I’m glad I didn’t listen to you on this one, Mom

For years, Mom told us that she wanted as small a funeral as possible — just us, the Rabbi, and as few other people as necessary to have a minyan so that we could recite the Kaddish. And every time she said it, we always told her that we were going to ignore that particular wish.

We did.

Mom’s funeral was this afternoon. We would have had enough people for a minyan just between the immediate family and the Rabbi, but there were more than a hundred people there.

Of course the family was there — and Mom’s neighbors and friends from Carriage Hill and elsewhere in Richmond — and her colleagues from Ethyl — and my brother’s friends and colleagues and neighbors — and even some childhood friends of my brother’s and mine. There were friends and relatives I see on most visits, people I hadn’t seen for years, and people I met for the first time today. And I’m sure there were people I didn’t meet at all.

The service itself was short; the Rabbi’s hesped was on target (he said it was due to the wonderful material my brother and I gave him), and two of Mom’s grandchildren added their own remembrances.

Then it was time to actually bury Mom. I put the first shovel of dirt into the grave, followed by my brother.

It wasn’t until we recited the Mourner’s Kaddish that I started crying. I’ve said the Kaddish before, of course; in fact, it’s the custom at Shir Hadash for the whole congregation to join the mourners in the recitation, so I say it nearly every week. And sometimes, I’ve said it for my uncle or my grandfather on the occasion of their Yarzheit. But this time, I wasn’t just saying the Kaddish as part of the congregation or as a comforter — this time, I was a principal mourner, and now I’m obligated to say the Kaddish for Mom for the rest of my life (though, of course, not every day of the rest of my life).

After the service, we stayed around for a few minutes and talked with people before returning to the house for the seudat ha-havra’ah. Not everyone came who’d been at the funeral, but we still had a houseful, and a good time was had by all (if you ignore the occasion). And then we had the first shiva minyan, and yet more talking — and eventually, everyone left.

I’ve taken off my suit jacket, but I’m still wearing the kriah ribbon, which I’ll continue to wear throughout shiva. And I have a shiva candle to bring home with me and light there (we have one burning here, of course).

So Mom, I’m glad we didn’t honor your wishes on the funeral; I know that the people who came out to honor you would have felt left out if we’d had a private ceremony, and that wouldn’t have been right. And all of your worries about making people come out on a lousy day? We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather — about 70 degrees, with just enough clouds to keep people from being dazzled. How did you arrange that?

In the bubble

I flew back to Richmond today, and so I spent most of the day in the travel bubble. I had my laptop, my carry-on, my headphones, my iPod…everything was normal.

But it wasn’t really normal. I didn’t play any music. I didn’t do any crosswords or sudokus. I didn’t read the airline magazine. I didn’t even read any fiction. Instead, I read Saying Kaddish, and I thought, and I remembered.

Something else that wasn’t usual: I’d often phone Mom from the plane to say “hi” — she always got a kick out of my calling from the plane, even though it was just a normal cell call. But today, my phone would have had to be very special indeed to have reached her.

Yes, this was a trip like any other trip…but not really.

Now I’m at my brother’s house, after going over to my Mom’s to look for pictures of her to display tomorrow. While we were there, we started sorting through some of the stuff in her den — mostly books and photo albums, which were fairly easy to deal with (especially the ones that she’d labelled with a “D” for me or a “C” for my brother). I’ve put a pile of stuff on her bed to ship home later. I found a lot of my own stuff, too, such as a box full of 45 rpm records (in awful shape, I’m afraid) and many books, some of which I’m shipping home (I finally found my slide rule manual!).

Both of us were surprised how easy it was to deal with the stuff we were sorting. Of course, we didn’t actually throw anything away yet.

For now, I’m still in the bubble of aninut.
But the funeral is tomorrow, and then it’ll be time to move out of the bubble and into the next phase.

Dealing with stuff

I’ve spent much of today on the phone — with Rabbi Aron here, with Rabbi Creditor in Richmond (who’ll be doing the service), and, of course, with my brother.

I spent 25 minutes with an United Airlines agent — they had the best schedule, and I was able to get a bereavement fare at well under the best other fare I could find on any airline. I was surprised when they needed the name of the funeral director (I thought the name of the funeral home would be enough), but I was able to phone the funeral home and get the information quickly.

And I’ve also been dealing with some of the stuff inherent in Mom’s death, such as calling QVC and HSN and getting them to close out her account and stop sending her email. I’ve also switched her Netflix gift subscription to come to us (since there’s no way to get a refund), and I’ve put some of the movies she recommended back onto her queue so we can watch them after shiva.

Tomorrow, I go to Richmond for the funeral, returning Wednesday. We’ll have a shiva minyan at Shir Hadash on Thursday night at 8.

Mom’s Obituary

This was printed in Saturday’s Richmond Times Dispatch.

Elaine Winer Singer, 82, passed away April 28, 2006, after a short illness. She was born in Richmond on February 7, 1924. She attended Thomas Jefferson High School and Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University). She worked in the family grocery business on Oregon Hill, for Virginia Elevator Company, and retired from Ethyl Corporation in 1988. She leaves many friends and family who fondly remember her and will greatly miss her wonderful sense of humor, which continued even during her hospitalization. She was preceded in death by her parents, Abraham Max Winer (z’’l) and Ethyl Weber Winer (z’’l), as well as her brother, Harold Winer (z’’l). She is survived by two sons: Cliff and his wife Michael of Richmond and David and his wife Diane of Los Gatos, California, her four grandchildren: Allison, Cory, Jeffrey, and Meri, as well as a brother, Leonard Winer of Denver, Colorado, and a sister-in-law, Dubby Winer of Richmond, and her nieces Judith Winer Casey of Richmond and Sharon Green of Detroit, Michigan, and her nephew, Darryl Winer of Denver. A service will be held at 3:30pm on Sunday, April 30, at the B’nai Shalom Cemetery in Greenwood Memorial Gardens, 12069 Patterson Avenue. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Jewish Family Services of Richmond or Hospice of Virginia.

Mom Update #13

My brother just called. My Mom passed away about 1:20am Eastern time (less than an hour ago as I type this).

I called the hospital to talk to the nurse, who told me that it was peaceful. I thanked her and her colleagues for all of their help, both for Mom and us.

Even though I’ve been expecting this for days, it’s still a shock.

Tomorrow, I’ll have to figure out how I’m getting to Richmond; the funeral will be on Sunday.

Mom Update #12

There’s no new news from Richmond; the last time I spoke to my brother, he said that Mom was breathing about 4 times a minute, and the hospice nurse said it should be “soon”.

I’m glad my brother’s keeping me in the loop, even if I jump every time the phone rings. It was especially unnerving when I picked up the phone after working out this morning — the display said “1 new voicemail”, and I couldn’t bring myself to play it until I got home from the JCC. As it happened, the call was from the Rabbi, letting me know she’d be available this morning if I wanted to stop by the shul, but….

She lent me a couple of books: Anita Diamant’s Saying Kaddish and Anne Brener’s Mourning and Mitzvah. I haven’t looked at them yet, but I expect I’ll be doing so on the plane back to Richmond, whenever that is.

In the meantime, I came into the office this afternoon; we were having a departmental Tech Talk that I wanted to hear, and I decided I could wait here as easily as at home. But I think I’ll leave early. There’s a huge pile of mail at home (I’ve been travelling since the beginning of April), and I’m not really doing a lot for IBM at the moment.

Mom Update #11

As soon as we entered the terminal in San Jose, my phone rang. It was my brother, who was at the hospital listening to Mom breathe very, very slowly and infrequently, and warning me that I’m probably going to be returning to Richmond even sooner than I’d thought.

We decided that there was no sense in my rushing back to Richmond (all of my stuff was actually in a separate suitcase, so I guess I could have just bought a ticket on the spot and gotten right back onto the same plane I’d just flown in on) — I might or might not arrive in time, and I’ll be more useful if I’ve gotten at least one night’s sleep.

So I’m waiting for the phone call before I make my next set of travel arrangements.

Maybe Mom decided it was time when we said “goodbye” this morning, or maybe this was the time no matter what. Only God knows — but I still feel that we made the right decision to come home today.

Mom Update #10

We said “goodbye for now” to Mom a few hours ago, and are now sitting at Richmond International Airport (I still want to call it “Byrd Field”) awaiting our flight to JFK and thence to SJC.

When we left, Mom was breathing well and it was clear that she knew what was going on — I know that she wants us to get on with our lives, but I still felt torn about leaving.

Mom Update #9

I’m confused.

Yesterday, we thought that Mom’s kidneys had shut down, since she’d produced no urine all day. But overnight, she started to complain, and eventually (I wasn’t here) they discovered a problem in the catheter; when they fixed that, she put out a full day’s worth of urine in one go (so to speak) and she’s been fine in that respect ever since. She’s sleeping comfortably now.

So as far as anyone can tell, there’s no reason for us to be on 24/7 vigil at her bedside — and so I’m thinking of going back to California for a while.

When this all started last week, Mom told us not to come out — but then her condition got worse, and we flew to Richmond, and I’m glad we did, because we all got to spend time with her while she was able to talk with us. She isn’t talking any more, but she knows when she has company and seems to enjoy us — but I also wonder if all the attention is tiring her out and whether she’d like some privacy (she has always told people not to visit her in the hospital).

So, as I said, I’m confused. As of this instant, I’m leaning towards flying today along with Diane and Jeff, and have bought a ticket — but I’m not happy with either alternative.

I wish someone would invent teleportation.

Mom Update #8: Party!

All of the adults are in Mom’s room now — we had thought about having a family dinner at my brother’s house, but the logistics defeated us (especially the fact that Diane, Jeff, and I had lunch after 2pm), so instead, we’ve gathered here. And we’re doing something I never expected to do: we’re watching American Idol. There’s a Richmond native on the show, and the town has gone crazy over him (including my brother’s family).

He’s about to sing, and I’m sure my typing would disturb the rapt audience, so I’d best stop soon, but before I close, I’ll mention the medical news: there’s no news. Mom’s been sleeping all day, very quietly.