Yahrzeit candle

A Resting Place In The Garden of Eden

“Be sure you blow out the candle before you go to bed.” It was my husband’s voice reaching out to me. This was a familiar warning, because when Tommy was alive, he repeated that order every Friday night after I lit the Shabbat candles.

“It has to stay on for 24-hours,” I said, not aloud, just in my head as I have done for many of our afterlife conversations. “It’s a memorial candle, it marks your November 2 anniversary.”

“Your people are weird,” Tommy said. “Why celebrate my death? Why not my birthday? Our marriage?”

“It’s not a celebration,” I said. “More an occasion to remember our loved ones. Did you hear me recite the memorial prayer; His resting place shall be in the Garden of Eden? I like that. It helps me cope.”

I went on, “I imagine you in my version of the Garden of Eden, playing golf with Bill and some other departed duffers. Your voice is fully repaired, so you’re teasing each other with each shot. Am I close?”

“Pretty good,” Tommy said. “Add in that we never have to reserve a tee time. We can walk on any course, any time of day or night.”

I loved that image, so I took our conversation a step further. “Can you believe, sweetheart, it’s been an entire year? Blink of an eye,” I said.

“Well, you’ve been a busy girl during that year.”

In my mind, his voice was proud not angry. I recognized that cherished tone because it was one that bound me so closely to this second mate. I could see him at the 2006 book launch for my memoir; first row, first seat, beaming at me as I stood on the stage of Women and Children First.

Tommy was my first reader for the book. I’d hand him 10 pages, which he grabbed as eagerly as if I was writing one of the Elmore Leonard or Ruth Rendell novels he loved.

“Great,” he’d say. Or sometimes, “I don’t like the chapter title,” or “I don’t understand this Yiddish word.” Those reviews were my cue to alter or translate.

“Yes, it has been quite a year,” I said, winding back to his assessment. “You supported all of my activities, right, honey?”

There was a hush from my illusive conversation partner. He’s likely reminiscing about our house, I thought, the one we lived happily in with our Golden Retriever, Buddy. The house I sold.

A few beats later, his response: “It was hard to watch you leave Dakin Street,” he said, confirming my suspicion. “But I understood you had no choice. Without me to do the maintenance stuff and without Buddy to protect you, it was too large and too risky to stay alone. Still, I felt a pang.”

I quickly changed the subject that was raw for both of us. “So, Tommy,” I said. “How are you keep tabs on me? Watching on high from a cloud?”

“I read your blogs,” he said.

I hit pause on our chat as I quickly reviewed a year’s worth of posts. Were they all favorable? Had I exposed anything he would prefer hidden? When I started the first blog, “The Rookie Caregiver,” I called him to my computer and asked if he’d like to read what I had written.

“Pull up a chair,” I said, nervous about his reaction. My husband was more private than I, even elusive about his past, so I worried how he would feel about this Internet publicity.

But he avoided a seat and instead stood behind me as I scrolled through the pages. He patted my shoulder, and raised two thumbs, his universal sign back then of “Okay by me.”

“You’re fine with all of this past year’s posts?” I said to my dearly departed. I wanted to be sure I understood him correctly. I knew there could be several filters between heaven and earth that might mess with communication.

“Sure,” he said, “I’m quite the superstar up here,”. “Everyone is jealous they’re not kept alive – well, sort of – like me.”

“Your privacy,” I said, “you don’t have a problem with me sharing our stories with the world?”

“Sweetheart, don’t get a big head. It’s your world, your friends, and your fans. You’ve never kept secrets from them.”

I was relieved to hear this, to get Tommy’s blessing. “Okay, honey,” I said. “You can rest easy. I promise to blow out the candle before I go to bed.”

“Good girl,” he said, then, “love you, Wifey.”

“Love you, too, Hubber, I said; misting at the memory of our pet names for each other.

Forget Him Not

“Please forgive me honey,” I said.

Tommy was ignoring me, and was instead stepping up to a teed ball.

“I don’t know how it happened,” I continued. “I wrote August 24 in ink on my paper calendar, and entered the date on my Apple and Google calendars. But when it arrived – maybe because it was a Saturday – your birthday simply slipped away.”

This attempt at an earth-to-heaven conversation was taking place in bed, when upon awakening the August lapse hit me.  For this supplication, I was propped up on pillows, where on one side were views of morning light edging up my windows, and on the other, framed photographs of my husband.

With guilt covering me like the nearby blanket, I chose not to focus on his portrait, but on the scene I was conjuring in my head. So far, it was not going as anticipated.

Still ignoring me, my husband – who died November 2 – raised his club and as I’ve seen him do hundred of times, slammed the golf ball, then returned to his stance to watch it sail across the green.

“Gorgeous!” I said, hoping my praise would swing his attention to me.

I chose a golf course for my apology scene because that’s where Tommy spent so many happy hours. I figured in that setting, he’d be in a mood to forgive his wife.

Maybe he’s snubbing me, I thought, because birthdays were never a big deal to him. In our 14 years of marriage, my husband refused offers of parties, preferring dinners out with close friends.

And when I’d plead for clues for his present, he’d shrug and say, “You don’t have to get me anything.” Of course, I’d ignore that response, and along with a chocolate cake awaiting his awakening on his birthday morning, there’d be a wrapped mystery novel, or a dozen golf balls, or a dressy shirt I’d have to remind him to wear.

Lacking a reaction, I continued pressing my regrets because the incident frightened me. It wasn’t that I worried about frays in my memory; it was the nag that if I forgot Tommy’s birthday, did that mean I was forgetting him?

I had been certain my nightly routine would seal my husband in my brain. Every night before I go to sleep, I say, “Love you, Tommy” to the pillow I use as his stand-in. And I hear back, clear as if he were at my left instead of his surrogate, “Love you, too!”

We also have frequent conversations where I include his response in my imaginary clip. “You’ll be happy to hear I did 30 minutes on the bike,” I’ll tell him. “Good, girl!” he’ll say from the fancy gym I place him in.

Like the golf course, I frequently set Tommy in a tableau I know he’ll enjoy.  I visualize my three-times-a-week YMCA athlete now ensconced in a work out area favored by world-class athletes. I see Babe Ruth, Johnny Weissmuller, Walter Payton, and Bobby Jones mingling with my guy. 

In this setting, he’s happy to see me. I wait until my strongman finishes bench pressing and wipes down the equipment with a paper towel. I watch wistfully as his body, shiny with sweat, takes a drink from his favorite water bottle.

But in this morning’s heart-to-heart, it appears I haven’t yet convinced my husband of my repentance. So, I try a more spiritual tack. Although he wasn’t Jewish, Tommy was the one who encouraged me to light Sabbath candles. “Shabbat shalom,” he’d energetically respond when I completed the ritual every Friday night.

“You know Friday night is the beginning of Yom Kippur,” I said. “Before that day, I must seek reconciliation for the wrongs committed against others. You’re at the top of my list.

“And, to make sure it doesn’t happen again, I’ve got a reminder set on the 2014 Jewish calendar. There, honey, your Hebrew birthday is August 22. Like you’ve seen me do with my parents’, I’ll light a Yahrzeit candle in your memory. That’ll give me two days before your actual birthday to catch the date.  Will you forgive me now?”

Finally, Tommy paused at the next hole. He leaned over to place a golf ball on a tee, then stood straight up and faced me. He was smiling, with his brown eyes as sunny as I remembered them. “Of course I forgive you, Sweetheart,” he said, “you know I could never stay mad at you. Now scram; you’re holding up the foursome behind us.”