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Tag Archives: friendship

A Greek Orthodox Funeral

 

A few weeks ago, I went to a funeral at a Greek Orthodox Church. The death was expected, though still sad. I’d kept in touch with one of my clients (from my senior center internship), visiting and calling her on a regular basis for the past two years. She had been actively dying for at least fifteen years (from cancer), and inspiring everyone with her persistence and her capacity to live fully within her limitations. But for the last year, things were slowly coming to an end and we talked our way through it together; coming to peace with her death, as much as that’s possible.

The funeral was open casket. Jewish funerals are, traditionally, closed casket, so this was not something I was really prepared for. Even from my seat six rows back, I could see her head clearly (they cranked up the bottom of the casket, with an actual crank, to make her visible during the funeral, and then cranked her back down at the end so they could close the lid). I think I was the only one in the room who didn’t go up to talk to her. They had dyed her hair, and put on makeup, so she looked sort of alive, but not really like herself.

The only people I knew at the funeral were from the senior center, and a few family members; everyone else was a picture I’d seen, or a story I’d been told (she was a great story teller). She told me, often, that I should write her life story for her, and I told her, just as often, that I wanted her to write it for herself. But she never did. I know there are rules about this in the social work code of ethics (avoiding dual relationships), but also just for me, writing her stories would have felt like stealing.

I didn’t start crying until the eulogies started. The director of the senior center talked about my former client as if she was right there in the room (she was!), and I used up all of my tissues within minutes, and had to reuse them, until I was basically wiping my face with snot (don’t judge me, I was desperate).

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The saving grace was the distraction of the Greek orthodox rituals. I could focus on my curiosity and hold the grief at bay, just a little bit. The sanctuary had a domed ceiling, and gold painted apostles on the walls, and hidden doors where the gofer (I’m sure there’s a more dignified title for him, but I don’t know it) would sneak in and hand one of the clergymen something they needed. One clergyman was dressed in all black and stood in front of three microphones. The other one wore dramatic white robes, with an overlaid floor length scarf, and had a microphone attached to his head so he could walk through the room and swing incense around the coffin and down the aisle.

They both kept talking about how my former client had “gone to sleep” (at least in the English, I can’t tell you what they said in Greek or Latin). And with the raised pillows, and the hair and makeup, you could almost believe she really was just sleeping. The fact is, she would have loved to have been there, just to hear what people were saying about her, and of course, to critique all of the performances.

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As they wheeled her (now closed) coffin out of the building, the crowd followed her out through two enormous steel doors into the fresh air. Everything about the setting was so dramatic and impressive. She would have loved that.

I knew she was ready to die, and that her body had been ready for even longer than her spirit, and I was relieved for her when the end came. But she took up such a big space in my heart – as one of my first clients as a social work intern, but also as a friend. And I miss her.

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It was a hard day. I sat with my former supervisor afterwards, both of us trying to absorb the loss and put it into some kind of safe, protected place where it wouldn’t leak out into the rest of our lives. But grief doesn’t really work that way. I remember everything: the times when my client was heartbroken, and enraged, and confused, and as lost as a child. The times when I couldn’t wait to see her, and couldn’t stop laughing, and the times when she cut me so deep I could barely breathe.

The idea that social workers can have a full caseload of clients and not be impacted by them, and not care about them, or miss them, or hate them, or love them – is crazy. We’re human. Yes, we have to choose how to behave, given those feelings, and follow our codes of ethics as far as we can, to make sure we are doing no harm, but the connections are real.

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My former supervisor goes to a lot of funerals. That’s what happens when you work with seniors as your life’s work (and maybe why I’m reluctant to follow her down that path, even though I really like the population). You meet people and make connections and do as much as you can to help them, and then, often, you watch as they slip away. Seniors are just as complicated and troubled as everyone else, but maybe more so because they are usually more aware of death, and sometimes that makes them angry, or depressed, or desperate to fit as much as possible into each day, and it can be hard to live up to their needs and expectations.

The funeral did what it was supposed to do: it let me grieve, and it let me say goodbye. But I feel sad that I never wrote my client’s stories down. Even in my progress notes, I didn’t quite capture her voice, and that feels like a loss. For me, for everyone who didn’t get to meet her, and for everyone who did. But I will always remember her, and that’s a good thing.

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If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

Bird Blogger

 

I spend a good portion of time each week exploring blog posts on WordPress. I start by going through the sites I follow on my Reader, and then, if I have time, I check in with the posts in different categories, like dogs, birds, memoir, knitting, recipes, etc. Part of it is just simple outreach, looking for other bloggers who might be interested in what I’m writing too, but a lot of it is an endless curiosity about other people.

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“What about us?”

So when I came across a blog post that promised pictures of crafty handmade birds for the next thirty days, I decided to keep an eye on it. The blogger was sewing these elaborate stuffed birds, each with their own colorful personality, and I was charmed. After a while, out of the blue, I heard from the blogger herself, thanking me for my support and offering to make a bird just for me.

I was shocked! All I’d done was press like a few times, but her email reminded me that the small acts we do each day can have much bigger meaning in the world than we realize. I know that I have been impacted in big and small ways by the things other people have done, like smiling at me in the supermarket, or commenting on one of my blog posts, or posting a picture that breaks my heart or makes me laugh or just reminds me that I am not alone. We do these things every day, thinking we are such small actors in the world and it’s only meaningful to us, but I’m starting to realize that I can’t know what my impact on other people might be. And impacting even one person, even in a small way, feels wonderful!

My beautiful bird arrived last week and she has been acclimating to her new environment, and new housemates. Cricket and Ellie were fascinated by the look and smell (and taste) of her, so she flew back into her box for a little while until they calmed down. My bird’s creator is Susan Fae Haglund, by the way, and she’s on Instagram and WordPress and Etsy too, so please look out for her work.

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“Hello everybody!”

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Ellie is trying to say hello.

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Cricket really likes the new bird in the house.

When I first started this blog I thought it was something I was supposed to do, to build my “platform” as a writer, but it has become something I need to do for myself, to feel connected to people who matter to me. The majority of the book sales for Yeshiva Girl have come through the blog and I feel endlessly grateful for that. I want all of you to know that every blog I follow has made an impact on me, and made my world bigger and brighter than I could have hoped.

Thank you!

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The new bird is fitting in with the older guys.

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Even Lambie’s on board!

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

 

Friendship

Friendship is still something I’m not very good at. I’m friendly, and I have some friends, people I care about who care about me, but I’ve never figured out how to be a good, day to day friend to someone. I have friends who I can reach out to when big things happen, positive or negative, and I know that they will hear me, and they know that I will hear them. But I don’t have people I call every day, or every week. I’ve tried, very hard, to do better at this. I’ve tried to put myself in positions to have friends like that, but something always stops me.

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Cricket can relate.

There’s a constant monologue in my head judging what I say to other people. Was I friendly enough? Too friendly? Do they like me or think I’m a loser? It’s as if the closer I get to other people, the more rejectable I feel, and the more damage they can do to me. It’s easier to care about people from afar, but them I’m lonely and isolated, and that’s not good either.

I was better at mimicking friendship when I was a kid, doing all of the behaviors asked of me: listening, caring, and showing attention. But I was never very good at requiring friendship in return, or believing that I deserved it. If someone got angry at me, and said that I wasn’t being a good enough friend, I believed it. If someone said I wasn’t interesting enough to be their friend, I believed them. I didn’t like it, but it seemed true to me.

I like where I live now. I like that there are people who live all around me, and even without planning to, I can run into a neighbor (and her dog!) on a random laundry trip. But it’s so much easier to befriend dogs than people. First of all, they always have their own humans, so I don’t have to take responsibility for them. With other humans, I always feel like I’m supposed to help them, take care of them, and do things for them, and I feel disappointed when they don’t fix everything for me in return. With dogs I can just share a nice moment, offer affection and curiosity, and then move on. Except, I usually feel bereft and guilty for walking away from dogs too, as if I should have done more for them, or gotten more from the exchange.

My therapist once said that she assumed I had an attachment disorder, and that’s why I didn’t have more friends. She was so relieved when I fell in love, because it proved that I wasn’t completely detached, even though it also meant my heart was broken when he said goodbye. But the thing is, I never felt detached. If anything I felt more attached than I could stand.

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“Harrumph.”

One of the benefits of becoming a therapist is that I can focus on caring about other people, without requiring them to care about me in return. My job as a therapist is to give, and not to take, and that feels so much easier to me. I like being kind to people. I like helping people, and feeling compassion and understanding for people. But I don’t like being disappointed in people when I have expectations of them, or need things from them.

Cricket is a great customer for this kind of therapy, at least with me. She’s much more of a caretaker with her grandma: guarding her, listening to her, keeping her company. With me, she accepts my support and guidance and attention, and seems to be free of any burdens of care in return.

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Cricket guarding Grandma

I miss my Butterfly, though, because however much she needed me and needed my care, she always had room in her heart for me, and licked my hand to let me know she was with me. Cricket has tried to take on that role, every once in a while, when I scratch her under her chin, but the licks last only for a moment, and then she wants me to take her outside for her walk. And that’s okay with me, because she loves her walks and her joy is contagious.

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“Hi Mommy. Do you need lickies?”

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“Let’s go! There’s so much sniffing to do!”

Bella, The flying Dog

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Cricket and Bella do the sniff

 

 

            We first met Bella when she was four months old and too small for the pink harness tightened around her chest. She looked like a sling shot, popping out of the harness, leaping from it, trying to fly.

Bella is a tan and silver Yorkshire terrier mixed with some unknown, big-headed dog. She lives down the hill from us and we see her leaning out the passenger side window of the car when her family drives up the hill. She gets great joy out of hanging her head out of the window like a daredevil.

Cricket likes Bella, up to a point. She likes that they are the same size, and both girls. She likes that Bella seems happy and friendly. It’s only when Bella starts to invade personal space that Cricket rethinks her feelings. Cricket mistakes enthusiasm for aggression and growls, and Bella mistakes the growling for an invitation to play, which gets dangerous and requires lifting Cricket up so she doesn’t attack Bella with her teeth.

One day, we came home to find Bella running loose down the hill.          It was a shock to drive around the corner and see Bella running down the hill towards us. It was raining, just a little, but enough to make the sky grey and visibility a little muffled. Bella was racing down the middle of the street towards our car and her parents were waving frantically at us.

Mom parked the car at the top of the hill, in front of our house, and was about to walk down the hill to help, when Bella’s parents called out and asked if we could bring Cricket in case Bella would run to her and then be easier to catch. They told us that Bella had slipped her collar off and gone racing around the block.

Cricket was thrilled to have her leash put on and she was very excited to see Grandma and Bella’s Mom, and she seemed to know that something important was happening. Bella ran to Cricket right away and came almost close enough for us to grab her collar, but then she sped away again.

We created a three pointed trap, with Cricket and Grandma at one corner, then me and Bella’s Mom at the others, all blocking potential escape routes until Bella had no where to go. Bella was soaking wet after running through wet grass for half an hour. And once she was caught, her mom held her, belly and legs out and dangling, ready for the towel her Dad had brought out for her.

Cricket was ready to go for a walk of her own after all of that excitement, but I was wiped out. Just walking back up the hill was more than I could handle, once the adrenaline wore out. But I also wanted something more to happen. I’ve felt that way after every dog-saving event. It’s not that I want a reward, though a little statue of me catching the dog would be nice for the top of my bookcase. Cricket and I were at loose ends for a little while, but then we were ready for our afternoon nap. We were pooped.

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The three girls, momentarily untangled

We met up with Bella the other day for the first time since Butterfly has been here. Bella was her rambunctious self and Cricket stood back a bit, but Butterfly went up close and examined her new friend. She stood there without budging, no matter how many times Bella raced from side to side and flattened into play pose.

Eventually, Bella calmed down, and Cricket inched forward, and the three of them did some mutual sniffing. Butterfly didn’t seem to mind being the peacemaker between Cricket and Bella. She accepted their different energies and knew how to manage them. She’s very Zen.

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Zen Butterfly

Cricket and Ursula

Is that Ursula?

Yep.

 

 

Ursula is the dog next door. She looks a lot like a tall Bichon Frise. Her legs are long and she doesn’t have that two-back-legs-tied-together walk I’ve seen on a lot of Bichons, but she does have the white afro. In fact, it’s hard to see her apricot markings when she’s in full fluff.

Before Ursula came home we were told about her. Our neighbors had found a stray dog on a trip to visit family in Mexico and they wanted to know if we would take her. But we had only recently adopted Cricket and she was already more than enough work for me.

Our neighbors decided to take her themselves. It took at least a month before she came home. She was skinny and fragile like a fawn. Her hair was cut down to the nubs and it was hard to tell what breed or breeds she was, but she was about Cricket’s size and very friendly. Except that her idea of friendly was to run at Cricket, bob and weave and then stand up on her back legs and box. But Cricket loved it.

Now, if Cricket sees Ursula down the block, she starts to hop like a kangaroo and pulls to get to her. And then they run to greet each other like long lost sisters and tangle their leashes in knots.

I can never manage to time Cricket’s walks to match Ursula’s, so weeks or even months can go by before they see each other again. But the other day, I saw Ursula out walking and she stopped to sniff exactly the spot where Cricket had peed a few hours earlier. She sniffed carefully, placed herself, and left a return message right next to Cricket’s spot. And I’ve seen Cricket do exactly the same. It seems that they’ve been communicating with each other whether I was able to see it or not. They are pee-mail pals and it makes me feel better to know that. I’d rather they could see each other in person more often, but it’s good to know they are keeping in touch.

I had a friend once who ran up and hugged me like Cricket and Ursula do. It was breathtaking. I never felt like I deserved that greeting but it felt good in the moment. I’m glad Cricket has that in her life.

Are they whispering to each other?

 

Time to go for a walk