Posts Tagged ‘death’

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Letting Go

December 29, 2015

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I carefully glued the gold-rimmed glass wing back onto one of the eagles that festooned the old serving dish. This is not the first time I have repaired it, but still it is important that I do so. It is the kind of item one might find in a second-hand store or rummage sale, something kept for years by its owner and later lovingly preserved by the family as a keepsake. Eventually, however, the time comes to let it go, and it finds itself in the hands of strangers.

But that is not the case with this one; not yet, at least.

This particular serving dish has also been lovingly kept, for it once belonged to the matriarch of my wife’s family, her grandmother. It is one of the few things that remain of her other than a few photos and the memories. The memories are clearly more important, but somehow we invest some part of the person in the cherished object, and it becomes hallowed. And that makes it hard to let go.

Many such things can be found in our house, small remnants of someone dear to us. Most are not functional or even displayed. However, just possessing them somehow retains a connection to that past existence.

There are the tools that belonged to my father, old wrenches, rusty saws, hammers with split handles, a rake with bent and broken tines. Though I have tools of my own, I can’t bring myself to part with these relics.

There is the sewing box of my mother, still filled with buttons of assorted sizes, shapes, and colors and the needles, thread, and thimbles with which to reattach them to long-gone apparel.

There are a few pieces of handiwork made by my nephew — a photo he took of High Point of which he was so proud, a now-faded layered sand painting in a cylindrical glass jar.

There is the heavy old black cast iron pan of my mother-in-law, well-worn from her many years as master of her kitchen, the diamond ring she bought at an auction in Atlantic City after she stepped into the auction hall just to get out of the heat.

And the serving dish with the eagles, broken wing now repaired.

As difficult as it is to let go of these things we hold onto, it is even more difficult to let go of that which is more abstract — the idea of who we were as age forces us to lose those transient qualities and abilities we once possessed, the very presence of others who have left the impermanence of this existence.

I have been thinking about this problem of letting go for several reasons. It is the closing of the year, this month in which the year itself meets its end. December can be for many a month of both joyful celebration as well as bittersweet nostalgia. It is the month that too many people special to me have departed this life: my young nephew, my mother, my wife’s mother. It is a time of nostalgia, a time of longing for what once was but is no more.

And though this is a reality we know we must accept, we are not immune to this ache that arrives unannounced and shrouds our hearts. So we hold on to what we can and grieve for the loss of what we can’t. We eventually let go little by little as time goes by, and perhaps that is the only way in which we finally make our peace.

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A World Without

October 5, 2015

There is the world, and then there are our worlds. The world is populated by billions of people. Our worlds are populated by a number vastly smaller, and a smaller number still who are essential to us, people it would be hard to imagine being without.

Now we are without Tony. And the feeling is numbing.

How could this possibly be?

Tony was an unforgettable teacher who I had the great privilege of working with for over two decades, a master director of plays and purveyor of literature for countless fortunate students. He was a valuable mentor who shared insights about this delicate art called teaching. He was a loving husband and father and grandfather.

And Tony was my friend. How could all of us who shared in his life be without him?

I think of all those stories told and retold over lunch at school, the always-ready wit that rang of truth, the common everyday conversations about work and family and life that replay in my mind with such clarity in spite of the time gone by. And I miss these now even more in this world without.

The world goes on as it always has done and always will. Even our own worlds go on, but never quite the same, for though these endings are an inevitable part of our existence that must be accepted, the pain and sorrow of our world without is hard to endure.

But endure we will, and through our fond remembrances we honor him. All of those whose lives have been made better for having known Tony — and that number is great indeed — now feel such intense loss. However, though we are left in a world without, our memories of Tony are his lasting gifts to each of us whose life he touched, and for that we should remain forever grateful.

Tony

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Remembering Charlie

December 1, 2014

Charlie was my friend. He died of AIDS. I think of him still, especially today during World AIDS Day. He is the personal face of this affliction to me.

AIDS has not gone away, but over the years it has moved from the front page headlines to the back pages and now virtually out of the public eye entirely. Many have forgotten, or because of their age, never knew this frightening scourge and its wake of tragedy in the early years of its advent. It seems as though not too many people concern themselves with it anymore unless they have some personal connection. I am one of those people, for my friend Charlie was one the victims when AIDS was still a fearful and misunderstood specter haunting our country.

Charlie was my friend. He was a warm and caring person, bursting with creativity and energy. I think he felt it was his mission to make everyone else’s day brighter. Most people didn’t see the turmoil within him.

I knew Charlie well when we were in college, though I didn’t know he was gay. Perhaps he didn’t either at that time. He married his girlfriend, another of my college friends, but eventually that union unraveled and his inevitable emergence as a gay man was complete. His new partner was an Argentinean he met in New York, but by that time I no longer saw Charlie since the paths of our lives had diverged.

For a while, our paths were one. Some of my most emotionally challenging times were shared with him. More precisely, he, acting as a self-appointed guardian angel, continually attempted to rescue me from crisis.

One such instance occurred during a difficult time in my attempted courtship of the girl of my dreams. She had suffered a heartbreak once and was unsure about the nature of this new relationship with me. I do not blame her for that. However, I was emotionally fragile, and Charlie sought to nurture me.

His family lived in Schenectady, and on the spur of the moment, he convinced me to join him on a long weekend trip home. No one else knew of this, so it seemed that I had disappeared from campus. During the bus trip upstate, I poured out my misery to Charlie, and he comforted me. We talked for hours, more deeply and personally than I ever had before with anyone, sharing stories of our lives and our hopes and dreams. I remember falling asleep exhausted with my head on his shoulder as he sang softly to me. The time we spent with his sister and brother-in-law proved to be a healthy diversion, and my absence, though short, was startling to my sweetheart, and a better chapter between us ensued.

Another incident I remember clearly developed out of my frequent flirtation with academic disaster. I was a diehard procrastinator, but usually could pull the fat out of the fire at the last minute by pulling an all-nighter or three. However, on this occasion I had gotten myself into an impossible jam from which I didn’t think I could extricate myself. I had two major papers due, neither of which I had even started, and one of them had already been postponed once. I knew yet another all-nighter was my only chance, but after struggling late into the evening, defeat appeared to be at hand. That’s when Charlie popped in. He listened to my plight, and without a second’s hesitation sat down to help. The term “help” hardly does justice to his effort. As I composed one paper at my typewriter, Charlie busied himself at another, asking me questions and helping me clarify my thoughts as he typed away. My dire situation had taken a turn, and there was now hope where there had been despair. We finished at dawn, and more than a few laughs were shared as Charlie helped shape my ideas into an admirable and often inspired piece of writing.

Charlie loved Leonard Cohen. His favorite song at that time was “Suzanne.” I think the dark tone that still retained the hope for beauty and love appealed to him. Charlie wrote in a similar vein. I still have his notes and poems and musings written on scraps of paper now yellowed with age. He gave me this after our Schenectady trip:

“I have come to give you the blue blue sky with my hands

and show you the dark dark dawn with its gray lands

where hot meets cold; and besides I have the time time

to spend on forever to gather the sky sky in a rhyme.

It may never be said how much I must need give you

or show you, you, sitting mournfully, weeping, you who

tried to love before and failed failed.”

When the end of college arrived, he gave me a folder with some of his illustrations and what I now understand was his letter of farewell to me. In it I also see the acknowledgment of his new path:

“But this school year is a rebirth for me; it ends in anxiety and joy. I conquered a world and I face reality. Your end-year must be very sad; I wish you the comfort of understanding but the purification of pain. Learn to smile in the face of pain and tragedy. I do it daily.”

I did not witness Charlie’s descent into the horrors of AIDS. I am regretful of that because I could have taken my turn as guardian angel. In a way, though, I’m glad my memories of him were not tainted by his time of debilitation; I believe he felt the same way. I went with a few friends to a small memorial gathering on the Hudson River where we dropped flowers into the flow and shared some of the many Charlie stories we all had.

Because of AIDS, Charlie became a statistic, part of the tragic toll this disease took. But like each of the statistics, he was someone, a real person with family and friends and hopes and failures. Each left behind memories of whatever mark they left on the world and the people whose lives they touched.

Yes, Charlie was my friend. He died of AIDS. I can not, and will not, forget either.

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The Prayer of Presence

December 17, 2013

The nurses came from work in Manhattan still dressed in their uniform greens to be there. The teachers came after a day in the classroom, papers still to be graded and suppers with loved ones forgone. Longtime college friends came from north Jersey and Brooklyn and Connecticut, braving the horrendous rush hour traffic. They came to say words of comfort, to pay their respects for the death of Mary, a wife and mother and grandmother who was not theirs. They did not have to come. But they did.

I used to wonder about the value of the wake, the strange gathering of people to view the body of the departed. It seemed at one time to me to be a cultural relic, part of a ritual now somehow out of place in the modern world. It was, after all, not really the person, just the shell that once contained them.

However, I’ve come to realize that it is not so much about the deceased but rather about those who are left behind. Sister James gave my thoughts a shape in words that evening, that everyone’s presence was a prayer.

It matters not what is said, what formalities of culture or religion are observed. What matters is presence. A look. A touch. A smile. These are the prayers that matter, the prayers that go beyond what is learned to the realm of the heart where things are felt.

I can not find adequate words to thank those who offered this most special of prayers.  But I trust that those who offered their prayer of presence know how special, how comforting, how moving it is to those who have suffered a loss. These thanks too are a matter of the heart, and my heart is full.

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Parting

December 8, 2013
Mary, whose smile will be missed.

Mary, whose smile will be missed.

How do you say goodbye? How do you let go of a part of your past that is so integrally a part of yourself? How can you imagine a future that is missing a piece so familiar and precious?

There are no easy answers. Although death is an inescapable element of the human condition, it is profoundly jarring. The balance of fond memory and sense of loss is a delicate one. The swirling flood of emotion surrounding the inevitable often makes it impossible to achieve that balance.

I think now of my father, how his final torturous years came to an end in his bed at my childhood home. I was called that afternoon from my classroom so I could be there. I had a difficult time saying goodbye. My wife Bernadette knelt by his head as he struggled for breath, gently telling him that we were all there and that we loved him and it was okay to let go.

I think of my mother, how her journey came to such a sudden and unexpected close. I felt frozen and helpless as she lay there, unresponsive in the hospital bed, shattered by the impact of that car, and again it was Bernadette who helped usher her passage with strength and grace.

Yesterday it was Mary’s time.

Mary was my mother-in-law, Bernadette’s mom, the matriarch of the family. Her long descent through Alzheimer’s drew to its conclusion in her home, family gathered around. The sound of the oxygen machine mingled with that of sobs, soft farewells, final expressions of love. Her husband Tony sat by her side gently stroking her hand. Earlier, as cousins and nephews and in-laws gathered, timeless funny stories were retold by Bernadette’s brother, allowing laughter to break the somber mood. Bernadette, ever the caring nurse, tried her best to remain strong, but this parting touched something deep within her. When the moment arrived, soft music played and prayers were murmured and tears fell, and then Mary was gone.

There are many stories to be told of Mary, stories of her life, of her legendary Christmas dinners, of the family vacations together, of the ordinary moments that remain in our memories. But for now there is only the struggle with goodbye. Death, though sometimes a welcome end to suffering, closes a door never to be opened again, and that is a difficult reality to accept.

How do you say goodbye? In whatever way you can, with whatever strength you can muster. But most importantly, with love in your heart.

Goodbye, Mary. You were loved, and you will be remembered.

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Goodbye, Old Friend

November 12, 2013

I last saw Arnold about two hours before his journey in this world came to an end. He lay in the hospital bed unresponsive, struggling for each breath. Bernadette told me to talk to him anyway, that he could still hear me. I had trouble saying what I should have said. I didn’t really say good-bye. I just touched his bony shoulder and told him that I would look after his house.

I now look at that old red house shrouded by overgrown evergreens across the street from mine, empty but for the memories. I have known Arnold since we moved here thirty-eight years ago, and I had spent much time there during the past two years.

Arnold was my neighbor. He was ninety-four when he left this world. He was one of the wittiest and most upbeat people I knew while he was in it. He lived a long and full life, remaining in his own beloved house until his final week. I suppose it was his time to go, but I miss him nonetheless.

After his second wife Lisa died earlier this year, Arnold soldiered on. He had difficulty walking, and the only way downstairs from the second floor where he spent most of his time was a rickety old spiral staircase. A home care aide — a kind and lovely woman of Ghanaian descent who was dedicated to him — came for several hours a day during the week and sometimes even on her own time on weekends. She would make him meals, clean and straighten, tend to his needs, cut his hair and beard, and most importantly keep him company. Sometimes she would bring along her little son who would call him Grandpa, something he’d talk about with pride. Another woman who Arnold and Lisa had befriended years earlier through their dog care business came on Saturday to shop for him. I would go over to help when help was needed and sometimes just to talk.

We would normally talk about current things — how he missed Lisa, how Bernadette’s parents were doing, the state of his own health, the difficulties of making ends meet. But at other times he’d tell me about bygone years. Arnold could tell his stories with great verve and a sparkle in his eye. The one about the time he guarded Italian prisoners of war at a base in South Carolina during World War II, how his first wife Rita would come to the gate to meet him after his duty ended, smiling and waving at those prisoners, how they were so taken with her they baked a cake for her when they found out it was her birthday. The one about how he met and wooed his second wife Lisa, how she would come into the store in which he’d taken a part-time job and buy one of everything — one apple, one muffin, and finally, at the liquor counter where he worked, one small bottle of wine — until one day he asked since she was alone perhaps he could join her sometime for a bigger bottle of wine. There were stories about his younger years growing up in the Bronx, about the many dogs in his life — the ones he’d owned, the ones he’d cared for. But other stories he told with melancholy in his voice,  about Rita’s unexpected early passing, about the illness and tragic death at age fourteen of his son, a sorrow that stayed with him forever.

Whenever business needed tending to, he would call me, usually for a trip to the bank or the post office or the pharmacy. Calls of a more urgent nature came as well, for Arnold began falling with greater frequency. He had broken a vertebrae in his neck two Christmases ago in a fall, so this became a matter of great delicacy. Both small and frail, Lisa could not get him up, so Bernadette and I would go over and gingerly position him so that the two of us could lift him without disturbing his neck. All the while Arnold would be making  jokes.

One particular time the call came during supper. We ran over to find Arnold on the floor in the dining room. A whining dog could be heard from behind the closed kitchen door. They still occasionally cared for a few clients’ dogs from their former business.

“Are you okay, Arnold?” asked Bernadette, ever the nurse.

“I sure hope so,” replied Arnold. “I can’t die yet. I still have payments to make on my car.”

The dog, a large beautiful white mixed-breed, then came in and sat next to Arnold, gazing at him with what seemed like great concern.

“I think he’s worried about me!” he quipped.

After Lisa’s passing, Arnold became less and less mobile. Several times when he fell, the fire department had to come to help him up because the situation would be too difficult for us to handle. He would joke with them as well as he lay on the floor.

There reached a point when Arnold could no longer navigate the spiral staircase, so he remained upstairs. He either sat in his bedroom   to eat and watch TV or used a walker to get to his “office” in the spare bedroom where he would occupy himself for hours on his computer. Bernadette suggested that he get a hospital bed downstairs thus enabling him to live on the main floor. There, at least,  he would be able to get to the kitchen and have access to the entrance of his home. After considerable red tape and bureaucratic snafus, this was accomplished.

Of all the items I moved downstairs for him, the most important was his computer, crucial to Arnold because it had become his primary means of passing the time and engaging in the outside world. His laptop sat on an old desk filled with a clutter of papers and surrounded by a tangle of wires plugged into various power strips in a style worthy of Rube Goldberg. I traced each to its device: fax machine, printer, router, telephone, desk lamp. I finally extracted the laptop and brought it to the desk in his new quarters. Next job — getting him back online. Not being technically inclined, I enlisted the aid of Leo, our neighbor two doors down. He connected to the WiFi network from his house, but the signal was weak, and Arnold didn’t know either what his network was called or what the password for it would be if we did find it. Finally Bernadette remembered that this information could be found on the side of the router, and Arnold, smiling ear to ear, was back in business.

One of my last trips to his house came when Arnold called because he couldn’t get out of his new bed. When I arrived, he explained that the mat at the bedside had slid away when he put weight on it, and his new slippers didn’t grip the floor well enough for him to stand. I helped him up and into his office chair which he used to roll wherever he needed to go, propelling himself backward as if in a rowboat by pushing off with small steps.

Later that day, I made a side trip to Home Depot and bought a non-slip runner to bring to him for his bedside. I brought it over and put it next to his bed and tested it to make sure it didn’t slide. It did not, but a hitch in the operation occurred when Arnold tried to wheel his office chair next to the bed. The edge of the runner buckled up from the wheel trying to pass over it. I returned home for some double-sided tape for the edges. Several test rolls proved that problem solved. He asked me to come back early the next morning to unlock the door because the podiatrist would be making a home visit.

At 7:30 the next morning, I unlocked his door and entered to find Arnold on the floor near his bed.

“Arnold! Are you all right? What happened?”

“I fell last night trying to get out of my chair. I spent the night on the floor. The bed is a lot more comfortable.”

“Why didn’t you call?”

“I couldn’t. I already had put the phone on the night table and couldn’t get to it.”

I ran home to get Bernadette. She propped him up a bit with a pillow to make him more comfortable as we debated how we might get him up. He was on his side in a very awkward position. Arnold said just to call 911.

The firemen who came a few minutes later had been there several times before, so they were familiar with Arnold and his situation.

“So you spent the night on the floor?” one of them said.

“Well, unfortunately, I did. Have you ever spent the night on the floor?”

“I did, but I hadn’t planned on it,” the fireman chuckled.

“Me neither,” said Arnold with a smile.

They managed to lift him up and get him seated in his roller chair with more than a few groans from the poor old guy. He must have felt miserable after lying there sleepless most of the night on the hard floor, but he didn’t complain. Arnold thanked the firemen and insisted despite their prodding that he didn’t need any medical attention. Bernadette and I left after he had settled in to wait for the doctor. His home care aide would be arriving shortly as well to make him breakfast.

The next few days I didn’t get over to see Arnold because we had much to do and were away for most of the weekend. That Monday morning when I came home from class, a neighbor came over to tell me that an ambulance had come to take Arnold away. My heart sank at the news. Teresa, his aide, had left a note on my mailbox to call her. I did, and she told me that since his night on the floor Arnold became so fearful of falling again that he was spending the nights in his office chair trying to sleep. She said he was breathing rapidly and didn’t look well at all. A visiting nurse who had been scheduled to come to change the dressing on a leg wound saw him and immediately called the ambulance.

We visited him the next day in the hospital. He said he felt better and even joked a bit in his normal manner, but his lungs were congested and he had an IV. Bernadette felt pessimistic about his prognosis. On our next trip there, her fears turned out to be reality.

I wish I could have told Arnold how special I thought he was, how much I admired him for his indomitable spirit and his good humor and his zest for life. I wish I could have said a proper farewell. I guess this will have to be it.

So goodbye, old friend. I hope your passage was peaceful. I think of you each time I walk out my door, no longer to take out your garbage or pick up a prescription or chat about your day, but only to gaze wistfully at your old red house without you in it. I miss you, Arnold, and will remember you always.

Arnold's house

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Microwave Blues (Dedicated to the memory of Lisa Walsh Chesloff)

March 10, 2013

Growing old isn’t easy. Even the simplest of actions can take on an additional dimension of obstacle or burden. That seems like it should be obvious enough, but it has become reinforced for me since I have been helping out my elderly neighbors across the street, Arnold and Lisa. I am thinking about it even more today, for Lisa has just left this life.

Arnold is coping. He is ninety-four. He has survived cancer and the deaths of a young son and his first wife, so he has experience in that area. We just walked over to visit with him, bringing brownies that my wife made (his favorite) and condolences. We asked if he needed anything. He said no, he was fine. As I left, I looked around at all the things that were reminders of Lisa, and I wondered.

There are many reminders for me as well. I had become quite familiar with Lisa since Arnold fell and broke a vertebrae in his neck two Christmases ago. His mobility became severely limited. Lisa, who suffered from several incapacitating conditions herself, became his caretaker. Whenever she needed assistance, I became her “knight in shining armor,” as she put it. Lisa would call and ask me to pick up their many prescriptions at the pharmacy, and since she had a sweet tooth, side stops for Dots or Lifesavers became commonplace. Taking out the garbage and recycling twice a week became part of my routine. Once inside their house, Lisa always had many small chores that needed tending to.

I would often drive them to doctor appointments and medical tests. These undertakings required considerable time. The only  means to get downstairs from their bedroom was a shaky spiral stairway. I would gingerly spot them as they slowly made their way down. We then had to navigate our way through the narrow garage, and getting them both into the car frequently proved to be a harrowing ordeal. After I loaded their walkers into the trunk, there would be a final checking and rechecking of necessary items — garage door opener, cell phone, water bottle, medical identification information — which usually resulted in a trip back inside for a forgotten item. But in spite of all the logistical problems, they enjoyed these trips, for it was basically the only time they got out of the house. Lisa would chat away in the car, Arnold joining in occasionally, his hearing difficulties accounting for some unintentionally humorous exchanges. Once at the doctor’s office or hospital, more tricky maneuvers with the walkers ensued until we situated ourselves in the waiting room, Lisa insisting I sit right by her side.

I have fond memories of Lisa during this time, many of them lighthearted in spite of the duress of her situation. One particular experience still makes me chuckle every time I think of it.

Late one afternoon the phone rang, and it was Lisa sounding a bit desperate.

“Lisa, what’s the matter?”

“Oh, Donald, it’s my microwave. It’s not working. I don’t know what to do. I have to get supper ready for Arnold.”

“Okay, Lisa, I’ll be right over.”

I went over and took a look at the microwave. It was a monstrous old hulk of a thing, a Litton from years ago, and it indeed showed no signs of life. Since Lisa could no longer lift pots and pans to cook on the stove, the microwave had become essential to their existence. She needed to go buy a replacement.

“Okay, Lisa, where would you like to go?”

“Bed Bath and Beyond!” was her immediate response.

“Uh, I’m not so sure they have much in the way of microwaves, Lisa.”

“I’m sure they do,” she replied. “Besides, I like that store.”  So the process began of getting Lisa and her walker into my car and driving off to find a new microwave.

During the ride to Springfield, Lisa told me she wanted the same kind of microwave and that she didn’t want to spend too much. This didn’t look promising. I explained that they probably didn’t even make Littons anymore, and that prices of appliances had gone up.

“Well, all right, but it has to at least be the same size.”

Once at the store, I got the walker and Lisa out, but the ramp that led to the entrance proved to be too steep for her to handle.

“Wait here, Lisa. I’ll run in and check it out.”

I found a sales guy who looked like he would rather be anyplace else on earth rather than working in Bed Bath and Beyond. I asked him where I could find a microwave.

“Microwave?” he asked with a puzzled look. “Do we even carry them?”

I told him I was sure I didn’t know, so he directed me several aisles over to look in the kitchen section. There I found another salesperson. I asked again.

“Yes, but we only carry one model, and we’re out of it.” Wonderful.

I returned to Lisa and relayed this news, subduing any hint of “I told you so” that might in other circumstances have crept into my voice. I suggested we drive to Maplewood to the mall where both Home Depot and Target were located. She agreed, and I got her and the walker back into the car just as the sun began setting.

I pulled into the parking lot in front of Home Depot. Since it was getting late, I had Lisa wait in the car while I did some consumer reconnaissance. The Home Depot had a decent selection, but nothing special. I sprinted over to Target and into the appliance department. There I saw it.  A Panasonic, same capacity as the old Litton, and on sale to boot! Perfect!

I ran back to the car and drove up to the Target entrance, got the walker, and helped Lisa out. I quickly parked and escorted her into the store.

Now, this particular Target is the size of three football fields, so getting Lisa over to see the Perfect Microwave was no small task. Plus she kept stopping to look at other items along the way.

“Oh, these gloves look nice, don’t they?”

“Uh, yeah, Lisa, they do, but we really need to move along here.” It seemed that Lisa had found a new favorite store.

We arrived at the appropriate aisle, and I showed her the Panasonic.

“See? Same capacity as the old one. And it’s on sale.”

“Oh, good! Let’s get it!”

Both of us felt quite relieved as we drove home. Once back at the house, I had to remove the old microwave and take it outside for disposal. I tried to lift it, but it wouldn’t budge. A quick look underneath revealed the reason. Twenty years of caked up grime had fastened the old Litton like cement. A good deal of prying and grunting followed, but I finally freed it. Carrying it out turned out to be another Herculean chore, for the thing weighed a ton. That done and the counter reasonably cleaned, the project seemed about to be finished.

Not so fast. The power cord from the Panasonic was situated on the side farthest from the outlet which was behind the refrigerator. It would not reach. Not to worry, I told Lisa. I had a three-pronged extension at home.

As I rushed in the door, my wife, who by now had prepared supper, asked if I had finally finished.

“Not quite,”  is all I managed as I hustled back out with the extension.

Back across the street, the connection reached successfully, and the last step began: instructing Lisa on the use of the new microwave. I showed her how to set the power and the time and turn it on. I repeated the demonstration several times. She tried it. Nope, not quite.

“Well,” I said, “all you have to do is follow the instruction manual.”

“No,” she replied frowning, “I can never understand those darn things. Just show me again.”

Fifteen minutes later, she thought she had it. I returned home for my now-cold supper. Part way through my pasta, the phone rang. Lisa again.

“Donald, something’s wrong. I tried to heat up the meal, but it isn’t going, and a light keeps flashing.”

“OK, I’ll be right there.” My wife just rolled her eyes.

She showed me what she had done, and I pointed out that she had mistakenly hit the “child lock” button instead of the “on” button. I showed her again how to do it correctly and prepared to leave once their meal was spinning merrily in the now-functioning Panasonic.

“Oh, Donald, what would I do without my knight in shining armor?” Sigh.

Several weeks later when I went to get the garbage, Lisa told me there was a problem with the microwave. I thought perhaps a refresher lesson was in order.

“No, it’s not that. I don’t like the way it opens. The old one you didn’t have to pull open. And besides, I can’t see the buttons. I think we should return it.”

“Lisa, I really don’t think you can return it now. Let’s see what we can do.”

Not seeing the buttons turned out to be the result of poor kitchen lighting because of a small wattage bulb, easy enough to remedy. I slid the microwave closer to the edge of the counter to change the arm angle needed to pull it open. Lisa didn’t seem convinced, but she never brought it up again. I assumed all was well since subsequent dinners reached Arnold sufficiently heated, so that was the end of the microwave blues. It is just one of the many memories that will stay with me.

In Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout said, “Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between.” Lisa always let me know how much she appreciated those “little things in between.” I hope she knew how much I appreciated those things that made her who she was, her undying love for Arnold, her can-do attitude in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, her indomitable spirit. Although her passing brings us sadness, I choose to remember her with joy. I will continue to go over and help Arnold as much as I can, and I’m sure he will share many of his stories of her with me. People become a part of you, and they stay a part of you even after their departure. Lisa became a part of me as I did of her, and I celebrate her memory because of that.