Who Pays for the Tombstone? Who Attends the Wedding?

Since 2013, I’ve written a monthly advice column for the Detroit Jewish News.  I love writing it and thought it would be meaningful and gratifying to expand the love to my Read the Spirit family.         You don’t have to be Jewish to have tsuris! (troubles, heartaches, problems.)  You just have to have a trouble, problem or dilemma that plagues you by day and disturbs you by night.                                  Write to me at deardebra at renmedia dot us or use the form that accompanies the column.               

photo credit: Emma Darvick

photo credit: Emma Darvick

Dear Debra

I am the oldest of three brothers.  Our middle brother died this year and it is time to order and pay for his headstone. Baby Brother says he does not have the money, but will reimburse me when middle brother’s estate is settled. I know very well that my brother could afford to contribute his share, but chooses to spend his money on lavish vacations, kitchen renovations and expensive designer clothes by Ralph Lauren.

Baby Brother has pulled this kind of shenanigans before and I’m tired of it. What can I do to make him pull his fair share in this?                  Big Brother

Dear Big Brother,

Start by dropping the terms Big Brother and Baby Brother, which reinforces the roles of responsible vs irresponsible siblings.

If you can pay up front for the headstone, have your brother sign a promissory note stipulating his commitment to repay you when middle brother’s estate is settled. Provide the executor of your deceased brother’s estate with a notarized copy of it as well. Your personal attorney can guide you here.

If by “shenanigans” you mean that your brother has wiggled out of other financial commitments, you may have to be prepared to pay for the headstone yourself, or take him to court. But if by shenanigans you mean he lets others make the first move and then ponies up, you can be reasonably confident you will be reimbursed.

Since Jewish law requires that a tombstone be prepared to mark the deceased’s burial plot, you might consider ordering one for yourself when you purchase the stone for your deceased brother. Should you predecease your remaining brother, you will not have to worry if he’ll come through.

Dear Debra,

Two days after I RSVP’d to my younger niece’s wedding, an invitation to her older sister’s wedding arrived!  These out-of-town weddings are six months apart.  We cannot afford to go to both.

I am peeved that my sister didn’t warn me before I RSVP’d. Wouldn’t it have been more considerate to space the weddings more widely or have one big affair since many of the same people will be invited to both? My sister has already made noises that she expects me to attend both.                                                                          Aggravated Auntie

Dear Aggravated,

Would that we could dictate how our hosts should organize their affairs. But we can’t. If the financial impact makes attending both weddings out of the question for your husband and you, perhaps you can divide and conquer.  Let your husband attend one wedding and you attend the other. Or let hubby off the hook and you attend both, kind of a one-for-the-price-of-two solution that also pleases your sister who is expecting you at both. Just be sure to let Bride Number One know immediately that you will be attending solo. Once you have decided how you will handle the RSVP’s, shift your attention from aggravation to celebration. Jewish weddings are called simchas for a reason — simcha means happiness, and that’s what every bride and groom is entitled to on their wedding day.

Dear Debra,

I am a long-time member of a committee at synagogue. Each committee member signs up at the beginning of the year for that year’s commitments.  The chair has this annoying habit of sending out reminders at least every two months. He knows I am happy to do this job, I have never forgotten and have asked him not to send me these reminder emails.  Shall I chalk it up to his eccentricities?                                Perplexed

Dear Perplexed,

I’d bet a dozen bagels he wishes he had a whole committee of folks who never needed reminding and never forget to show up!  Then he’d be free and clear to go fishing, read the latest New Yorker or check out a new restaurant in town. Even the most dedicated folks sometimes forget to show up and welcome extra reminders.

The committee chair has likely assembled all his volunteers in one address file. You don’t really expect him to include your name for the first mailing, delete it for all subsequent ones and then reinstate it the next year, do you? Next reminder you receive, simply hit the delete key, disposing of the annoying email and maybe your peevishness, too.  Better yet, before deleting the chairman’s reminder, hit reply and acknowledge all his hard work. What you call eccentric, I’d call practical. And often thankless.

 

Playing Favorites and Tortured by Texting…

Since 2013, I’ve written a monthly advice column for the Detroit Jewish News.  I love writing it and thought it would be meaningful and gratifying to expand the love to my Read the Spirit family.         You don’t have to be Jewish to have tsuris! (troubles, heartaches, problems.)  You just have to have a trouble, problem or dilemma that plagues you by day and disturbs you by night.  The reader who penned Problem Number Two, took this invitation literally.                                                                       Write to me at deardebra at renmedia dot us or use the form that accompanies the column.               

1. My spouse’s parents play favorites with their grandchildren, and my children are starting to notice, asking why Grandma and Grandpa don’t pay the same kind of attention to them as they do to their cousins (and it’s not that these other grandchildren need them more for any apparent reason) . How should we handle this?  UnFavored

Dear Unfavored,                                                                                                                                                   Familial favoritism should be the 11th Thou Shalt Not. Has your husband discussed with his parents that the children have noticed the favoritism? If 1) he has and they haven’t changed or 2) he cannot or will not bring it up, then you have to take the initiative . Tell your in-laws that  you’ve missed having them around and would love to see more of them. Invite them to share a new family tradition — a weekly Skype or family outing. Hopefully they will respond in kind.  But if they remain scarce, you will have to help your children learn a painful and important life lesson: we cannot change others, we can only change our reaction to what life throws us. Be sure you give them the message, as much as is needed , that their grandparents’ behavior has nothing to do with them. They are the biggest losers for missing out on joyous time with some pretty terrific grandkids.

2.   My husband’s work expects him to be available 24/7. He sleeps with the phone beside the bed to catch incoming texts.  The problem is he doesn’t hear them come in; I do. By the time I wake him to take the text, I can’t fall back asleep.  Help! Sleepless

Dear Sleepless,                                                                                                                                                Even the Creator of the World granted Himself weekly rest after Her labors were completed!                        It seems quite awful that your husband has to be available 24/7. But since you didn’t ask me to weigh in on that one, I’ll keep mum. And here’s my advice on what you did ask about: Set hubby’s phone to vibrate and slip it beneath his pillowcase. If the sound of the incoming text doesn’t stir him, hopefully the motion will and the sound of the vibration will not disturb you. . You  might also  try sweetly whispering, as he is falling asleep, that you are turning his phone off (but don’t).  Perhaps the anxiety of missing an emergency text will prompt some part of his sleeping brain to keep one eye (or ear) open so you can keep both of yours shut.

My Third Mother Has Died

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My grandmother, Clara and my mother around me at my Confirmation.

I knew that the call, or email, would eventually come. Word that Clara had died.  She was over one hundred after all. No one lives forever. But when such news arrives it still lands like a fist to the heart.

Clara was the mother of my first love. She welcomed me into her family at a time when divorce had shattered my own and my parents’ attention was often elsewhere.  Like my grandmother’s, her love was unconditional, joyous, bottomless, steady. She was a Holocaust Survivor who told me she made it through by hiding in the forests. At sixteen I believed her. In my fifties I came across the truth and wept.

When her son left for college I would still visit after school every now and then, grateful to hang out, to be fed cakes and other sweets whose names had as many consonants as they had ingredients. When he came home on break I was ecstatic. Yes, for the obvious reasons but also because I could visit with Clara nearly daily. She wove me into their family as deftly as she sometimes braided my long hippie hair — into a crown ’round my head, much as her mother must have braided hers and her sisters’.

Her son and I broke up, stayed in touch sporadically, saw each other and one another’s families if our returns home coincided. He became religious and moved to Israel. He is now the father of many, a grandfather several times over. One by one, the dozens whom Hitler murdered are being given new life in their namesakes.  Clara once said that she lived so long because all of her loved ones had given her their years. No doubt in my mind that when the next great-granddaughter is born, she will be called Clara, or its Hebrew or Yiddish equivalent. Will she have Clara’s green eyes? Her beautiful smile? Her strength and ready love? I will never meet her but bless her just the same. Your great-grandmother was a wonderful woman, little one. She lived through hell and back. She came to this country to make a new life, a good life.  And she was a haven for a lost soul and whose light still shines upon me to this day.

A Rosh Hashanah reflection

smaller-applesI was aware that I haven’t been writing much in this space this year, but was shocked to see that my last post was dated January 11, 2016. I’ve been blogging over at pictureaconversation.com, the website dedicated to a product my husband and I launched this January — a set of 25 conversation prompts designed to inspire more talking and less texting.  I’ve shifted from penning self-reveletory essays to writing about the experience of creating something from the wisp of an idea, getting one’s creation out into the marketplace, taking chances, and more. I am writing about the act and art of conversation, recounting notable conversations and the characters with whom I have them. I fear we are losing our facility for meaningful conversations, whether with others, ourselves or even God.

The one writing job I have preserved is my advice column for the Detroit Jewish News.  I’m now in my third year as “Dear Debra” offering no-nonesense advice on everything from vaccines  to tattoos to friends who want to text instead of talk. [I couldn’t be so self-serving as to advise they order a set of Picture a Conversation, but I was tempted!]  I love puzzling out the advice I think would help my readers most and would love to do more.  So I thought, why not post past columns here for your enjoyment and edification, and invite you to send your dilemmas my way via Read the Spirit?  You don’t have to be Jewish to have tsuris (heartache); you just have to have a problem. Write to me at debralex1 at sbcglobal dot net and look for answers here each week.

swan

Rosh Hashana is a time for self-reflection.

The Jewish new year begins soon.  It is a time of much soul searching, asking for forgiveness from those whom we’ve hurt or otherwise wronged. We commit to entering the new year having repented our missteps and wrongdoing. There are fervent prayers that God will hear and accept our repentance and grant us one more year to love, one more year to learn and strive, one more year to offer kindness, gratitude and help to those in need. Although I have shifted from one kind of written expression to another, I nevertheless pray for one more year to write, one more year to use my words for good and for healing whether spoken or written. Amen.

Debra Davick — Heaven’s Papers, Please Copy

Once you’ve lost a parent, or anyone close, there are times when little things crop up that you wish you could share. Some adult children, accustomed to daily check-ins with Mom or Dad catch themselves going for the phone and then realizing there’s no one left to call on the other end. Or you’ll read a book or see something fabulous that your loved one would have enjoyed. And all you can do is imagine their pleasure.  All you can say is, “Oh, Mom would have loved this!”

One of Emma's designs for chasingpaper.com

One of Emma’s designs for chasingpaper.com

I had such a moment today. Our daughter Emma has just had her first wallpaper collection mentioned in Vogue’s online magazine.* It’s been quite a big day. I was running around all morning when her text came through that the piece had gone live.  I rushed home and before clicking the link, I called Emma to share the moment with her as I first laid eyes on my daughter’s triumph. Savoring the moment, I told her what a charge her Grandma Dolly would have gotten out of this.  Vogue!  Vogue was my mother’s bible. There were copies of this slick and beautiful magazine with its stark models dressed in sumptuous clothes stacked on the coffee table in our living room and on my mother’s nightstand.  Every once in a while I’d come across tear sheets featuring Balenciaga gowns and Chanel bags slipped into books and random kitchen drawers.

And now Emma’s art has found its way into Vogue. My mother would have crowed with glee, pride and a bit of puffed up ownership that her granddaughter had managed such a coup. “I can just see my mother,” I fantasized to Emma. “clearing her throat and demanding the attention of all those present.  ‘You, over there! Put down that harp!  I’ve got an announcement to make – my granddaughter’s wallpaper designs are in Vogue!  And you! Straighten your halo! Brush that feather from your eyes. This is a red letter day. Have you ever seen such beautiful colors?”

Although my mother wasn’t a steady presence in my kids’ lives, Emma has much of her panache and fashion sense. She has my mother’s hand. The first time I saw one of Emma’s pencil sketches of an interior, tears welled in my eyes.  She draws just like my mother did — with nearly identical felicity and economy of line, with eerie echoes of my mother’s whimsy and emotional accuracy. Grandma Dolly would have absolutely trilled with glee.

Although never in Vogue, my mother was always au courant.

Although never in Vogue, my mother was always au courant.

But she’s not here to tell. There’s no number I can call and say, “Mom, guess what your granddaughter did today.” And so I simply enjoy this day and my daughter’s accomplishment on my own, knowing, hoping that in some corner of the Heavens Dolly Bourke is thrilled.

 

 

 

*scroll to page two to see Emma’s wallpaper                                                                                           Enjoy Emma’s whole collection at chasingpaper.com.                                                                       Click on each wallpaper sample to see it in situ.

It’s Not Yet Time to Cross the Street

I‘ve sometimes shared posts by my friend Dr. Kelly Flanagan, on my FB page. I admire his take on life, child-rearing, and relationships.  This week I couldn’t agree with him as he wrote about ISIS  and their most recent attacks. Though we’ve never met, and have only corresponded via email over the past couple of years, we share a deep mutual respect. Which gave me the courage to write the following.

A long time ago I attended a pro-Israel rally. It was at the time of one of the incessant uprisings against Israel. When it was over,  a group of Palestinian supporters stood on the street opposite the synagogue holding up Israel’s state flag with a nazi swastika on it.  On the synagogue side of the street a friend of mine who had fought in Desert Storm 1 held up the Stars and the Stripes.  My kids and i went to stand silently beside him while those on the other side of the street continued their shouting.  What a metaphor.

I wanted to cross the street.  Wanted to go up to the man and say, I can see that you are a human being.  Can you not see that in me?  In my children? But I didn’t.  I was too afraid.

These terrorists are out of control children with weapons.  They are two-year olds, all ego, with murderous intentions. I do not hate them.  I do think they should be eliminated because they are a danger to all that is civilized in this world. And sometimes humans with that dark and destructive power have to be eliminated even if innocents will go down with them.

There is a story from Exodus.  When the Israelites had crossed the sea, Miriam and the women took up timbrels and began dancing, celebrating the fact that they were alive and that Pharaoh’s horsemen were drowned. God calls down to them and says, “Why are you rejoicing when some of My children have died?”  What we are taught to take from this is that number 1 this was part of the plan and yet God was still in mourning for His Children.  Two, we are not to exult at the tragedies that befall others. This is why at the Passover Seder each year, we remove ten drops of wine from our cups when reciting the Ten Plagues. This removal of the joy, which wine symbolizes in Jewish tradition, echoes back to God’s conversation with Miriam. It is our yearly reminder that all are God’s children, even those whose plans are destructive, and we are not to take joy in another’s suffering, no matter how they have harmed us.

I don’t have time to hate.  But I do wish we had leaders who understood what is at stake and would quit equivocating. Decades ago Arafat’s henchman threw an 80-year-old-man in a wheelchair off a cruise ship. The world did a few air strikes and tsk tsk’s at the “crazies.”  That is what has never been understood.  We look at the situation through our lens and say, OH they are crazy they will go away.  We’ve been doing that for decades b/c who but the crazy can be so uncivilized?  I won’t even write some of their acts here.

They are not crazy.  They are stone cold deliberate; they are absolutely logical and have followed through on every intention they have stated (no matter how insane it sounds to us.) This is why the Islamists are so dangerous.  Peace, as it is understood as the absence of strife war, and conflict, is not the answer.  Love of humanity’s survival is more important than love of these humans who have voided their place in civilized society with their blood lust and their intentions to conquer the world and create a Caliphate.

We have evolved from such an understanding of the world.  Cancer cells are nothing but unchecked cells. They have run amok, feeding upon the atmosphere of their  host.   Cancer has to be excised in whatever way possible to save the being within which it grows. The Islamists, Muslim extremists, whatever anyone wants to call them, they are destroyers. We have ignored them at our own peril. They too must be exorcised, by any means possible, no matter how many healthy “cells” go down with them.

And then, should we find ourselves on the far side of the Sea of Reeds, perhaps we will not take up timbrels and rejoice. Instead, and hopefully, we will extend our hands to those yearning to breathe free and walk forward together in peace and unafraid.

From Rainbows to Ruination?

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Martin captured this after a rain shower in Sedona.

Each year, the cycle of reading the Torah (Hebrew Bible) begins anew. Across the world, in every synagogue the same parasha (section) is read, either specific selections for those synagogues on a triennial cycle of reading, or the entire section. Yesterday we read the section titled Noah. Again and again we do this, reading the same texts. And it is never the same experience, for we are different each year. Year after year, we come to the text from different places in our intellectual and emotional growth. Noah, animals, rainbow, and then in the same section the story of Babel, the building of a tower in an effort to reach the Divine. Same stories, different insights. Each and every year.

This year, something new struck me as I read the story of Babel. The floodwaters have receded; we have read the groupings of Noah’s descendants; we are told that from these groupings, nations were formed and branched out across the earth. And all of these nations speak the same language.  Driven by hubris and ego, they set out to build a city and a tower whose top would reach into the sky “to make a name for ourselves” the text tells us, “else we shall be scattered all over the world.”

Well God wasn’t too keen on human beings using the commonality of their language to build a tower to the heavens in an effort to be known far and wide. “If as one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing that they may propose will be out of their reach.  Let us, then, go down and confound their speech there, so that they shall not understand one another’s speech.” 

And that’s where this year’s reading stopped me in my tracks. So that they shall not understand one another’s speech.  Coming off a week where Jews in Israel are being stabbed and murdered willy nilly and the world pretty much stays silent, or in the case of one reporter reality is completely distorted, where the phrase I just can’t understand you echoes between spouses, siblings, friends and more, I wondered at this Divine intervention. Don’t think me blasphemous for questioning God’s motivations in this chapter. It is the Jew’s birthright. We are called the People Israel because yisroel means “to struggle with God.”

What a legacy for us all not to be able to understand one another’s speech! The people of Babel were punished for using their commonality of speech to go where they weren’t supposed to go and think thoughts of grandeur and ego they weren’t supposed to think. I sat there pondering this as the Bar Mitzvah boy continued his fluid and confident chanting of the rest of the section. What if we all still spoke the same language? Would we continue to conspire in the wrong direction? Would we have found a way toward understanding one another’s hearts and plights?

We use the phrase “we speak the same language” as short hand for “this person and I, we are in tune with one another. We understand one another.”  Sometimes when we “speak the same language” with someone, words are unnecessary. We know what the other is trying to express; we know what the other needs without their having to ask; we know what to do because by saying “we speak the same language,” we are saying the other isn’t really other, but us.

I have no resolution for this column. Nothing as pretty and breathtaking as a rainbow.  I wonder at this week’s juxtaposition: in the section that forever joins the rainbow’s glory to God’s Promise that He will never again destroy the world, we seem to be on that path nevertheless because, our speech Divinely confounded, we no longer understand one another and cannot seem to find the way to do so.