sunlight like Ila did whenever she appeared. It’s hard as a rock, which Ila could be when it was necessary. And it’s sharp as a tack, like Ila was when confronting me or the kids with some misdeed. But most of all, it is a testament to my love for her over the last sixty years.

And I will pass it on to the someone who most reminds me of Ila’s quality, her honesty, her never-give-up attitude and her unbounded love for family. Someone I’ve loved since she was a baby in my arms. Someone who misses her mother as much as I do. I’m sure Ila will be pleased.

Hello, is Ila there?

Hello, is Ila there?

Ever since the Ojai fire in early December and the mass slaughter of old wooden telephone poles, nearly all of my calls come through my cell phone. My landline returned after four months. But by then I had weaned myself from a wired connection. I still do get landline calls and nearly one hundred percent of them are from people who want my money.

So, through necessity, I’ve developed a keen ear for determining whether the incoming call has been placed by some insensitive machine. You’ve probably learned the same trick of identifying robo-calls. It’s that slight hesitation as though no one is there, coupled with a tell-tale bleep, warning you that you are about to be connected to a real person. Like a well-trained gunslinger, I can usually press the end-call button before the connection is completed.

But sometimes the call is placed directly and so I’m required to listen to someone speak a few words before consigning the call to a far-away place. And that’s what happened around two o’clock Monday, about thirty-six hours after my return from Costa Rica. Maybe it was the jet lag that made me slow on the draw…or maybe it was something else.

Hello, is Ila there?  For what seemed like an eternity, I sat there, phone in hand, and didn’t know how to respond.  A series of possible answers flowed through my brain at warp speed.

Sorry. Ila passed away 

She doesn’t live here any more

No one here by that name

Please don’t call me again, my wife died nearly a year ago

After what seemed like eons of silence, I finally settled on No, she’s not here.  And I hung up before the caller could respond with obligatory condolences.

But that’s a lie. Ila is in fact here. Little bits of her have touched many people and she continues to influence their lives. Her DNA is deposited in her children and her grandchildren. Her honesty, generosity and morality have cascaded to her offspring. And will someday reside in her great-grandchildren.

I was sharply reminded of this by my daughter, Nancy, at dinner in Costa Rica last Friday. On a Friday that marked eleven months since Ila’s death. On a Friday that would normally have found me in the synagogue where I would stand and say the Mourner’s Kaddish, the prayer for those who have passed out of our lives.

Instead, we were in a celebratory mood, having spent the last week enjoying all that Costa Rica has to offer including its abundant scenery, local food and wonderful people. It was our last night and ten of us were feeling no pain.

And then Nancy stood and said with great difficulty “Before this all ends, we need to remember those who are not here with us.” As tears filled her eyes, I looked around the table and saw all the people, now silent, who had been touched by Ila.

Her DNA, morals and peculiarities can be easily found in her two children. Her three grandchildren are fortunate offspring sharing in the gifts presented by Ila. In turn, her influence has helped lead her children in their selection of their partners.

And I am the principal beneficiary of her love and largess, freely given to me during nearly sixty years of knowing and loving her. She, who was a partner in all we did. She, who probably engineered the Chicago snowstorm that convinced us to move to California. She, who insisted that I start a business and stick with it despite the all too frequent times that found me questioning my judgment. She, who always stood by me as we weathered the periodic storms that nearly engulfed us.

And it goes on today to affect others. People ask me “Do you think that Ila is happy that you are not alone?” I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do think she would be happy with the new woman in my life. I know that my choice of a loving soul mate has been influenced by the woman who came before her.

So, the next time some caller asks Is Ila there? I’ll say Yes, but she’s busy now.

Time is a fickle thing

Went to the creative writing class last Thursday at Help of Ojai. Lots of nice people and lots of good words jumping from the carefully crafted pages brought to the class by the participants. Some laughs, some sadness, lots of praise. And lunch too.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to Jeff at the long table set for ten of us by the folks at the Soule Park dining room. An inviolate prerequisite for our selected lunch venue is the restaurant’s willingness to write separate checks. Food is important but separate checks are essential.

Due to the table configuration, conversation typically involves two, maybe three people. This time it was just Jeff and I. Listening to Jeff’s poems for four weeks had impressed with their construct and, most of all, their thoughtful content. A liberal like me and about as ancient, I had found a kindred soul.

We shared a little of our backgrounds and had a brief organ recital. I told Jeff that my loving wife, Ila, had passed away about seven months ago. And then the thought sprang on me as it often does…seven months, why does it seem like seven years?  I reminded myself that I regularly count the months, weeks and days since August 23, the day she left my embrace. And maybe that’s why time defies me and almost stands still. No matter the passage of time, the pain is never going away. It will lessen but thankfully never depart.

I think that just about everything else in my aging soul seems to be moving at the speed of light. Why do some things move at a glacial pace while others dare me to put a hand up in an effort to stop the world from spinning out of control…like those amazing ice skaters who dare you to keep up with them as they seem to be spinning into another universe.

There are some things that are so wonderful that I want them to never end. Yet they will, and they move so quickly that I am scared. Scared that I’m aging and know that one day I will be deprived of the things I love. How soon? Better not to know.

There are times that loved things move like honey from a spoon, slowly, creating anguish as I wait for the sweet taste to arrive. Yet when the joy of its taste is finally available, it moves quickly from me at roller coaster speed while I hold onto it, struggling to keep its sweetness just a little longer.

Jackie went to a seven-day retreat in San Diego last week. I told her I’d be ok in Ojai and that she should enjoy herself. Sunday was ok, Monday too. By Tuesday, I was looking for her in every part of my mind. In every ring of the phone and every sound that announced a text message. Wednesday produced little sleep. Thursday and Friday promised not her imminent return, but a prolonged feeling of deprivation that would never end. Text messages and phone calls produced a bit of relief and even some poetry. “It’s still raining. Very softly. Like your skin under my finger-tips.”

Sunday arrived. I drove the usual fifteen minutes to her home but it felt like thirty. I knocked but didn’t see her through the glass. I went in. Her hair dryer was making the sweetest noise I had heard in a week. I followed the sound to the bathroom. The sight of her drying hair framed in the light surrounding the mirror made my heart leap.

She was home and so was I. Time began its inevitable roller coaster ride. And we were both on it for as long as it would last.

Music and Monsters

Went to the Pasadena Pops outdoor concert Saturday night. First time for me. The theme was music from Universal Studios films. Nancy and Kevin bought tickets that let us to sit on teeny fold-up chairs on the lawn of the Los Angeles Arboretum. Way back from the orchestra. Bless Kevin’s heart, he managed to squeeze his substantial body into the chair and didn’t complain…much.

There were two giant TV screens on either side of the orchestra that played film clips from the movies whose music was being featured. If you squinted really hard you could almost make out Elsa Lanchester as she became the Bride of Frankenstein. A little known fact is that Ms. Lanchester didn’t even have her name listed in the movie credits. No wonder she was an angry monster.

We brought sandwiches, chips and drinks. Other people, with a greater sense of the accoutrements required by such a gathering, brought picnic umbrellas, fold-up tables and all of the other things that make a lawn party fun.

We arrived an hour before show time and found that a sea of people had already staked out spots in front of us. We settled on a space barely on the same planet as the performance. I tried unfolding the lawn chair but, as I have come to realize, I am thoroughly baffled by the mechanics of that process. Sitting is quite another problem. There’s this part of the aluminum frame that rested directly beneath my thighs. The first half hour was devoted to finding the sweet spot for my fanny. The next two hours was focused on the way that aluminum tube gradually forced its way into my thigh. Sort of detracted from the entertainment.

The hour before the show started was prime time for people watching. This was no rock concert, accounting for the relative absence of anyone between the ages of eighteen to thirty. An abundance of older people, most white, roamed the lawn, made multiple trips to the facilities and ate.

I felt singularly single. I did a lot of gazing and daydreaming. Elderly couples were in abundance with the wife generally helping her somewhat challenged husband into his thigh-unfriendly chair. Younger couples shared wine and dessert. Families spent time renewing acquaintances and chasing their small children who were intent on losing themselves in the sea of humanity.

Directly in front of me there were four middle-aged women, all wearing wedding bands. Obviously on a girls night out, they eagerly shared a couple of bottles of wine, laughed and seemed not to care when the show might begin. I thought how lucky their husbands were to have them.

The Bride of Frankenstein seemed pretty good to me.

God, Rabbis and Hummingbirds

Went to temple last night. Rabbi Mike was conducting the first session of Taste of Judaism. I was half there. The other half was somewhere else.

I was invited to Sheila’s home for dinner before the class. Met Jeff who lost his wife six years ago. Sheila lost her son before that. So here we were, comrades in arms. Sheila is such a good cook and an even better host. As big as a minute and a veritable ball of energy, she never turns down an opportunity to do good.

Despite our common grief, we spent little time dwelling on it. For me, and maybe for them, the subject hung in the air begging to be let out of the shadows. Like India Ink, forever permanent.

Dinner over, we went to the temple. My first exposure to a crowd of people since the funeral. Some knew of my loss and stepped forward to greet me with hugs, warm kisses and kind words. Others did not know me, much less my grief. I wanted to make an announcement. “I’m Fred and I lost the love of my life two weeks ago. I’m in need of your attention.” Feeling selfish and needy was not warm and fuzzy. But there it was, something unshakable.

Rabbi Mike asked each of us to introduce ourselves and share our reasons for being there. I resisted the urge to say something like “My wife died two weeks ago and I just felt that I wanted to be among you.” So I said something else, truthful but not satisfying.

This first class in the series was devoted to the concept of God. On previous occasions I had been exposed to the Rabbi’s thoughts on the subject. How the creation of the world and everything in it could not have been random occurrences. How morality could not exist without a framework that defined right and wrong. And how belief in God did not require a definition of the term but merely a leap of faith. Not a micromanager, God relies upon us to do good and help others.

The best part of the ninety minutes was sharing in the delight that Rabbi Mike expressed as he taught us the things he held dear. It was in the smile on his face, the energy as he waved his arms, jumped from his chair and made finger shadows on the wall. A man like this was not to be denied.

I don’t know if there is a God but with Ila’s passing it is a comforting concept. I’ve been spending late afternoons on the patio, watching the shadows spread over Ila’s garden. Occasionally the quail family will hop up on the low wall surrounding the garden. They march to and fro putting on a display that I believe has been choreographed just for me.

To the left is a veritable field of native fuchsia filled with bright red blossoms that should have long ago dried and fallen from the spindly arms of the plants. But they seem ageless and are visited daily by hummingbirds. They dart through the air like rockets, appearing to be in competition with their kind. Pausing only briefly at the nectar filled blossoms, they leave the fuchsia only to return in a display of aerial prowess. On occasion, they will hover close to me as they contemplate their next move.

I’ve adopted the belief that one of those hummingbirds is endowed with some of Ila’s essence. I’m not sure which bird it is but it doesn’t matter. It’s enough that I believe it.

It’s hard

It’s hard remembering the good times. I seem stuck on the bad ones. The awfulness of the disease and the things that it did to her.

I wander through the house looking for something to do. How many times can I do laundry? I turn on Spotify to fill the silence but it fails to quiet my mind. I walk past the condolence cards set up on the island in the kitchen and think about the kind words spoken by the senders.

All the cards are meaningful and every one of them has some special thought penned by the sender. Some are quite beautifully written and others not so much but equally welcomed. There was an outpouring of cards a week ago but now they sort of appear randomly. Like everything else in life, things seem to return to normal and other events take the place of those that fade.

I don’t feel like doing much. No, that’s not entirely true. I think if someone called right now and said “meet me at the coffee shop”, I’d go. The house is big and no human sound emanates from its walls. I’ve tried the sofa near the TV, the chair in front of the fireplace, the wobbly chair in the sun room and that little couch in the bedroom where Ila would sit trying to tie her shoes. It’s an uncomfortable couch but we spent a lot of time on it talking, arguing and holding hands.

And then Lisa called. She and Hal wanted to take me on a field trip. Field trip? They arrived, I got my dorky hat and a bottle of water. Got into their car, drove down the hill and five minutes later we were at the Aaronson horse ranch. Short field trip, I thought.

I’m not a big fan of horses. They always seem to eat the wrong things, stand around clueless in the hot sun, and spend an inordinate amount of time with the vet. But I figured any port in a storm. I followed Lisa to her horse’s enclosure and watched her reinforce an already unbreakable bond with the animal. I did the usual carrot offering and watched as the mare picked daintily at the straw.

I met Al. Interesting guy. Must be as old or older than me yet he moves with the quickness of a cat, tends to the many horses housed at the ranch and comes complete with a history that he shares with anyone willing to listen. He told me about Joel’s first wife, Edith, who passed away years ago. It helped me with my own grief.

We visited some of the horses, and met some horse people (who are unique and thoroughly into loving and caring for their animals.) I was tiring and was ready to go home. But Lisa said “Would you like to meet St. Angelica. She’s pregnant.” I thought, ok one more and then home.

I was alone at the fenced enclosure. A very pretty Angelica came to me but didn’t seem to be looking for food. I stroked her face and scratched behind her ears. She lowered her head and lightly nibbled on my shoe. She rested her warm head on my shoulder. I talked to her, not horse talk but people talk. “Is that you, Ila? Are you reminding me of how you used to tie your shoes?” A silly thing maybe but at that moment I felt warm and happy. I was close to my sweetheart. I could have stood there forever. But Angelica had other things to do, walked away, and left me with a lasting memory.


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