We buried my sister this past Monday. The rabbi who performed her service never met her in life. Nonetheless, based on anecdotal evidence she acquired from my sister’s two sons, her husband and myself, I thought she performed admirably and on short notice.
I was struck by how each of us recalled her in our own way. Lorrie’s husband, a confirmed bachelor who waited to marry for the first and only time in his life until he was in middle age, was considerably older than his wife. They would have been married fifty years this February. His memories were the memories of a husband and partner, and father.
There was much he might have reported to the rabbi, but Ed is nothing if not stoic, and beyond several superficial memories of life together with my sister, he continued to play it close to the vest, even now, on the day of her funeral. Yet, to me his eyes betrayed sadness and pain lurking just below the surface.
Ed is a grounded guy, a retired lawyer, who still relies on logic to draw conclusions based on the facts. As I watched and listened to him on this day, I made a mental note to keep closer tabs on him going forward, because I know from personal experience that his coming days, weeks, and months will turn hard as the immediate shock of his wife’s death gradually recedes only to be replaced by the awful void each of us as survivors knows only too well. Ed has no basis in fact today to fairly assess the future impact her death will have on him. Logic has its limits.
Lorrie’s oldest son, Alan, is artistic and spiritual. He recalled his mother’s love of the written word, and her brilliance solving puzzles, which at one time had brought her the attention of the National Security Agency. He reported to the rabbi that the government once had tried to recruit his mother as a cryptographer, an opportunity she had to decline due to her family commitments. He also fondly recalled that she would make their Halloween costumes from scratch. I understood that in this respect, my sister had taken after our own mother. As I listened to Alan, I could not help but think how strange are the specific memories of a person that stick with us at such a sorrowful time as this.
Alan’s brother, Kevin, was next. Whereas Alan is emotional and demonstrative like his mother, Kevin comes across as detached and under control, just like his dad. However, after meeting his friends and acquaintances during the post-funeral reception, I came away convinced that my surface impressions may not have been wholly accurate. For example, I knew that Kevin has been involved with several worthwhile charitable activities, so I was not surprised when many of the people he has met through these endeavors honored him by attending his mother’s funeral. What I did not know previously was the extent to which these same friends and colleagues treated Kevin as a mentor. That he was held in a such obvious high esteem not only spoke to his depth of personal commitment, but to his apparent ability to inspire commitment in others.
When the rabbi next asked me to report my happiest memories of my sister, I was hard pressed to respond. The sad truth is that, despite being siblings, my sister and I were never very close and there are gaps in the record I felt unequipped to fill.
Although I could have chalked this up to our age differential –my sister was five years older than me–and simply left it at that, deep down I knew I could not explain things honestly to the rabbi it in such stripped down and simplified terms. I have been thinking about this matter these past several days following my sister’s funeral and will continue to do so in the days ahead. There undeniably were family dynamics involved here that we never faced together as a family. The task of reconstruction is certainly more difficult, perhaps impossible, now that I am the last member of the immediate family left standing. I fear the opportunity to understand certain aspects of my past has been lost.