Declared dead on Dec. 19, 1987. Mom. I was with my father and two younger sisters in a room in a funeral chapel. Or maybe a funeral office is really what it was. What a business! People always die. Damn hospital keep ’em alive too long (thinking like a mortician) but everyone winds up here sooner or later including the owner. I just get annoyed when they try to point you to the gala selection – only eight grand but look how many flowers and limos you get.
I was in the funeral office, and we were all writing down notes. What to say in the eulogy. What to write on her stone?
But the following notes are all I wrote in this small spiral notebook. Obviously trying to figure out what to put on mom’s tombstone (I still use that old-fashioned word. I guess it should be gravestone? I wonder if they have an entirely new slang name in the 21st century?)
Music was a big part of my mothers life – but it wasn’t —
Music was an important part of my mother’s life, but it wasn’t the most important. Her family was.
[ We would eventually come up with suggestions to the rabbi which I wrote down below; but the idea was to write something unique on her stone. She was one of a kind. One of us came up with the idea of engraving some of her own musical compositions, at least a bar or two on her gravestone. Probably my idea. My father, across the wooden table from me, nodded and said that was my job.
You see, my mother (who had been a child prodigy on the ivories) had written the score for a small documentary about an old-lady painter in the Bronx whose name was Adele. I would run the projector in our Bronx living room, and she’d sit at the Steinway and make up themes, pretty much with me directing her.
Saying things like, now we need something quick. How about more Yiddish feeling. A Yiddish waltz would be great here.
At any rate she wrote a very slow mournful theme for the opening when we see ancient Adele, with a shopping cart, walking down the street. Sort of a very slowed down John Travolta walking down the street to the tune of You Can Tell By the Way I Use My Walk… But the Adele theme (filmmed on Jerome Avenue maybe… was like a Yiddish funeral march. Not completely dead. Definitely with some accidentals and minor sounding chords.
I can hear it in my head now, as I write this. So let’s get back to my actual notes at the time.]
I was riding up to Tam’s house yesterday to get the tape of my mothers music — and I realized that music wasn’t the biggest part of her life — being a mother and [scratched out] wife
[I’m sure that sounded too corny, even to me. So then I start again.]
We’re all looking for ways to sum up, to paint a picture of Sheba. What was her life about? She fought her illness [Lupus] courageously – but that wasn’t all of her. She was a gifted musician – but that’s not why we’d remember her.
[And so now, with that background, we get to the point in the journal where I actually say something worth reading.]
The irony, maybe the tragedy of her life was that she was at her best right before the illness struck. She had completed her masters in recreational therapy. And she was making every effort to take care of her body. She would go down to the track in the Bronx [the Oval] in the morning, in sweatpants and running shoes, and somehow – at her own pace – she would make it around that track.
She was also beginning to seriously practice the piano again when the disease struck. Not as it had been as a child because some tyrannical figure [her father] was forcing her to – but because she wanted to. She began to play a little bit in public for the first time in a long time and seemed to enjoy it.
Although the disease crippled her fingers to the point where music was impossible, although that was a terrible tragedy, music was never the most important part of her life. Her family was.
Her husband and her children. Those were always uppermost in her mind and spirit.And if anything positive came out of the last eight years of her struggle, it was the cementing of those relationships.
In some ways, none of us were ever closer than we were during those years.