The Yahrtzeit

Don’t call me. I know you’ll all want to when you hear what I have to say. I am leaving tomorrow to go to Houston for the first time since my mother’s death. But stop yourselves from reaching out to give Lindsay and me room to grieve on our own. If we end up getting together with friends at any point, I’ll make sure you’re included. But we haven’t gotten that far. We’ve only planned what we’re going to do on the actual anniversary of my mother’s death on the second, besides attending my cousin Hunter’s wedding the day before.

Because I thought I’d be in DC during the wedding, I did not RSVP, so I hope they can haul ass to the kitchen, rearrange the food, and squish in a place setting to welcome a “Haiti-an. It actually is important to me to go to this wedding. It’s my mother’s brother’s second child, so I will get to see everyone on that side of the family at a time when we really need each other. Of course it is Hunter’s day, but seeing each other is an excellent added bonus. Plus, the wedding is in Tyler, Texas… the perfect amount of road trip. I haven’t done a real road trip in ages, so even that in and of itself is perfection.

When we get back, we’ve planned to go to the cemetery and just sit with Mom. We enjoy it because the cemetery we chose is so tranquil and peaceful it is an escape from the rest of the city. It’s also been a year since I’ve seen “Fred,” the infant-sized tree planted last year that will one day surround my mother’s grave in its majesty. I’m only sort of glad I waited this long, because I don’t think I would notice as much of a difference in “him” if I’d seen him every week.

Lindsay has said that she’s not crazy about the name “Fred.” I can’t wait to see what name she’s come up for “him.” For me, “Fred” was an easy choice because every plant I’ve ever had has been named “Fred….” and this Fred has people to take care of “him” that actually know what they’re doing. I don’t have to worry that I’m accidentally going to poison “him.” Plus, this time of year the weather should be pretty good… no pictures of the headstones with a “light dusting of snow.” We’ll eat and drink it what is hopefully sunshine and not threatening grey weather. But rest assured that I would carry six golf umbrellas before I missed going to see my mother’s grave.

It is such a bittersweet experience, because logically I know that I am just talking to her shell. Emotionally, she feels very real and present…. not in a viscerally physical way, just that her spirit is near.

It was that spirit which brought me to my knees. I didn’t want to spend that day alone, either, because I didn’t want to spend it with anyone but Lindsay and she’d already come and gone for this week.

She and my father both worked on this idea to let us have our time to laugh and cry, and the fact that they thought it was important enough to spend their hard-earned money and/or frequent flier miles to make sure it happened is exactly the kind of thing my mother would have wanted.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what it is she actually would have wanted, and yet I know this one hits the nail on the head. Now if Forbes, my stepdad, needs to get his internet fixed or his cable is down, that would just be the icing on the cake. My mother assumed my entire adult life that because I work in Information Technology, if it plugged into the wall, I could fix it. She once actually flew me to Houston just to fix her computer because it was exactly the same price as taking it to Best Buy,™ and she knew that I would be nicer to her than they would because I wouldn’t try to upsell her on anything. 🙂

As it turned out, I couldn’t fix the computer after all, because it was a hardware problem and not software… but I still earned my keep. I told her that for the same price as getting her old computer fixed (emphasis on old), she could buy a cheap throwdown that would do everything she wanted it to do and I could transfer all of her files for her, or just install her old hard drive as a secondary drive in the new one. I ended up just transferring her files because I didn’t know whether the hard drive was about to blow, and thanks to her excellent grasp of “the Mommy Save,” it was ridiculously easy. The term “Mommy Save” is an old IT Help Desk joke that refers to people who have no idea how directory structures work, so everything they’ve ever worked on is an icon on the desktop. Mind you, not folders created on the desktop. Individual files that cover every possible millimeter of desktop real estate so it doesn’t even matter what the wallpaper is… you can’t see it, anyway.

And, of course, my mother also had no idea how installing peripherals worked, so of course things that were simple to me, like installing the printer/scanner/copier driver, seemed like magic to her. She really thought it was magic when I discovered that her PSC had wireless and set up every computer in the house to print to it, and enabled file sharing so that she didn’t have to e-mail Forbes everything she wanted him to see.

I also locked down her router so that no one in her neighborhood could steal bandwidth from her using the router’s default username and password, the one that had been on it for, like, two years. I think I gave it the SSID “Baker’s Dozen,” because Baker was her married name…. but I TOLD her it was “Carolyn’s Tattoo Parlor and BBQ Pit.” Because she’d known me my whole life, she knew I was just kidding… and I knew exactly what she was thinking…. my Godyou are way too much like your father. I don’t think I am….. he’s WAY more funny than me. Just more practice at it, I guess…. or at least, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. Perhaps one day his little grasshopper will reach satori, but I am not holding my breath.

Although this story may come close.

I love temporary tattoos, because there are lots of tattoos I like, but won’t commit to them forever. I was out shopping and found some really cool ones- tribal representations of animals, armbands, etc. My mother, however, did not like tattoos AT ALL. So, I wake up before she does and put this GIANT tiger temp tattoo on my neck. Not even an Oxford button-down will cover it. She comes into the kitchen a little while later and I can see the wheels in her head turning, trying not to explode as she thinks through all the jobs I’ve just lost. She tries so hard….. when did you get your tiger tattoo? If it’s on your neck, it must’ve really hurt. Do you think your job will care? How did you manage to hide it? I didn’t even see it last night…….. Your mom is going blind in her old age……. I let her twist in the wind for a few more minutes before I took some cotton balls and a small bottle of baby oil out of my pocket and rubbed it off. It was nice to see some blood come back into her face, and she laughed- not necessarily because she thought it was funny, but because she knew she’d been had and it was exactly the type joke her firstborn would play on her…. but not before trying to convince me that she’d known it was fake all along, that she was just trying to keep it going, etc. I didn’t buy it for a second, but it was hilarious to watch her backpedal nonetheless.

My mom was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but because her brain worked on a very high, creative plane most of the time, jokes often went over her head. She had bigger things to think about than whether her daughter was pranking her or not, which made her an easy target, especially since she was so willing to laugh at herself.

One of the times she absolutely lost it laughing at herself was when my dad took my mom, sister, and me to our friend Hardy Roper’s vacation house in Galveston. It had a dock on the bay side of the island, and Lindsay and I were doing a half-hearted job of fishing, using cheese as bait (or as my sister said, “WE’RE GONNA CATCH FISH WITH CHEESE!!!!!). I was wearing my favorite loafers, which happened to be pretty expensive, and my mom just knew I was going to drop them in the water while my feet were dangling over the side. She rushed over to me and said, hand me your shoes. If you lose them, we won’t be able to replace them. So, I hand them to her, and for whatever reason, at exactly that moment she was thrown of balance and promptly dropped both of my precious loafers into the bay. We laughed until we cried…. which is exactly what I want to do at the cemetery.

Of course I miss my mother, and it is incredibly sad, but it is a good thing that part of grief is the uncontrollable laughter of reminiscence.

If there’s anything I hope for during this trip, it’s that nearly every sentence begins with do you remember the time when Mom……………… It is the best opening line for me since once upon a time………….. because once upon a time, I could not laugh like this. 2017-09-30 00_53_56-Mourner's Kaddish _ ReformJudaism.orgI was too engrossed in survivor’s grief, not allowing myself joy because it did not seem appropriate to have fun. I felt that the only thing I deserved was to look down in sadness, tear my clothes, and even though I’m not Jewish, say the Kaddish (also known as The Mourner’s Kaddish) in her honor. If you’ve never heard it, the graphic to the right is the prayer in Hebrew. What follows is the English:

Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name
in the world which God created, according to plan.

May God’s majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime
and the life of all Israel — speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen.

Blessed be God’s great name to all eternity.

Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded
be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing,
praise, and comfort. To which we say Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel,
to which we say Amen.

May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel.
To which we say Amen.

I ask all of your blessings as two Christians try to make their own theme & variation on a yahrtzeit that weaves my mother’s personality throughout. The concept of the yahrtzeit is extremely meaningful to me, because it is not the first anniversary of a loved one’s death, but all of them. I tend to steal borrow from all faith traditions as I try and navigate the largest unknown I’ve ever faced. Making things better probably won’t come out of one book, but many. I mean, not everybody can be Doug Forcett.

I would appreciate each and every one of you holding space for Lindsay and me as we survey dark wilderness…. because maybe next year, having some contour lines will help.

In the meantime, I am praying not only on the words, but the spaces in between. Often, the wisdom is in the pause.

#prayingonthespaces

Folded into the Family

I can’t remember the exact moment Prianka came into my life. Somehow, she has just always been here. We connected because we were both bloggers at the time (Prianka says she’s gotten bored with her life) and became fans of each other. That led to chatting online a bit and talking on the phone for hours at a time. As I have said before, we have never done the whole crush thing, because we each needed that space to talk about our lives to the other. I wasn’t the girlfriend, and neither was she- we were both the people for each other that got to HEAR about the girlfriend. At the time, I desperately needed a friend in that area. I had met Dana by that point, but she wasn’t my friend. Just some chick I saw at church and thought was a little bit (lotta bit) craycray. As Dana and I gelled, though, so did Prianka and I. In 2004, Prianka called me up and said, “my friend Nina has a conference in Portland and I’m coming with her. Can we stay with you?” I was thrilled. Nina and Prianka spent the weekend with Dana and me because Dana’s wife, Carol, was out of town and there was no where Dana wanted to be more than with the three of us. We made an EXCELLENT foursome.

We ended up watching Clueless, playing Trivial Pursuit, and eating junk food….. a lot of it. That weekend in 2004 cemented us for life, because it’s 10 years later and we’re still going strong. Stronger, even, because this is the first time in our lives that we’ve been able to have the kind of relationship where either of us can say, “let’s meet for lunch.” If you’ve been following me on Facebook, you know that we meet for lunch most Mondays at Native Foods Cafe, which has become an exercise in just how much food I can stuff in my face at a time. I am fascinated by vegan food Fascinated. To me, it is where food becomes art- like taking cashews and turning them into Alfredo sauce. These Mondays have become very, very important to me because Prianka has the mindset of an elite athlete, and she pushes me without pushing. She sets ideas down and I just have to Keep. Up. It’s working. She is inspiring me to be a better version of myself one tofu peanut butter parfait at a time.

Because her wedding had been planned for so long before I considered moving back to DC, I did not expect an invitation to their wedding, but as it happened, last Sunday she and Elena had a cancellation, so when we met for lunch on Monday, she literally stopped me on the street and put down her stuff and said, “I HAVE TO DO THIS RIGHT NOW.” She texted someone and a few hours later, she texted me. “Do you have time to talk?” I said, “sure- call or write away.”

A few seconds later a very apologetic Prianka said, “are you ok with being invited last minute?”

Ummmmmmm. YES.

The emotion didn’t hit me until she and Elena walked into the restaurant as a married couple. They’d had a private ceremony with their families, and they were wearing traditional Indian wedding dresses- Prianka in deep red and Elena in gold and green. I cried like a baby. She was gorgeous. Everything I’d ever wanted for my friend and she got it, wholeheartedly. The room was FULL of people just celebrating her and her marriage to another beautiful woman. I’d never met Elena before, and she welcomed me with open arms into their family. That was the best part. Getting to feel like the family I felt with Prianka extended to both Elena and the brothers Nandy (Avik and Amit) that I’d heard about for the last ten years but was just now putting faces with names….

Amit’s toast was hilarious- he talked about when the Nandy family used to go back to India in the summer where her parents had a four-level house that looked out onto the neighbor’s roof, and one day he and Avik were being pests and threw all Prianka’s clothes out the window onto the neighbor’s house. He said it was only funny because she got most of the clothes back, and I found myself wondering what happened to the rest of them…….

Speaking of India, that’s an interesting fact about Prianka you ought to know. Avik and Amit were both born in the US, but Prianka was born in Calcutta at the same hospital where Mother Theresa worked. Honestly, it shows. Prianka is just power, grace, and style in a tiny body. You can’t even believe the huge ideas that come out of someone so small. For instance, Pri is on a mission. She does IT and spreadsheets and analysis for the World Bank. She takes her gifts and funnels them into a larger mission, which is everything you want in life, really…. to take tangible gifts and turn them into spiritual ones. I got to meet Prianka’s parents and I told them that I thought their daughter was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I am looking forward to getting to know Elena well enough that I can say that to her parents, too. From what I have seen so far, that’s going to be no problem.

It was also a joy that Nina was at the wedding, too, and brought her husband with her- a thrill because I’d heard about Jeremy for the last ten years and this was the first time we’d ever shaken hands. I liked him immediately. IMMEDIATELY. In a “you’re my new best friend call me every day” kind of way. He’s a lawyer. He’s a pit bull of a lawyer. He told me how to go after Silver Spring regarding their inane homeless shelter policy in about 30 seconds, in a way that I know I’ll win. Hands down. If he runs for something, I’ve got a job in a speechwriter’s stable. That was when I melted inside. I told him that we needed to spend time on the phone together and visiting each other because in order to speech write for him, I needed to learn his “voice.” He and Nina live in “Luevul,” so I imagine that there will be much Skyping as we get campaigns off the ground. I am already formulating the Dog Catcher campaign in my head. We have similar backgrounds- his mother was a Baptist minister and my father was a Methodist minister and even though the doctrine is different, the experience is the same. I told him that I’d like to meet his mother, and he said that she died in 2013, but that he would find a way for me to meet her in another way by giving me access to her writing. Do you see how that just reached into my heart and squeezed? I looked at him and said, “that’s why I write. THAT. I want to live forever.” I want to live forever, as will all of the “characters” that come into my life, for the short-term or for the whole run.

In terms of blogging, Prianka HAS been there for my entire life. She’s seen my writing career blossom from three followers to 30,000, and will hopefully be there for three million as well. She said something that I have to write down here, because it is so beautiful that I need to record it. She said, “all day, you have been my lodestone.” And it’s true. I was that person she could reach out to for a hug when she needed to get back into her body and back down to earth. To make sure that she was, as I say, “God to head, head to feet, feet to floor.” It was magnificent to be there for someone I’ve loved for so long in a way that defies odds. I was joking that the reason we’re so close is that we met online and then discovered that neither of us wanted to murder each other in our sleep so we’re golden. We talked about how when Prianka came to visit me, that was WAYYYYYYY before that shit was normal. We each just took a leap of faith and trusted that the care we felt over the e-mail and the AOL Instant Messenger and the phone would translate.

It did.

Yesterday, I went to her wedding. And now she is officially invited to mine, if and when it happens. And on that day, she’ll be the one I reach out to for a hug, just to remember that I am “God to head, head to feet, feet to floor” as well.

I love you, Prianka. Truly. And I can’t wait to get to know Elena so I can be there for her, too. You brought Elena into my life at a time when I really needed friends, and she is as gorgeous as you are. I am so blessed to share in your family, and I hope you know that you have long been a part of mine.