Sunday, September 26, 2010

another one down

and another one bites the dust...

My mother-in-law called last Thursday to let us know that Rosane was dying. Her health had been deteriorating for several years. She was in the hospital for a bleeding ulcer that was not responding to treatment and with her family at her side she decided to have them stop the transfusions and let nature take it's course. She was 84.

Friday we got the call that Rosane had passed.

My husband comes from an enormous family with lots of siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins out the wazoo and they all like each other. Rosane was my mother-in-law's first cousin. When I married into this family it was a little overwhelming, the more so because I come from a very small family. Life cycle events were/are celebrated by inviting everybody and everybody comes. It was not unusual to find myself abandoned in the midst while Marc hung out outside with the rest of the smokers BS-ing with the cousins. I learned to make my way and place and eventually, the names and the intricacies of relatedness. I still have trouble calling up some of the names of the younger generation but I know which cousin they belong to.

So at these gatherings that usually involve food and music along with whatever ritual is being observed I would seek out certain individuals of the previous generation, the current reigning elders, make sure I greeted them, provide whatever service. One of those was the flamboyant Aunt Florence. She left us 2 years ago. Some of them are Aunt Anna and Uncle Sid and I will be sad when they are done here. And one of them was Rosane. Rosane is, in the relatedness of it all, a first cousin once removed. Her son, David who is of our generation, is a second cousin. I would always go visit with Rosane and then take David away with me, David having remained single.

I would spirit David away with me to dance. I like to dance. I like the music, I like the beat, I like moving to it. Marc doesn't dance, doesn't really like it, doesn't really get it and though he will go out on the dance floor with me it's hard to drag him out there when he is outside. So unless David had a date we would hang out together. David isn't the only reason I would go sit with Rosane though. She was always warm and welcoming to me and interested in what I was up to.

Back when David's dad started to fail, he quit his job at an architectural firm to work freelance and moved home to help his mom care for him. Charles died 5 years ago and David stayed with his mom. And has cared for her as she began to fail.

For jews, usually, the funeral is set for the next day but maybe since Saturday is the sabbath, it was not scheduled til today, Sunday.

Many of the family had gathered for Rosane including some from Dallas. The casket was already in the pit when we arrived. The graveside service was short and to the point. People spoke, the prayers were said, the eulogy given, the dirt thrown.

The dirt thrown. This is probably my favorite part, aside from the being short part, of jewish funerals and I always take part. It just seems right to me.

At the end, after all is said, it is considered a mitzvah a good thing to help spread the blanket of dirt, putting the dear one to bed for the last time. Family and friends each take the shovel and throw a spade or two of dirt on the casket in the hole. I liked Rosane a lot but I didn't expect to get teary at her funeral. This part, though, is always the most poignant to me and I shed a few tears for her passing.

After all those who wanted to participate had, the two workers took over and proceeded to fill the hole. They were done before half the crowd had left. So now Rosane has passed and David is a caring soul with no charge.

Later, at the wake, I asked him.

So David, what are you going to do now?”

He kind of shook his head, “I don't know” he replied, “everybody's asking me that.”


  1. Bless his heart - I can't even imagine Ellen - Good thoughts and prayers that he won't be lonely.
    :/ Hug.

  2. You have written a very moving piece here - I had always had a morbid fear of funerals (maybe the reminder of my own mortality) until I had to arrange Seans - now I understand them.

    David will be very lost - not now whilst everyone is there for him but in aweek or so when he gets up to make breakfast or say something that only someone very close can understand.

  3. I am so sorry for your loss!! And poor David...he won't get his bearings for awhile. He needs to learn to dance again with a new partner...himself!! I will pray for him.

  4. Beautifully written, straight from your heart...

  5. I appreciate the openness with which you discuss these sorrowful moments, Ellen. More than 'stuff from ellen's head', your blog always speaks from the heart as well. Despite the sadness, David's example is uplifting; as too are simple rites like the ones you describe of the spreading of the dirt, the return to the earth. I read your blog regularly, but don't often comment on your blog posts. Today, though, I want you to know that there is someone thinking of you here in Spain, where large closely-connected families have always been the norm, now being frayed somewhat by changing customs, lifestyles and the slow remorseless toll of the passing on of our elders. Warm thoughts and strength to you, Ellen!

  6. ellen, like you i come from an extremely small family and so the rituals asociated with flying away have not been too deeply underscored with me. my wife comes from a much larger family and so of course there is always someone in poor health or flying away. so i have learned about that whole process primarily through letting go of good people whom i have known as people and not as relatives (does that make sense?) which in some ways is harder. thanks for this really insightful and thoughtful piece of writing. steven

  7. This is such a beautiful post on so many levels.

    I'm very sorry for your loss, and David's.

    I love it that you like to dance, love it that you like spreading the dirt at the funerals. As a gardener and earth whisperer, it is so right that you do so.


  8. A sad and poignant story, Ellen. Life takes us to so many places, doesn't it, in the heart.

  9. What a lovely heart felt piece. Once you have been in the caretaker role it is daunting to find your "solo" legs. It will take as long as it takes for David. Life is always giving each of us opportunity to be part of something greater than ourselves and you wrote so beautifully about connectionality. The Olde Bagg

  10. Thanks for writing about this - its a moving vignette about family & the rituals we have to go through. I'll be praying for David to find his way...

  11. Condolences Ellen. Nice to read a post that not only offers a tribute to the one lost, but that thinks about the survivors and their changing path.

  12. You never really know what to say when a life is over.. my condolences to you and yours

  13. ohhhhhh.... ohhhh. That last line and the part about puttin a dear one to bed for the last time got me.

  14. Sorry for your loss. My mom just passed a month ago. I imagine it will be hard for David for awhile, but time will march forward and bring him along. My family is a large one, too, and that gives me peace knowing someone will always be around to check on my dad. I moved a ways away unfortunately. Perhaps, there will be someone to look in on David for awhile as well.

  15. What a beautiful post about life, loving and death. This is like the third post I've read in the past couple of days about an elderly person passing away and the legacy they left behind. I pray that David will find his direction for his life after all of these years of caregiving. It says so much about his character.

    I love this tradition of shoveling the dirt...I think it's a really neat concept. I am sorry about the loss of this woman. I like that your family celebrates all life cycles. XX

  16. Sweet tradition. I like the part of putting the loved one to bed. Usually folks leave before that part is done & it is left to strangers.
    Maybe now David will find someone his own age with whom to share his life; to love & care for this person.

  17. David has been a good son for a long time and needs some time to transition to a new place. MadameButterfly's observation about him is right on.


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