Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Here Comes the Rain Again"

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Wishing My Memories Could Rest in Peace

November 3, 1982: My first cousin Yanai and I are sitting on the back porch of the home where I grew up and where my mom still lives. He's distracting me from the events of the day by talking about a favorite book of his, *The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy* and about his interest in Space, as in "the final frontier".

What do people talk about at a shivah call with a 17-year-old whose father's the reason for the shivah? What do they talk about if they are among Georgetown's undergrads and on the proudly nerdy end of the late-adolescent spectrum?

There's a famous -- famous, among our family -- photo of Yanai and me in a bathtub with Mr. Bubble when we were two and four years old. And that was practically the last time I saw Yanai, till the shivah call in memory of my dad (z"l) 15 years later.

We didn't grow up together like first cousins sometimes do. And I didn't get to know his younger sister Sarit (Sari) till she was 22 and I was 27, when she called me one summer out of the blue: I was living in Chicago and her college boyfriend had moved there to attend U. of C. for grad school, so why not meet for dinner, the three of us?

It turned out to be a fun, sweet evening and I felt wistful that we hadn't spent more time together growing up. And then we did stay in touch and she met Pat, and we were invited to her wedding, and Facebook has served as a continual bridge to many of my cousins, including Yanai, Gail, Sari and her husband Barry.

Regret that I Didn't Get to Know Gail, or My Dad, Better

October 26, 2013: Nearly 31 years since that shivah call, it's my turn to pay a shivah call to Yanai; Yanai's dear wife Gail is gone due to cancer, as of yesterday.

My dad was 56 and Gail was 49. I was 17 and her kids are probably 14 and 16. Happily, we were at the kids' Bat Mitzvah and Bar Mitzvah, where we loved seeing Gail dancing and looking vigorous. Unfortunately, I didn't get to know Gail other than at such simchot or at funerals. I'm melancholy, seeing her Facebook wall now, and that she loved some of the same cultural things that I loved, including the book *A Separate Peace*, the movie *Airplane*, and the musician Melissa Etheridge.

We never learned what we had in common, really, other than the Siegel family. We never had a conversation other than about family, or about a bit of her high-tech work -- and she sounded talented at it -- but I'd rather have found out why she loved *A Separate Peace*.

What would my dad have put on his Facebook wall if Facebook had been around in 1982? Perhaps that he loved P.G. Wodehouse (particularly as a kid, my mom told me), George Booth, the "New Yorker" cartoonist, Georg Jensen, the Danish designer, and Letraset.

I don't even recall the music he liked, other than chamber music and Jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman, and that he tolerated a couple of pop songs, "Moonlight Feels Right" because it mentioned Chesapeake Bay and my dad grew up in D.C., and "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder, which I adored; it was the only 45 he ever bought me.

On his Facebook wall, my dad might have Liked Max Schulman's books and "Popular Mechanics". And maybe the movie "Diner", which amused him; it was the last film my mom and I ever saw with him. And perhaps Breyers Rocky Road ice cream, though by now, he'd have discovered the many new brands and flavors. And if there were Facebook groups for paisley tie lovers or Carhartt overalls fans, he might have joined them. And he'd have specified that he was married to Edythe Siegel for 58 years, if he were still alive, rather than the 27 years they actually had due to cancer.... I'm pretty sure that Yanai and Gail had fewer than 20 years together.

How did we get from bubble-bath splashing to shivah chats too soon? From weddings and baby-births to Bat and Bar Mitzvot, to more shivah chats again too soon?

Parent Loss

While I'm confident that my mom can relate to Yanai's tragedy directly, I can't at this point, thank God, since Pat & I are both still alive and well k'ayn eyin harah. Instead, Yanai and Gail's kids keep coming to mind because like me, they've lost a parent in their teens.

Everyone grieves differently, but if they feel anything like I did, then it's practically more stress than anyone should have to bear: I was stricken at losing my dad while at the same time, experiencing the first ultimate assessment of my academic talent while yearning for love and romantic attention from my peers in parallel.

It was practically too much to handle. I'd work on my college applications in the hospital waiting room and then walk along the streets of Spanish Harlem, where the hospital was, wishing irrationally that I could get pregnant and have a baby to replace my dying father.

What do Yanai and Gail's kids feel along with their pure grief at losing their beloved mother? And how will they cope with their feelings? I spent nearly a decade coping mostly through junkfood and romantic fantasy accompanied by mostly disappointing reality. I want to say: "And then I got over it," but that's not at all true; I did give up the junkfood and the self-and-other-disrespecting romantic pursuits, but feel no less grief about my gone father than I did when he died.

Spouse Loss

This is territory I've not yet traveled, thank God, but my poor bubble-splashing cousin Yanai now has done so. How will he cope?

How would I cope? Would I go back to junkfood? Would I channel my grief through blogging? Would my remaining family comfort me? Would I find a great grief group or therapist? Would my synagogue community be a source of comfort? Would I swim more? How would I stay strong for my kids (in my case, two feline daughters)? What would I do to survive?

Please, God, help Yanai, Gail's and his kids, and the rest of their families to find life-affirming comfort. And help me not to be self-absorbed when I see them on Monday for the funeral and shivah; help me be usefully, compassionately present.... I guess this is what family is about -- the longevity to splash together in bubble baths, meet for dinner-fun, dance with one another at Bar/Bat Mitzvot celebrations and weddings, and comfort one another at shivot.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry for your loss, my friend.

Sarah Siegel said...

Thanks John. Hope you and your writing are well.