Monday, December 29, 2008

Learning to Dwell on the Unexpected

Last night, our family celebrated the eighth and final night of Chanukah.  We had just returned home from a trip to San Francisco, placed all of our suitcases in to the house, said hello to all of our animals, and brought out one of our menorahs.  Chanukah is a celebration of light and of freedom.  It memorializes the first battle that was fought for the right to religious freedom.  During each of the eight nights of Chanukah, a candle is lit beginning from right to left until the final night when all eight of the candles are finally illuminated.  The center candle is known as the "shamash", or the helper candle.  It is used each night to light all of the other candles.  The reason that it stands above the other candles is to remind us that God is always above us.  To me, it represents the idea that God is with us to light the paths of our lives and to guide us, even when things seem to be at their darkest.  It offers brightness and hope and encouragement.  It is a symbol of family and friends.  Although Chanukah is a minor holiday in the Jewish tradition, it is a time which is looked upon with great fondness.  It is a time of celebration and joy.   Often times, the children receive one gift on each night.  For our family, it has always been a time to celebrate together.  On one of the nights, I would have our extended family over to our home.  Of course, this always included my beloved brother, my sister-in-law and my two wonderful nieces.  Having my brother and the girls around always made me feel as if he and I had somehow succeeded in achieving the close-knit family that we were deprived of as children.  We always looked on, in awe, as our six daughters loved on one another in a way that we never experienced during our younger years.  He would sometimes shake his head and say, "I cannot believe that all of these girls belong to us!"  The look on his face as he took in those moments is something that I will hold onto within my memory forever.  

As Chanukah approached, this year, I found myself dreading it.  You see, when my brother gave me his usual bear hug before he walked out my door last year, I never, ever, ever thought it would be the last time that I would see him in this lifetime.  I didn't hold on long enough.  I didn't memorize what his final words to me were.  I did not know that just about six weeks later, as we were preparing to meet him and his family for dinner, that he would be gone.  And that the next time I saw him, he would be dead.  

My family has taken this in each of their own ways.  But the one that sticks in my mind is the phone call which I received from my youngest Angel, one night, when she was home alone.  She was quietly crying and when I asked her what was wrong, she replied that she missed her Uncle Robbie.  She said that she had written him a letter and that she wanted me to take her to the cemetery so that she could give it to him.  Ten months later, the tears flowed so freely that all I could do was tell her that I understood.  I still haven't asked her if I could read the letter.  I still have not gathered the courage to face my brother's grave site, again.  I know he is not there, but the part of the earth which he has now become a part of, is.  And I do not know if I am yet brave enough to face the finality of it.  In Judaism, the grave stands marked with nothing but a simple plaque, for the first year.  Around the anniversary of the death, a ceremony known as an "unveiling" is done, and the completed gravestone is then placed at the site.  My brother's wife will not be having an unveiling.  

When Mark and I were discussing how we would be spending the holidays this year, I knew that I could not face them at home.  I wanted to be away, some place different.  I wanted to be with all four of my daughters and Mark and I wanted Chanukah to pass rather quietly and inconspicuously.  It is kind of how most of 2008 has been for me.  A long passing blur on the highway of life.  Large, readable signs popping up along the way, but for the most part, fuzziness and blur.  So, we decided to take a trip up to San Francisco.  Someplace far away enough to forget, but close enough to remember.

And it was good.  It was good to be together, insulated from our world.  Good to be in a big city. And good to be able to spend some time alone, together.

San Francisco is a city that you can get lost inside of.  There are huge amounts of people, but most of the time, they insulate themselves inside of the safety of their own bubbles.  In the picture above, Mark, myself and our Angels Daughters created our own little bubble of family.
Beautiful architecture fills San Francisco with monumental buildings.  There is so much to observe and so much to get lost in.  A visual feast for the eyes.
This father paced back and forth, with his little one in tow, for a good twenty minutes in front of the restaurant that we were eating in.  We could not resist enjoying the tiny Christmas elf as he/she slept soundly nuzzled close to his daddy's back.  Look at how the dad even kept a hand resting on the baby as he chatted on his cellphone!
Trolly cars are a traditional staple on the hilly roads of San Francisco.  We skipped the ride this time, as it can be very interesting trying to find a place for six people in a car.  People can become very pushy and aggressive, so since we had already ridden on the trolly's during a previous trip, we skipped it this time.
AD4 and AD3 taking in some shopping.
Mark and our Angels standing outside of the Jewish museum waiting for me to stop with the camera.  There was an incredible exhibit of Andy Warhol's portraits of ten famous Jews being exhibited and so we decided to check it out.  It was definitely worth seeing!  We were able to stand within a foot or two of Andy Warhol's actual works!  Photography was not allowed, but I think Angel Daughter Number Two(our photographer, sneaky girl) managed to shoot one great shot of the portraits.  I will try to post it here soon!
AD2 gazing out at the city from our hotel room.
AD1, 4, and 3 hamming it up for the camera.  They sometimes get tired of me taking pictures of them.  Can you imagine?!?!?
AD2, or Nanook, as I lovingly dubbed her, decided to don her winter hat in the forty-five degree weather.  I definitely think that children who are born in warm weather climates have much thinner blood!  My girls LOVE the cold weather, but of course they have never had to actually live in it.
I asked AD4 to give me her best "That Girl!" swirl, but unfortunately, she had no idea what I was talking about.  She's a very good sport, anyway.
Chinatown is a big part of the San Francisco experience and it's a lot of fun to shop there.  This is the entrance to several long blocks of Chinese culture and history.

And so, another year has gone by, another memory created.  I cannot help but wonder how many more family vacations we will be able to take as our self-contained, little unit of six.  Our Angel's own wings are becoming stronger and more independent with each passing year, and soon, there will be others joining our roost.  It is only inevitable.  

As I was searching for one of our cats tonight, I opened the door of a cabinet that I rarely ever open.  As I looked down for a pair of glowing eyes, I found something entirely unexpected and it momentarily knocked the breath right out of my lungs.  Last year, for Chanukah, my mother bought my brother and I the same, exact Celine Dion CD.  Neither one of us were big Celine fans, but when everyone left my house and I was cleaning up, I noticed that my CD was nowhere to be found.  Tired and admittedly, a little bit annoyed, I called my brother and left him a message asking him if he had accidently taken my CD home with him, as well.  After a few days, he returned my call and told me, that yes, he had indeed taken an extra copy of the CD home with him.  A bit sarcastically, he asked me if I wanted him to mail it back to me.  I told him, "Of course not, I'll just get it from you the next time we get together."  When Mark, my SIL and I were planning my brother's funeral in February, she brought the CD over to my house.  It was kind of an odd gesture, so I placed it, still in it's original packaging inside of that out-of-the-way cabinet, a sign of it's seemingly unimportantness in the face of my brother's passing.  Yet tonight, in the resurfacing of this still wrapped CD, there is a message from my brother.  And although I have not spent the time to think it all the way through yet, I do know that there are no coincidences.  There is, however, insignificant unfinished business which has suddenly become a very important reminder from someplace else.  

I hope that your holidays were filled with love, meaning and enough joy to hold onto for a very, very long time.  And in the coming year, may the symbols and signs that are meant to teach, stop you in the tracks of your journey to remind you that there truly are no coincidences.


jojo said...

Beautiful post Deb...I so enjoy learning more about the Jewish traditions ;)j
I have always had a difficult time believing that there are no coincedences. To me that means that every thing has been planned out before us. And to that extent I have a hard time believing that all of this pain and suffering was meant to be. To me that is just too much for one person to bear.
I hope the New Year will bring you peace as you search to keep your nieces in your life and your brother's memory alive. Blessings to you and your beautiful family.

Wonderful World of Weiners said...

I think you are very smart for capturing every moment you can with your family of 6. Time is fleeting and it won't always be just your little nuclear clan. I'm so glad that you were able to find happiness and peace amongst what could have been a very trying time.

And just to make you chuckle...I HATE, HATE, HATE Celine Dion so I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that she is the one helping your brother make his point. You best get started on that unfinished journey. If not, he MIGHT just get her to show up at your door!!

Hallie :)

afiori said...

I'm starting to really believe that too, that there are no coincidences...

San Francisco looks SO exciting! I have an urge to go there too now.

Sabi said...

wow, looks like beautiful place to go.. i never been there.. i enjoyed reading every line of the trip and had a coffee in my hand.

loved it

rivergardenstudio said...

So beautiful and sad your writing and memories are. I am sorry about your dear brother. I love the way your rejoice in your family and create new traditions. Thank you for sharing the history of your beautiful religion, and that Chanukah is a celebration of light and freedom. Have a beautiful new year... Roxanne



Wish you and your family a wonderful year. I too enjoyed reading and learning more about the Jewish traditions. I remember you once mentioned your brother in a comment or perhaps it was a post I read. I am so sorry for your loss. It is always so sad and difficult. My nieces sons lost best friends in an avalance over the holidays. Sad times.
Wishing you well...bx

Alan said...

Be sure to visit tomorrow and play the Robot Nine Picture Puzzle.

Linda Lou said...

Hi Deb, thought I would stop by and I say hi to you and so enjoyed your post...there are no coincidences in life, as I write this my older daughter is packing up her car and moving to San Francisco to go to SF State...looks like you had a great holiday up there. Wish you the best in 2009.

Bogart in P Towne said...

Thanks for sharing...I lost Gramps 15 months ago. The tears have stopped (finally!!!), but the longing and missing certainly has not.

BTW, San Fran is a beautiful place, isn't it!!!

Poetikat said...

I'm sorry to read about your brother. I lost my dad last month and it's just incredible to think I'll never see him in the flesh again.
You have such a gorgeous family! You are truly blessed.

Happy Chanukah! and Happiest of New Years to you and your lovely clan.


Ness said...

Thank you for sharing your traditions and pics of your beautiful angel family. I still believe that you will be reunited with your angel nieces because your brother is orchestrating that from Above. And I love Celine Dion!

But there are no coincidences...I get proof of that more and more each and every day.

I am so blessed to call you my friend.

May 2009 be one of hope, light and love.

Love you always, Ness.

afiori said...


jojo said...

I am so blessed to have stumbled upon your site earlier this year, or I guess that would be last year now! Your 'friendship' has inspired me and strengthened me. I thank you for holding me up when you so desperatly needed to be held up. You are a remarkable woman and friend. May 2009 be a blessing to you and your family...

Lorrie Veasey said...

Dear Deb-
So glad that you and yours had what looks like such a great trip together! Think East Coast next year, bay-bee! Also_ I love your menorah. The heart holding the shamash is awesome.

I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. I agree with you that there are no coincidences. I am also not a huge fan of Celine--but admit that the lyrics of my heart must go on still make me tear up. I think it's interesting that you have found what was lost.

I hope you and yours have much happiness in 2009.

Catherine Holman said...

I lost my brother, the oldest of 4 sidblings, 19 years ago. It was so devestating, but believe me, it will get better. You'll never forget, but the pain does subside. God bless you and your beautiful family.

jenx67 said...

I've been playing catch up on my favorite blog as I've been snowed under work and family and holidays. I loved these pictures - the comments about the self-contained family unit - the memoir of your brother. Your writing about this loss is a window into grief for those of us who have not fully experienced it at that level. You make me grateful for many people in my life. YOu have done such an amazing job with your family.

soapymomponders said...

I totally understand the pain of your loss. In May 2001 I saw my sister for the last time, not realizing that one week later she would be gone. I should have told her one more time that I loved her, I should have told her one more time that she had been an important influence in my life. I should have... (

I can say that it does get easier with time. The first set of holidays is the hardest; the next set you can probably discuss funny things that happened during another time. Finally, just dwell on the good times and the sad memories will slowly become something you can face without the tears. It does take time but it will happen.

Take care.

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