Limousines, special seating, unique foods, tearing of clothing and crowds of people, staggered, staring at the precipice. Nope, this is not Fashion Week.
We have come together to mourn a second time in a month. The only time I have seen the lovely man who drives us in a limo is when something has gone terribly wrong. He has driven our immediate family to New York and back two times in the past 16 months. The third time was shorter in distance, but longer and deeper in grief, for the funeral of my mother a month ago.
For the first funeral, of our family patriarch, over a year ago, I had a panic attack and claustrophobia while spending ten hours in the limo on the road. I begged the driver to please pull over as I had to get out of the car as quickly as possible. Finding an opportunity to pull over in moving borough traffic was no easy feat but he managed. Harder, was for me to get back in the car and get my breathing under control.
This time, the driver asked in advance if I would be alright. I took two over the counter pills to help calm my nerves and angled the fan blowing cold air as directly onto my face as possible. My brother joked, at a graffiti covered corner in a sketchy part of Queens, if this was the place I had the limo pull over last year to get some air in my panic-stricken state. It is important to have family, continuity, and remember your sibling’s ill timed idiosyncrasies. When you can get all that in one fine zinger, how truly loved you are.
This time we are getting in the driver’s car to head to my grandmother’s funeral. We all meet at 4:30 a.m. to drive to New York. As I said, he is a very nice man, but we really need to stop meeting this way. Luckily, I am out of aging and ill members of my family for the moment. How I got to that stage was not so lucky.
Despite the circumstances, the hardest thing in the mini bar of the limo is cold water. Trying to slake my thirst, and swallow my pills quickly for the anxious relief I pray they bring, I grab for the first one I can reach. Before my mother passed, I tried to prepare a support system and asked a doctor for a small ration of Valium. His response to learning of my mother’s terminal diagnosis was “G-d Bless You.” ‘What?’ my favorite sister asked ‘Did you sneeze?’ The request for medication was denied and so I was literally left to my own devices. Distraction was the name of the game for the five hour trip, each way, and I brought my fully charged Kindle and a cadre of Angry Birds to keep me busy.
We took a drive along almost the same route, redirecting off to the Garden State Parkway, to a family Bat Mitzvah in New York two weeks ago. Candy, a photo booth, beautiful flowers, girly nirvana, serious gift swag, and a smorgasbord of delights gave us a brief respite from the shared grieving. Fortunately, there was something to celebrate among all the massive changes and duly-noted life cycles. Two funerals and a bat mitzvah. The Bat Mitzvah girl and her family had planned long and hard for the special occasion, not knowing what might occur, and went forward with plans for the kind of party it would be hard to turn down.
When we arrive in New York, it is the third time I am seeing my father’s siblings and my first cousins in a month. This time, we meet with numbed feelings and tears almost too painful to shed yet again. We go to the gravesite and stand in the hot sun. Our inflamed sensitivities are scorched by pride and loyalty. Lost in our respective haze of loss and confusion, no one seems to understand me. We circle around each other like planets in the same galaxy, unable to get too close for fear of colliding. So we slide by each other, not always making eye contact, trying to keep our emotions in check as we lose the one last person who held us all together, tethering us as a five generational pyramid of family.
To lose my mother and grandmother in a month’s time, when we spent years watching their bodies deteriorate and transition, once again reminds me that we would not want them to suffer but we are the ones who are lost, not they. They are where they always have been – deep in my heart and beloved in my soul. And of course, terribly missed, even in so short a passage of time.
Now we have to work harder. Our family is diverse in personality and geography. Maybe technology will keep us connected as we share memories and genetics. In time, babies will be born and new souls will enter this world to connect us to our elemental roots and join us in celebrating life rather than mourning death. The glittering anticipation of a summer family wedding means we have a chance to see each other again, hopefully with the ability to let smiles and tears of mingled sadness and joy, help us to reach out to one another in kindness and empathy.
Thank you for stopping by and being part of our family!