Prove your humanity: 2   +   1   =  

Didn’t I make a nice spread for all of you? I did. I watch you, with your temporary names and bodies, mingle and hover and talk about why you are here and who you are here for, or about other things. Sometimes you shut your mouths. That’s fine too. I put cocktail napkins in your hands, and you cradle finger foods. I gave you coffee and tea, wine and beer, pastrami and challah and babka. Two babkas, in fact—one cinnamon and one chocolate. It was all there waiting for you when you drove here in ones and twos and threes and fours from the field of stones, where we lowered her into the ground, all of us together, where I will keep her and she will not mind the cold.

*     *     *

I see you all, in fitting attire. Black jackets, black trousers, black dresses. The rabbi wears a purple necktie, but it’s fine because his voice is rich and heavy, and only he will say her real name—Miriam instead of Mimi like her friends said or Mems like her daughters did, and her middle name, Ruth, pronounced Root like she who promised “whither thou goest” and Weisdorf, which was her father’s name, not Schweitzer, the name her students used, the name from the man who left her with four girls to feed in the barren, arid city where he brought them. I see one of you wore red socks, and I am pleased, because I know why you did it. She never wore black unless she had to, the way you all have to now.

 *     *     *

It is not true that funerals and shivah are for the living. They are for me. I am here to watch because it was I who put the tumor in her head, a bolus of useless cells that grew and turned hard as leather, and I who kept her breathing as they lifted it out, once it had grown to the size of a golf ball and was pushing into her eyes. They sewed her head up, but then I put my hand inside, blocking and hemorrhaging and turning everything funny. She had seizures and strokes, small ones so she would not go quickly. I squeezed the fluid into her lungs and slowed traffic on the 495 so that one of her daughters would be late to her bedside, the youngest daughter, the only one who kissed her forehead when she was half-gone already, more machine than human, breathing and eating and shitting with tubes, and rubbed her feet and whose eulogy pleased me most of all because it told of a summer day, just the two of them, the girl swimming and the woman watching, watching as I do, the pleasure of seeing others do what one cannot. I couldn’t be there that day, but I am here now. I can be kind—see. When they said goodbye and prepared to switch off the machines and dispense with heroic measures against my all-embracing hand, and the doctors gave her morphine, and I and the nurses tucked her into another blanket, I gave them tears to cleanse and forgive every misstep, every sin, every mistake she made, and there were many, a working single mother of four who could not cook chicken with flavor because the only fat she allowed in the fridge was a tub of generic margarine. She let them eat corn flakes and white bread for dinner and never remarried. Fear men and love yourself above all, she said.

*     *     *

Her eyes were already closed when I silenced her. To her daughters I sent kind, consoling women with kind, consoling brown eyes and pantsuits with muted colors. They smelled of persimmon and shea butter, and they said, Is there anything I can do for you? in warm tones that let them feel like they had never said it before, like there really was anything they could do, that the arm around the youngest at the small of her back was just a beginning to the help they could yield, an arm for the one who could not be consoled and had gone home every night after visiting hours to spend the evenings alone in her mother’s apartment with her diminishing hopes and her mother’s VHS tapes and two broken VCRs, bottles of medication with remaining refills and expiration dates far into the future and a single open can of Diet Pepsi in the refrigerator. Her mother had drunk half of it during lunch before the surgery and then put it there, and I let it stay because it seemed more normal than the fluids she was taking now through a tube I pushed all the way into her stomach. I fed the daughter dry cereal and cold cuts. I kept her healthy for her daily visits. I watched her curse behind the wheel of her mother’s dented Accord, the car her mother hadn’t driven for over a year, and I watched her open the window a crack, just enough to flick her cigarettes. She ran red lights, as the evenings came sooner and sooner.

*     *     *

Turning your back to the grave is always the hardest part. It was not comforting, to shovel the earth in yourselves and drop in a few keepsakes—brooch and pin, one brass turtle from their grandmother, a plastic, nickel-sized apple from a student—and then you cannot leave. But you finally do, and the turn away wracks your wrists and stomachs, and I start to sprinkle rain on the day, and it is just like in the movies, four women with their arms locked, getting along for the first time in years, trying to comfort themselves and each other with nicknames derived from childhood, wobbling on high heels, flats and pumps in the grass and damp ground. The hole is too big. Only I can fill it.

 *     *     *

I gathered minyans for two nights, at two different houses and with two different rabbis who each came with armloads of green mourning books, in Hebrew and English and phonetic Hebrew, and baskets of yarmulkes for the men, and I bid you to rise and to sit and say the mourner’s kaddish twice in each night. Blessed is He beyond any blessing and song. Four times blessed. The rabbi departs, the second night, and the daughters, the three eldest, are busy with their daughters and sons, who play and sue for attention and pass their germs to each other, seven cousins who do not know of the silent sharing we must do, you and I, our intercourse with permanent endings. The youngest daughter, the only one who never gave her mother a grandchild and probably never will, who begs for a forgiveness that will never come, who smokes joints with Mexican boys who call her linda gringista and bonita and almost always mean it, she can feel my hands on her face. I want to rub her eyes and make the tears come faster. I want to catch the scent from her hair, and I know she can feel me because I am so close, and I know she wants that too, wants to lift her hair to offer the nape of her neck to me. She is sitting on a rented folding chair in the one empty room in the house, holding an empty wine glass and staring at her reflection in the black mirror of a television that isn’t on. Blessed is He. Amein.

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Photo credit: ~ wryonedwards ~ / Foter / CC BY-ND