Monday, February 27, 2017

Sorry for My Loss

August, 2010 on the steps of our beach rental in Maine.

"Sorry for your loss."

How many times have you heard that?

On Facebook.

Or on Instagram.

On TV.

(I'm hearing it now, in my head on the show Blue  Bloods, which my husband still mistakenly calls NYPD Blue.  One of the Reagans and his partner walk in to the widow's apartment and blurt out "Sorry for your loss," before they interrogate her and surreptitiously snoop around the pantry and breakfront for clues.)

It's been quite a long time since I've heard it "in real life."

Sorry.  For your loss.  My loss this time.

My Mother-in-law, Lois Barr, passed away on Friday, Feb. 3, just a few weeks before her birthday. which, not coincidentally, is today.  She died in her home, surrounded by her four sons, her husband, her cat, and me.  At that moment, two health care workers were also there, providing wonderful attentive care, for which we were all grateful.

I have known her for 39 years, having been an official part of the family since I married her third son Michael in '84.   Since at least 83, if not earlier, we have spent a glorious week at beach together in a rented cottage in Old Orchard Beach, Maine (which I've written about here).

Lois worked hard all her lifetime, and left a legacy of helping others, building a family, and being the communicator, the glue and the strength of the family.  She enjoyed life to the fullest, tried new things and took risks. Even when her health began to fail, she took pleasure in the lives and pursuits of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Until the very end, she still made her famous brisket and chopped liver for her boys, and coffee chiffon pie if you were very lucky.

 Lois was famous for another thing - and that was her dark brown beehive hairdo. When she was near the end, and bedridden, her dear friend and hairdresser Reina made sure that the every hair in the hive stayed neatly in place.  On the day Lois died, she still had less gray hair than I do.

You might wonder, how did this elegant coiffure stand up to long days at the beach?  I don't really know.  In fact, once, when her wonderful friend Dotty was commenting on my own mass of un-comb-able salt-air-infused curls in our summer beach rental, Lois was heard to reply, "Yes, well, she likes it that way," in a  somewhat less than complimentary tone.

I thought that I'd honor her memory today by sharing a story that makes us smile whenever we think of it.

It was during an event-filled trip to Israel that really put the hair-do to the test.  Come to think of it, that trip put a lot of things to the test: our nerves, our stomachs, and our tolerance (or lack thereof) to the heat.  The year was 2000.  Our son Zachary had become a Bar Mitzvah in May, and he requested to have small luncheon following the service, and celebrate with a trip to Israel in the summer after the school year was over.

We invited anyone among our friends and family who wanted to come, and once we knew who was joining us, my mom and I sat together and made an outline of the type of trip we thought would work.  My own mother was a pro - she had spent many years organizing trips of this type for our local JCC, and knew everything from secret spots to the perfect guides.  We matched that with the people who said yes, and by July, we had ourselves a perfect itinerary.
Our Group: Back Row, L - R Yossi (Greatest tour guide ever), Michael, Me, Dotty, Lois, Ben, aka Bunny, Cat, Geof, Henry, Dana, Paula, Bill.
Front Row L - R Zachary (13), Madeleine (10) Jacob (winking, 7), Talia (3) Ben (7)

One of the most special aspects of this trip was taking my in-laws to Israel for their first, and as it turned out, only time. How powerful to stand side by side with my father in law, as he saw Jerusalem for the first time, and sat in silence at the Holocaust memorial, knowing that he was a World War II veteran and liberator of Buchenwald.

Lois held onto her Judaism through childhood  and even kept Kosher, until that was no longer possible (Zack wrote about that here) and she raised a Jewish family in Maine, making sure that all four of her sons  had a Jewish education along with their secular education.  All four boys became B'nai Mitzvah.  (I actually attended the last one as Michael's date!)

So this was a very special trip.  We planted trees, coated ourselves with mud and swam in the Dead Sea, we ate great food, we celebrated Zack's Bar Mitzvah on our friends roof top with a fabulous dinner with a lot of wine, and sang into the night.  We rode donkeys and made pita over an outdoor fire.  And we went white water rafting on the Jordan River.  All of us.

Lois helps Jacob off the donkey.
The two moms, dressed up for the special night.
The Bar Mitzvah Boy!

This was my second experience white-water rafting, the first having been on the rapids of the American River in Northern California back in the 80's.  So I was pretty confident that this would be very tame.  I took the aft of our raft, with my daughter Maddie (then age 10) in the middle, and Lois in the front.  I don't recall much about who was with whom in the other boats.  I remember that the first thing that happened was that Michael fell out of his raft, into the shallow, and slow moving Jordan River.  This was a humorous way to begin.

The flotilla moved its way down the river, which was really anything but rapid.  At times there were a few rocks, but basically it was a very easy, gentle ride.  Except that our raft kept going into the sides of the river, where willows and other branches overhung the water.

I'm not an expert, but I understand basic paddling (I did learn how to canoe in camp, and it is pretty intuitive) and I could not understand why we kept going into the sides of the river.  We also were going very slowly and sometimes getting turned around.  Finally our guide Yossi came over to "help us" and by help us I mean scold us and make us feel worse.

But through it all, we kept our spirits up.  Well, let me rephrase that.  Maddie and I did.  Because, for the first and only time ever, Lois was cursing her head off.  Words that would make a gangster blush.  Maddie heard words she had never heard before in her life, and maybe not since.  Each time we grazed the side of the river, my hair got tangled up in the overhang of the bramble, and I guess so did Lois' perfectly coiffed 'do, which had been covered with a silk scarf.  I cannot reprint the words she used, but imagine the ones your grandmother would NEVER use, and add some adjectives to make them more colorful.

Finally we made it to the end of the run.  Someone helped Lois out of the raft, and Maddie and I jumped in the water for a swim.  As I mentioned, it was not really rushing anywhere, though it was pretty cold.

I was teased for a long time of my lack of paddling ability.  It wasn't until I unearthed this photo and found out why I couldn't keep us on track.  My mother in law kept putting her paddle on the wrong side of the raft!

This is the way we will remember my mother-in-law.  72 years old and having the hutzpah to try something new and maybe a little dangerous, cursing her head off down the Jordan River.  Wearing stylish white shorts, oversized sunglasses and a Jordan Marsh scarf keeping her hair perfectly in place.  I guess she liked it that way.

Lois and Benjamin Barr Summer of 2015

Her memory will be a blessing.

1 comment:

  1. We have been blessed by knowing Lois and Bunny and their wonderful loving family. Shared time in Israel and annually in Old Orchard Beach created so many wonderful memories. Lois was the leader of the pack and will be missed.