Death in the Month of Tishri
Here's what happened:
            Her mother and father had just driven down from Pennsylvania for the winter.  It was the day after her father's eighty-first birthday, and since it was a gorgeous day, they decided to play golf with their good friends.  Her father had a pretty good game, parring the first two holes.  His lower back wasn't even bothering him. Then his friend ran him over with the golf cart.  There was a lot of screaming, mainly from the friend in the cart and his wife.  The cart pushed her father forward like a snowplow with a snow mound, but eventually it ran over him.  Since it was Miami Beach with its aging population, all over the golf course were little boxes to call for emergency help, which arrived swiftly.  Her father remained conscious at first, then his lung collapsed, and he "went sour" as they say in medical parlance.  He died.
         When Joy told friends what happened, she soon learned to say he had been run over by a motor vehicle instead of a golf cart because people found elements of humor in this.  She also lied and said he was seventy-one instead of eighty-one because she could read by their expressions that they thought he had lived long enough.
         Joy called Sam. "Get a ticket for Katie.  You can ask for the bereavement fare."  Now she felt her father was watching to see that she didn't waste money foolishly.
         "She's at Sean's.  She's scared."
         "Tell her it will be all right.  It's comforting to be here.  It's harder alone.  You don't have to come.  Take care of things at home."  What she didn't say was that she did not want Sam's atheist consciousness there while they sat the rite of shiva.  She wanted to manage the willing suspension of disbelief and extract comfort from ritual. F
or the first time in years, Joy's radar scanning about her daughter Katie was turned off.  She did not worry or think about how Katie would manage alone at the airport or get to her grandmother's.  Joy really didn't care, but she wanted her daughter there for her mother's sake.
         All her life she'd had a terror that her parents would die.  Her father's death gave her some relief.  Death put a lot of anxiety to rest.
         Joy and her mother searched a shoebox full of old samples of medication looking for sleeping pills.  The one pill--in a paper folder--that Joy was absolutely sure was a sleeping pill, she gave to her mother.  The names of a couple of other medicines were familiar, but she wasn't sure if they were sleeping pills or tranquilizers.  They all had pleasant pictures on the folder pack along with chemical names that didn't offer a clue.  Joy took two capsules from a folder with a woman on a blanket in a field of flowers.  After a night of tossing and turning, she decided the capsules were allergy medications, probably a new variety that did not cause sleepiness.  Joy was on the convertible couch in the Florida room.  On previous visits, Joy had waited for her parents to go to sleep. Then she'd sneak out of bed and lower the thermostat on the air conditioner to reduce the muggy heat.  Without turning on a light, her father would walk silently out with a flashlight and examine the dial reading and return it to its original position.  These temperature battles had never been mentioned.  Now there was no one to spar with adjustments.  This night when her will could have won, she left the thermostat alone.
         Around daybreak, Joy fell into a light doze, and her father appeared to her.  He stood there looking stern.
         "I want you to take care of your mother," he said.  "In the house in Pennsylvania are many things that have to be done.  The heating element in the water boiler has to have the deposits removed before it is turned on, and the gutters have to have the leaves cleared."
         "But Daddy, I love you.  Do you love me?  What's it like being dead?"
         He turned away looking annoyed.  "Take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves."
         "Come back, I'll pay attention," she cried, but he had left her.
         At nine o'clock the next morning, Katie buzzed to be let in.  She had taken the transporter van from the airport.  She had arrived without Joy telling her the address once, much less the usual half a dozen times.
         Oley, oley, oxen free. . . .
         This has gone far enough.  You can come out from your hiding place.

         Her mother asked, "What if this is just a test to see how well we do?"
         Her mother was doing pretty well, considering.  She kept busy.  One of her busy tasks was finding things she misplaced.  "My keys, they were just right here.  I never lost things before."
         Joy's literature class sent her a card that said on the front, "We are trying to find the words to tell you how sorry we feel."  Each of her students wrote something.  One young woman wrote, "I don't want to intrude on your grief, but I feel with you."  Others wrote, "God bless you," or, "God will help you."  Rosa, a new immigrant from El Salvador, wrote, "Happy Halloween."
         There were just slivers of intimations of loss.  Most of the time Joy was amazed to feel sustained.  From the hospital envelope her mother took the broken glasses.  Joy took the three tees, but left the change.  Later she put two of the tees into the coffin.  From his underwear drawer, Katie took all of his shorty pajamas.  One pair still had the pins and price tag on them.
         Joy took the bloody clothes in the paper bag to the dumpster in back of the lime green condo.
         Joy was sure that when they first took him to the emergency room, he had said to himself, "Be calm.  I can take it.  I'm strong."  But when things started to go wrong--his lung collapsing, a blood clot loose in his veins, his heart going hummingbird fast--he decided, "It's time.  I'm not afraid."
         There were hardly any plots left in the cemetery.  There was another fancy cemetery a long distance away, but her mother said she couldn't get there alone.  Joy resolved not to let the undertaker pressure her mother again.  "We'll take the close one."
         Disdainfully, he said, "But there are no plots left, only a few by the right-of-way or the sump pump."
         They all started to laugh.  Her father had an illustrated book which they called his coffee table art book, The Repair and Care of The Sump Pump.
         The funeral parlor had a Macintosh computer with a spread sheet that was able to program the dates on the Hebrew calendar when they should light their Yahrzeit candles for the next ten years.  "How many mourners in the immediate family?" the manager asked as the bidirectional printer made copies.
                                   Yisgadal v'yiskaash sh'me rabbo.

         A vase fell off the bookshelf.
         "Grandpa's here!  I saw this in Poltergeist 3," said Katie.
         "If it is really Grandpa, he wouldn't drop glasses and vases.  He would repair something that was broken, make it work," Joy responded in her logic mode.
         "Is there anything that's broken?" Joy asked her mother.
         "No.  He kept everything in perfect shape, not like your summer place back in Pennsylvania," said her mother.
         "Now that Grandpa's gone, we might as well kiss our cottage goodbye," Katie said.  "He did most of the repairs."
         "You're right," Joy said, and watched Katie replace the poltergeist vase on the bookshelf and take out the wooden puzzle her grandfather made with golf tees stuck in a triangle.  The object was to jump the tees like checkers and try to remove all of them.
         "I have never gotten them all out yet," Katie complained.
         Katie took down the plastic lung exerciser that her grandfather had brought home from the hospital after a hernia operation ten years before.  That was another one of the "toys" he left out for Katie's amusement.  Katie sucked in her breath and the ping pong balls levitated in the plastic compartments.  She studied her watch.  Exhaling, she announced, "Thirty-one seconds for the three balls.  I'm getting better.  Maybe I should talk about the lung exerciser at the funeral."
         "Or snack time," said Joy.
         "Which one?  The four o'clock peanut butter and crackers or the eleven o'clock ice cream?"
         "The four o'clock one.  That was the real official one."
         "Or our morning cereal ritual.  The Wheaties, the wheat germ, the granola, the sliced banana, and the pocket for the milk."
         "Uncle Walt lets his cereal get soggy."
         "What does he know?  He's been on the West Coast too long."
         "Maybe I should talk about the cereal at the funeral.  No one would catch on, though," said Katie, as she rocked the little vase to check its center of gravity and stability.  "Grandma, could we break a clock or something and see if it gets fixed?  We need something scientific to see if Grandpa is around."
         He did for everybody!  He regularly sat with Mr. G. after his stroke so Mrs. G. could go out.  He had fixed the sliding glass doors of the man who ran him over.  He drained the pipes at Joy's cottage every fall.  Mrs. G. came up to Joy before the service.  "Don't worry.  I gave the rabbi an earful."
         A rectangle of tough tropical grass was cut away.  The coffin was teakwood resembling their living room couch up north.  Her mother was comfortable with that choice after the funeral director played the old bait-and-switch game with the original prepaid model.  "Come in and view the selection; perhaps you would prefer another choice. . . ."  Last year, the bait-and-switch had been the appliance stores for the VCR for their fiftieth wedding anniversary.  "We are temporarily out of stock, but for just a few dollars more. . . ."
         In the coffin showroom, Joy pointed out a model with a blue satin comforter and mirrors to Katie.  "That one's your type."
         Katie fingered the satin comforter.  "No, you're wrong.  It has to be goose down."
         Joy said to her mother, "Let's go before I punch this guy out."
         "He's just trying to be nice," her mother said.
         So she closed her teeth and pressed her lips together.
         After the brief service, the coffin that resembled the couch still dangled on straps above the hole.
         "Lower it," Joy's mother said fiercely.
         That must have been some signal of orthodoxy, because the rabbi then quickly offered a child's pail of sand with a red shovel.
         "No!" they all yelled, offended by the pretend playtime.
         The Haitian laborers stepped back from the pile of earth draped with astro turf as her mother dug into the mound for a heaping shovelful of sandy soil.  All the rest in a frenzy grabbed handfuls of the gravelly soil and tossed it into the grave.  When she asked her father once about the afterlife, he said he believed in composting.  He had driven south just the week before with a carton of luscious Big Boy tomatoes from their garden up north.  He wouldn't have given a tinker's damn for this soil.
         He helped everyone.  Hehelpedeveryone!
         V'yiskaash sh'me rabbo.

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