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Saying Goodbye to Maury

I read obituaries.

At first, it was to ensure my name wasn’t there, but then to watch for people I knew or may have known. Others must do this too as I was surprised by the unexpected visitors at my mothers’ funeral and subsequent shiva. Maybe obituaries established one of the earliest forms of social media, a written town crier or play on posting of bands at religious institutions: getting the word out anonymously.

Which is kinda creepy as you never know how many or who is reading your posts or reflections, but I guess that is the point- of needing to impart something to someone beyond yourself and your immediate circle.

For me, I express my thoughts as a personal need to write, rather than to communicate and anticipate others who will read my words ( although I am delighted by a comment, even disparaging ones as prompted by my own near and dear: for example last week’s regarding the commercialization of parenthood. Yikes). Guess it’s much like a Catch 22. Put yourself out there and take a chance because not everyone is going to agree with your version of life.

When I searched the Obits onE Friday I read that a second or third cousin had passed away. I knew him only briefly, one of those many relations that you encounter at a pretzel bar at a bar mitzvah or wedding, a quiet, lanky fellow, the late arrival of a bouncy, chatty woman and her silent sam of a husband. They were lovely, lovely people, my father’s first cousins, always welcoming, smiling, accepting: the kind of family people write books about when they idealize a friendly Jewish family. And both Fanny and Bella, my father’s aunt and first cousins, were the perfect stereotypes of a clan you would want to belong to, and great cooks as well, mavens of the artistry of matzoh balls, rugala, gefilte fish. At least that was how I drew them in my mind.

Likely shyly, I was introduced to Bella’s son once or twice, the cousin who passed away, now grown up: a husband, a father, a soul taken too early. I can mythologize him too because I didn’t really know him, but I had a sense of how much his parents adored and deep down loved him, one of those change of life babies, a delightful surprise to his very reserved and gentle parents.I could fantasize a little about Maury because my remembrances of his parents were so dear and palpable; and likely, if he followed in their footsteps, he, too was likewise good, kind and undeserving of an early death.

Ascending heaven, I imagined his adoring welcoming mother gather him to her arms and murmur “… enough suffering, my darling, come with me. “ Yet, having read Dr. Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven , I could also hear Alexander’s son imploring his father back to life, “Dad, dad, don’t go, come back.” And Alexander did miraculously return. But in the distant- cousin’s, Maury, case, his illness did not subside and Maury had to leave-even though as the obituary stated : his children were his life. As he was Bella and Sam’s: you could read it in their faces.

Last weekend when I had dinner, the first time in more than thirty years with my sister-in-laws, our talk focused on the passing of our mothers, theirs most recent in February. I shared with them an image from a film- whose title I cannot recall, but it had stuck with me: an aged grandfather succumbs in his wheelchair, but as he is passing, he props himself up to standing, and his physical frailty begins to recede so that soon, he is carefully walking, then gliding, then blissfully running as the years fall away. He gallops and gallops and then smack! he is encircled in his mother’s loving arms as she hugs him tightly to her body and his face is blissful.

Do I believe in an afterlife, I don’t know, yet I do not think we can possibly know everything there is to know in this realm and beyond. Far greater minds have grappled with an afterlife or spiritual ascent of our souls! Whether yes or no…but here is the time and place to enjoy: Gather your rosebuds while ye may, Robert Herrick implored all those dancing girls in the light of day.

Russell Smith in The Globe and Mail recently opined about the difference between life happening and being haunted by it. Better to be part of The Happening (with apologies to the existentialists and Alan Kaprow back in the boomer’s haydays) rather than the lament the many years passed that might have been, sighing for moments that could have but didn’t occur.

That remembrance of our earlier days enchants me a little as I envisage myself jumping on trains in Europe,hitchhiking, following paths with no idea where they might lead, footloose- but always a guardian angel at my back as I- even to my own surprise, returning time after time home safe , full of stories and excitement at what I had seen and done. Perhaps the world was safer 40 years ago and you could trust and be naïve and wander into dark streets by train stations reeking of city and encounter people at hostels and become part of their travelling bands, taking on their routes, abandoning them and picking up someone else’s when you got bored or tired or annoyed. A slipshod life without direction only a framework of addresses where to find your parents’ mail that might corral you.

I look out at the flowers this summer, the dark lilies in particular and I see their trajectory of life from bud to shrivelled carcass, the moment of full glorious bloom, and I foolishly hope it will endure to light the days and nights to come. Maybe that is partially the draw of San Diego for me- flowers in continual bloom, ravishing birds of paradise, ever blooming agapanthus, cacti that ignore the scorching heat so they manage to endure and survive.

And perhaps that is the blessing, the ignorance of youth, to scoff, to try, to fly before you learn your wings may melt.

For Maury, I hope that his life was filled with the sweetness his parents would have wanted for him; and now I hope he rests with them., embraced by that fierce love.

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