Mom, you would have loved last night.
You know it’s not every often me, Mike and Kenny get together anymore. Everyone’s busy doing their own thing and even if we wanted to spend more time with each other we have miles to overcome: I am literally a thousand miles away from Mike in New Jersey and Kenny on Long Island.
And lately my monthly business trips to New York are becoming quarterly, so there even less and less opportunity. Plus Mike is in full-swing with a pre-retirement move to Jupiter, Florida which means our once, maybe twice a year brother reunions are on the verge of becoming as obsolete as Chris Christie. And Mom, I’m not even going to get started on the presidential election you missed, but suffice it too say these days Mitt and Donald get together more frequently that the Berger boys, with the major difference we don’t sit around and call each other ‘phonies’ or a ‘chokers’. I’ll explain all that to you next time I come visit.
However, I know you remember the days when we used sit and call each other names growing up in our idyllic cookie-cutter Long Island world. Michael is three years younger than me, Kenny eight. And I know you remember when the three of us were living in the house as kids, our rooms separated by maybe a dozen square feet, not a day went by when you wanted to know if you would ever see a time when we could walk past each other without throwing an elbow or a noogie. In Yiddish you called it a ‘zetz.’ “Can you ever pass your brother without giving him a zetz?” you’d ask, which meant to us we were caught by the referee. You know that Michael was always the instigator, don’t you? What a rat.
So last night Mom, the three of us had dinner at our favorite New York steakhouse, Empire, on 50th Street. Surely something higher than me being in town and Mike and Ken having their schedules open brought us together. Yesterday was two years to the day that you died.
You would have been proud of us. We didn’t call each other names, nor was there even so much as a zetz thrown. We raised a toast to you and shared some memories. We had some laughs and probably were on the verge of a tear or two. That’s the least we could do for a woman that gave us all she had as a Mom for eighty-five years.
I know you don’t recall that Alzheimer’s took over the last five years of your life and how difficult things became and how pained we were for you and Dad. And what patience and tenderness Dad showed every minute of every day. I know you have no recollection of falling on November 1, 2014, breaking your hip and then having complicated emergency surgery into the wee hours of the morning. I’m sure you don’t remember any of it.
About a month later, Thanksgiving weekend, three days after you turned eighty-five, you had a cerebral hemorrhage. A hurried call from Dad told me that I probably needed to come down quickly. Getting a flight to Fort Lauderdale on a Thanksgiving weekend Sunday presents challenges, but if you wiggle enough you’ll figure it out. I’m normally a pretty good airline wiggler.
When I got to the hospital Dad told me you would never come out of the coma. We met with your medical team the next day, Monday, December 1 and they confirmed, barring a miracle, it to be true. We knew you wouldn’t want to live that way, so in tandem with Mike and Kenny we made the decision you wanted us to make– we took you off life support. Dad said he was told you probably only had hours to live.
Mom, one of your great attributes was you were never late for anything. You were military-prompt and raised us that way. Dinner at 5:30 didn’t mean 5:29 or 5:31. On-time for Arlene Berger meant on-time. And we still smile at the irony that for your final appointment on earth, you were not only late, but you missed it. Prompt for every thing in life, you missed your own funeral. The famous punch line was a joke no longer. You literally were late for your own funeral.
Once we knew on Monday it would be only a matter of hours, we called the funeral home and scheduled your service for Wednesday, December 3 at 11 am, which gave the family from up north and the grandkids from California a day and a half to get to get to South Florida. Jews don’t waste any time burying their loved ones probably because it gets us to the food spread that much quicker.
Monday passes but you didn’t. Same for Tuesday. A slow stream of oxygen made your final few days and hours comfortable for you and for all of us that visited virtually around the clock.
We didn’t know what to do but your funeral went on as scheduled on December 3. Everyone was there. Well, almost everyone. The family, the extended family, your friends, your three great caretakers, our friends and most importantly the Rabbi. The only one that wasn’t there Mom was you. You were still breathing peacefully, about five miles away, in the hospital’s palliative care unit.
What were we supposed to do? It was probably the ultimate improv act. We quickly re-scripted the funeral to be a celebration of your life, a life that was still living. But everyone knew you were probably in that chapel, someplace, taking notes on who showed up; who didn’t; what people said about you and most importantly what kind of handbag and shoes your friends carried and wore.
And after your funeral, oops, I mean celebration of your life, about a dozen of the family came to see you in the hospital. Your breathing was slow and calculated but you weren’t in any rush to leave us. All the rest went back to your house for the turkey, chicken salad, bagels and sugar-free rugalah.
You finally passed in the early morning hours of December 5, two years ago yesterday, about 36 hours after your funeral. And I know you’re the first one in heaven, at the mahjong game, to be telling the story that you were late for your own funeral. Probably makes the rest of them jealous, huh?
So Mom, last night at dinner, the three of us spent the night remembering you. About how you spoiled us growing up, but we never realized it until we raised kids ourselves. Telling stories about you and our wonderful lives because of you. Mike, Kenny and me had some laughs and made the night uplifting. Once again it was a celebration for us about you.
Thank you Mom.