Category Archives: Support

Nitzavim-It is Not in Heaven

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Dancing with the Torah at my Bat Mitzvah at Temple Beth El, in Eureka, CA on September 15, 2001. All photos in this post were taken by my dear friend and Mussar sister Amanda Devons.

The teaching below is one I gave about the piece of Torah that I was born under. It’s called Nitzavim and reflects who I am. My Bat Mitzvah was four days after 9/11. Some of my family couldn’t come because planes were still not flying then. Other members got in cars and drove for days. The Temple was full beyond capacity with friends and family and the larger community looking for a place to mourn and be together in the face of the horrible events of 9/11. On Shabbat, Jews have the practice, which we’ve maintained for thousands of years, in the face of pogroms and horrors, as best we can of praising and finding good and resting from ugliness and violence on the Sabbath. I remember my mother remarking that perhaps this was why we were still around, because we found a way to have joy and goodness despite everything.

I’ve been following Greta Thurnberg’s massive impact lately and was remembering my sixteen year old self. Back at Boulder High School in 1979. a long time ago, my friends and I started a club called “Students for a Positive Future.” We were trying to do what is happening now. Of course, if our movement along with so many others’ who have been trying to do what is happening now, had been remotely effective, Greta and her generation wouldn’t be facing the horror they are making everyone face up to now. As, many of you know, this issue is not new or trending. Scientists have known about this for over fifty years. Spiritual people, tribal people, dreamers, artists and visionaries have known all of this as well for a very long time.

It is not impossible to make change, it is not too late. Nitzavim written thousands of years ago, states that if we ignore doing the right thing, there will be consequences. When we don’t care for each other and the earth, this action brings about the curses mentioned in the Torah in Nitzavim. When we honor each other and the earth, Blessings will ensue and miracles and change. I wrote this 18 years ago. I’ve been advocating what I shared then about this reality for my entire life. I will continue to advocate this way for the rest of the days I’m granted on this earth.

Lo Vashamayim Hi ~ It is not in Heaven

D’var Torah Nitzavim

by Nicole Andrée Barchilon Frank/Shoshanah Adamah Cohen 

September 15, 2001 ~ Elul 27, 5761

Wisdom, Joy and hope are not in some distant time; they are not in Heaven or across a great stream. We have access to the best in life and we indeed are responsible for infusing the world with Joy, Wisdom and Hope or Misery, Greed and Violence. It is our actions that make the world a Holy Place or not. Those actions if they are to be connected to Heaven or to Holiness must be generated in our hearts and then manifested in our mouths “Ki Karov Elecha, Ha D’Var Me Od, B’ficha U’vilvavecha La’soto.” “Rather, the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart-to perform it.”

Nitzavim is rich; it has a wealth of beauty and delight in it. I was powerfully moved when I learned that Nitzavim was my Torah portion/Parsha; the one I was born under 37 years ago in Paris, France. My whole life has been a journey towards joining the core of my heart to my mouth and actions. The Torah is not just a book to me, but a Holy Living Presence in my life. My birth Torah parsha reflects who I am and who I can be in this world.  As Rabbi Mordechai Gafni teaches, each of us has a “soul print,” our own unique essence. Nitzavim is one such reflection of my soul, and sharing my Torah here with you, is my invitation to you, into the heart of my soul.

My choices here today are an affirmation of who I am and how I am choosing to connect to the whole of creation in a covenental way. There are many kinds of relationships and ways of maintaining them. My relationship to my Judaism, profound and deep as it has been in the past, is shifting today. In my lifetime, no one person has insisted that I take on this tradition. This lack of coercion has been a great gift, allowing me to enter into my Judaism without prior wounding or dissatisfaction. No one asked me to observe the Mitzvot or to come into this covenant. It has always been a choice, for which I bless my parents. And yet, I hear my ancestors speaking in my heart. I felt compelled to learn Hebrew, I feel connected to my Jewish family in my kishkas. I have needed to touch the Divine in a uniquely Jewish way. To do that, I have had to learn Torah. Today, I share my Torah with you, with my ancestors and with all those who are here in other than physical form. I am making physical my bond, my covenant, my dedication and my commitment to Torah on this 27th day of Elul.

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Receiving a Blessing from my sister by Love/Choice Terret Smith, Rabbi Naomi Steinberg is smiling in the background here.

The great French 11th Century Torah commentator Rashi reminds us, at this point in our biblical story, that we are being bound to Holiness a second time by our presence before Moses on his dying day. Remember that Torah time is different than our time. Moses’ final day was a biblical day. It went on for quite a long time. Rashi quoting Verse 9 states the following about this day:

“YOU ARE STANDING THIS DAY [ALL OF YOU BEFORE THE LORD] –This teaches that Moses assembled them in the presence of the Omnipresent on the day of his death, in order to initiate them into a covenant.”

Moses initiates us into the covenant on his final day. Rashi also teaches that The Holy One is undertaking to make a second covenant with us,

“THAT THE HE MAY ESTABLISH YOU TODAY FOR A PEOPLE UNTO HIMSELF–He undertakes so much trouble (in making another covenant with you) in order that He may keep you for a people in His presence…. because he has promised it unto you and sworn unto your fathers not to exchange their descendants for another nation. For this reason. He binds you by these oaths not to provoke Him to anger since He on His part, cannot dissociate himself from you.”

Not only are we being bound, but also the Holy One is being bound to us. The very nature of creation is woven into the fabric of you and me.

This beautiful weaving is different in Hebrew than it is in English. For many of us it is difficult to connect with the Torah in English. It is only in Hebrew that it has become embodied and exciting for me. Two years of Hebrew studying in between dishes and child-rearing is by no means enough. I’m still a beginner, but a beginner with a deep desire to continue learning. In our tradition, each Hebrew word of the Torah is itself a tree bearing fruit. There is a root within each word and each root has branches. We are invited, once we know these letters deeply, to explore their branches.

The Kabbalists and great Torah Scholars do this all the time. The word Yisrael is often translated as the one who wrestles with the Divine. The Hebrew word Yisrael is often used concurrently to mean the Jewish people or the Holy Land. Shoshana Cooper teaches that if we play with the letters of the word Yisrael, we can get the word Sari-el. She reminds us that our biblical mother Sarah was a priestess in her own time and had the name Sarai prior to joining herself to Abraham’s El. Women today can claim Yisrael as their name too, because it can mean the El of Sarai. This Sarai El for me is part of the word Yisrael. I am connected through my biblical fore-mothers and forefathers as well as through the action of being a wrestler or dancer with the Divine. There are many ways to refer to Holiness in the Torah. There isn’t one word for the Divine Being.  There are feminine words and masculine ones.

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Reuven Moore/Reuven Uri ben David v’Feygela, May his memory continue to be for Blessing, reading from the Torah at my Bat Mtizvah.

The very beginning of this parsha says all of Israel, those who are present and those who are not present, are included for the final binding as they were for the original Holy Sharing at Sinai. The workers and the priests, all of us, those not yet born and those already gone are included. What does it mean when the Torah says all of us are present, even those who are not physically present are included in the covenant? What is this saying about the nature of creation and the universe? The Torah is revealing here one of her deepest mysteries, asking us to enter into a world that is not easily accessible, yet nevertheless present for us.

This task is still not too far away though, “it is as near to us as our hearts and our mouths.”  On one level this is simple. It has been understood by generations of Jews. It refers to a different sense of time, of responsibility and of oath taking.  The time referred to here is both linear, and circular. It extends forever inward as well as outward. It includes the past generations as well as the future ones. This notion of time is difficult to understand because many people still think of time as only linear and forward directed.

The Torah is not only the first five books of the Bible. The Torah is also considered the body of Jewish thoughts, writings and rulings over time and in time. From the beginning of time beyond our ability to know is Torah. In linear time the Torah includes the knowledge and work of several thousand years. Since ancient times sages and students have been wrestling with these teachings. We have brought these words into our hearts through prayer, meditation and deep thought. We have and still do respond and enter into dialogue with the text. This is the fundamental characteristic of a living tradition. However, despite the wide range of Jewish thought, I believe, there is one Divine code for Jews. It is the one pattern, one DNA, one underlying order to our universe. It is the Hebrew Torah.

That Hebrew Torah speaks not only about relationships in time, but also about our responsibilities in time and across time. In his book Of Water and The Spirit, African Shaman Malidoma Patrice Somé talks about his people’s sense of time and obligation. He points out that, in his tribe’s belief system, he must redeem the actions of his ancestors. If his ancestors hurt another person and that hurt was not resolved or healed in the past, it is likely his life will be affected, and he may be called upon to create resolution. This is a radical concept for many.

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Receiving my parents’ Blessings. Helen Redman and Kenny Weissberg jumped in their car and drove up from San Diego to make it to my Bat Mitzvah right after 9/11.

This African tribal belief is like many Native American beliefs about time, responsibility and our place on the earth as well. And let us not forget, as Jews, we are a tribal people. Nitzavim reminds us that if we fail to keep our obligations or we fail to follow the teachings, not only will we pay, the earth itself will become barren.

The Torah can be read as an environmental code book. The land must rest, just as we must. Fruit bearing trees are never to be cut down in acts of war, animals are to be treated with compassion and concern. Lack of foresight, vision and respect for our planet leads to ruin. This parsha both cautions us and guides us. It asks us to be both respectful and to use our hearts as guides about how to live.

If I am responsible for the mistakes and woundings of my ancestors then I have a lot of work to do, especially if they weren’t good people. Likewise, I reap the benefits of their goodness and grace if they were devoted to good works and loving-kindness. Conversely, if my great great grandchildren will be paying for my mistakes, then I really want to be careful about what I do. I want to step gently on the earth and work very hard to do no harm. My children reap pain or grace based on my choices.

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Pictured here are: Ethan, my youngest who was four years old at my Bat Mitzvah, my husband Kevin’s only time attending Temple Beth El, he carried Ethan around for hours while I waxed poetic; my G!d-daughter Aleta was sporting fuchsia hair for the event! My nephews Owen and Soren are also here in the front row with me. Their mom, my sister by Love/Choice, Calryn Aston got in a car from Boulder, Colorado and drove for three days to make it to my Bat Mitzvah in California. They found out on the drive about 9/11.

This parsha describes in detail what will happen to the person who thinks he or she can do lip service to this covenant. In Deuteronomy, Chapter 29: verse 22, we hear of the earth drying up “all its soil devastated by sulfur and salt, beyond sowing and producing.” This is the result of not living correctly. This is not some myth, this is the reality of our planet. Those who study and understand the earth, know we are in deep trouble. Too many of us live out our lifetimes as if it were the only one that mattered.

In our prayer service though, we sing of another way. We sing L’dor Vador “from generation to generation. The first letter of the Torah is a Beit, the last letter is a Lamed. These two letters create the word Lev. On Simchas Torah, what do we do? We read the last letters and immediately follow them with the first letters, so we create the word Lev/Heart. This teaching about Torah being in our hearts is woven throughout. We are nothing without our hearts.

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This photo was taken right after Kevin’s mother gave me a powerful blessing, I call her my Mother in Love (because we have such a loving and good relationship). Luckily, she had come out earlier from Tennessee so she didn’t have to miss out and neither did we!

All of this is very close to us, “exceedingly so.” I found Rashi’s teaching on this fascinating. He teaches that even if it were in Heaven or far away, we would be obliged to go seek it and do it. Why are we obliged to seek out the correct path or teaching? This takes us back to our fundamental crossing over or acceptance of the covenant. Being bound to the covenant means it is a part of us, and if we were somehow separated from a part of us, we would need to go looking for it. This teaching also is about Teshuvah as I mentioned earlier. Returning to our center, our originally glorious soul is the way of Torah. It isn’t far away, yet it can seem impossible to reach. Following the correct path means flowing with the current of life instead of against it. It means walking gently on the earth. Being tender with each other becomes an imperative. By doing this, we find that we are connected to Holiness and that we have chosen Life, the honoring of this uniquely complex and beautiful world.

The Holy One has given us a chance to be partners of a sort. Our ways of speaking and being in the world can either be linked to our hearts and leading towards life-affirming choices. Or we can be apathetic, not actively engaged. As Sam and Pearl Oliner’s research shows this is an unfortunate and all too common path. Being a “bystander” can lead to a lack of caring that promotes violence and all the “isms” in our world. We are being asked in Nitzavim to listen to our hearts and to bind our mouths, our expression of self, to the true knowing of our core. Doing this reminds us that we are responsible and capable and that our actions and words have power.

Learning to recognize the Hebrew words and to chant the trope was a completely terrifying and daunting experience at first. My fear of singing goes back to an Elementary school teacher who told me I couldn’t sing and put me in the “B” choir with one other kid. It was too awful and after a few classes full of her impatience and disdain, I gave up. I found my voice again while pregnant with Shira, determined to sing to my child. My voice has surprisingly undergone a transformation while learning to chant trope. With practice, perseverance and help I’ve felt the beauty and the music of the Divine’s teaching flow through me. It became possible to bind my heart to my mouth. By engaging with my tradition and working on my Bat Mitzvah I made a deep connection that carried through from my Lev to my mouth to you!

When I first heard Hebrew as an 18-year-old woman, my whole being was affected. The moment was timeless, as if I were a gong, which had just been struck, the vibrations have carried me through to this day. In The Book of Blessings, Marcia Falk speaks my heart when she says: “English is my s’fat eym “mother tongue,” but Hebrew is my s’fat dam–the language of my blood.”

So, too for me, Hebrew is my s’fat dam. Learning these letters is a way to encounter the source material of my being. This day is the culmination of years of study, of my blood pounding out a steady rhythm of longing for the Divine, for Holiness and for a language that truly speaks my heart.  Thank you for being here as witnesses to my process. I am deeply grateful for all of you who have traveled far, both physically and spiritually; for all of you who have helped me to get to this moment and especially all of you who continually support me in my life and choices. I am a very lucky and Blessed woman. I pray that all of you will find the language and messages of your hearts and be blessed with people to share with and be supported by as I am by all of you.

Amen

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On the Bima right to left: Arnie Herskovic, Rabbi Naomi Steinberg, Phil Lazzar, Issac Barchilon Frank, Kevin Frank, Shira Barchilon Frank, Nicole Barchilon Frank and Roz Keller.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bibles/Torahs: Kaplan, Rabbi Aryeh. The Living Torah. Jerusalem: Maznaim Publishing Corporation, 1981; Rosenbaum, Rev. M, and Dr. A.M. Silberman et al, Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth & Rashi’s Commentary. Jerusalem: The Silberman Family, 5733; Scherman, Rabbi Nosson Editor, and Contributing Editors: Rabbi Yaakov Blinder, Rabbi Avie Gold, Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz. The Stone Edition, TANACH. New York: Metsorah Publications, 1996.

Other Works Cited: Encyclopedia Judaica, Volume 14: Jerusalem: Keter, 1972,  Fox, Everett. The Five Books of Moses. The Schocken Bible: Volume I. New York: Schocken Books, 1995., Falk, Marcia. The Book of Blessings. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996. Oliner, Samuel P. and Pearl M. The Altruistic Personality, Rescuers of Jews In Nazi Germany. New York: The Free Press, Macmillan, Inc, 1988; Somé, Malidoma Patrice. Of Water and The Spirit. Winkler, Gershon, and Lakme Batya Elior. The Place Where You Are Standing Is Holy. Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1994.

Quotes to put in text: Sherman, Rabbi Nosson & Contributing editors. The Stone Edition TANACH. New York: Metsorah Publications, p. 501; Rosenbaum, Rev. M, and Dr. A.M. Silberman et al, Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth & Rashi’s Commentary. Jerusalem: The Silberman Family, 5733.p. 144; Ibid., p. 144. Ibid., p. 144.;Encyclopedia Judaica, Volume 14: Jerusalem: Keter, 1972. p. 125.; Winkler, Gershon, and Lakme Batya Elior. The Place Where You Are Standing Is Holy. Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1994. p. 21.; Oliner, Sam & Pearl. The Altruistic Personality. 1988; Falk, Marcia. The Book of Blessings. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996. p. xv.

In addition to all of my beautiful friends and teachers at Temple Beth El, I have been  Blessed with so many Special Teachers who have helped me find my way. I can only acknowledge some of them here. I hope you will get the chance to experience their teachings: Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (May his memory be for a Blessing), Frida Kahlo (May her memory be for a Blessing) Devorah Mann (May her memory be for a Blessing),  Emma Goldman (May her memory be for a Blessing) Anne Frank (May her memory be for a Blessing)   Etty Hillesium (May her memory be for a Blessing) Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (May his memory be for a Blessing), Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi,        Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield, Rachel Heller, Malidoma Patrice Somé, Rabbi Gershon Winkler,  Rabbi Marc Gafni, Noam Heller, Gloria Steinem, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Judith Mohling, June Jordan, Rabbi David Zaslow, Rabbi Shefa Gold,              Elie Wiesel, Fatima Mernissi, Rabbi Lynn Gottleib, Rabbi David Cooper, Marge Piercy,      Marcia Falk, Shoshana Cooper, Alice Walker, Ellen Frankel, Rabbi  Margaret Holub,            Rabbi Jackie Brodsky, Starhawk, Kendra Moshe, Rabbi Marcia Prager, Ross Albertson,        Louise Erdrich, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevitt, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Leonard Peltier, Nawal El Sadawi

Not Ready to Say Goodbye to Saying Kaddish

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The Altar I made to mark the eleven months since my father Jacov ben Perla v Chaim Ha Cohen’s death according to the Jewish calendar.

I’ve been weepy the last two days and I just figured out why. My body and heart are always ahead of my mind and brain. In Hebrew the word Lev means Heart and also Mind. So, my heart/mind was knowing something that my brain hadn’t figured out yet. I woke up with pain behind my eyes and a headache, yesterday. It was pretty early in the morning, but my husband woke up to hold me. I know when I have that kind of pain it is because I need to cry. I didn’t know why, but the why wasn’t important. So, he held me and I sobbed and released, still not sure what my tears were for or about.

Before falling asleep last night I thought, I need to check about the Jewish date for my father’s Yahrzeit. This is the day we mark once a year on the anniversary of a person’s death. The calendar for us is a combination Lunar and Solar calendar, so it is different than the Gregorian one used by most folks in this country. I knew that we stop saying Kaddish in the eleventh month from the death and since it was May 9th and my father died June 18/19th of 2018, I figured I better check. The Orthodox website run by Chabad.org is where I go when I need to calculate Hebrew birthdays or deathdays. They have a very easy interface and give you the dates for ten years out if you want.

So, I went to their site and plugged in my dad’s information and here’s what I got:

Yahrtzeit Information
The date of passing for this person was on:

Monday, June 18, 2018 – Tammuz 6, 5778

Observe the upcoming Yahrtzeit on:

Tuesday, July 9, 2019 – 6 Tammuz, 5779

Yahrtzeit observances begin on Monday evening.
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SHOW YAHRTZEIT DATES FOR NEXT 10 YEARS »

Kaddish Information

Kaddish is recited until mincha on the afternoon of:

Friday, May 10, 2019 – Iyar 5 5779

About the kaddish end date:

>Kaddish is recited for eleven months from the date of passing. Even if the interment took place a number of days after death, the 11 months are still counted from the date of passing. However, if the burial was postponed for two or more weeks after death, kaddish should be recited until the end of 11 months counting from the date of the burial.

I burst into tears upon seeing the Friday, May 10, 2019 date as the last time to say Kaddish for my father on a daily basis. I haven’t been saying Kaddish everyday for him for the last eleven months, but that didn’t matter. I have been thinking about him and saying the Kaddish whenever I was in a Jewish setting with a Minyan (ten Jewish folks or any ten loving folks will work for me).

I wasn’t, I am not ready to stop grieving my father. And, of course I don’t need to stop grieving him, but this marker hit me hard and I realized again with waves of tears that I am still very, very sad and missing my father every day. Grief is just not a one time thing you feel and are done with. I have been living it and reeling from it for the last eleven months very intensely. So, in the morning, this morning I again asked my husband for his loving arms and I cried some more and shared stories with him about my father.

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My man and I over a year ago celebrating my Beau Père Kenny Weissberg’s 70th, photo taken by Kenny’s very talented sister Ellen Weissberg Whyte.

I had big plans for tonight’s Shabbat dinner. I was going to cook Iranian Eggplant and make Raita and create a sort of pre-30th Anniversary vegetarian feast for my husband. Instead, after my energy/chiropractic/sound treatment with Sarah Griffith and my healing MAT (Muscle Activation Training) with Jazz and then shopping to get groceries, I found myself in a puddle of tears once I got home, barely able to get the groceries up the steps, for emotional, not physical reasons.

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Close up of altar, with the picture of my father and my sister about three months before she died. The Columbine and Lilac flowers are from my friend and MAT practitioner Jazz’s garden. The Columbine is the state flower of Colorado, and I could never pick it there, but here in California I can, in honor of my father and my sister Paula, whose Yahrzeit is coming up soon this May 16th in the Gregorian calendar.

No fancy dinner tonight. I finished setting up the altar for my father, pictured above and I’ll make a simple salad and asparagus for dinner. I’ll cook tomorrow, if I feel up to it. Today is about grieving and being sad and surrendering to my sadness, honoring that eleven lunar months have passed since my father was in a body. I don’t have to recite the mourner’s prayer for him everyday any more. Instead, I move into the wisdom of the Jewish practices of saying this prayer for him on the anniversary of his death, and three times more a year during the Yiskor service. So, four times a year, I’ll say this prayer for him, until I’m no longer able for the rest of my life.

Standing up when the Rabbi asks: “Is there anyone observing a Yahrzeit or in the first year of mourning, please stand,” has been a very powerful thing for me. I’ve cried every time I was asked for the name of who I am remembering, not expecting to each time. But, the tears, the body/mind/heart knowing cannot be denied or stopped. I have no desire to change that.

At Passover this year, I was in San Diego at my mother and beau-père’s home. When we got to the teaching and questions about why is this night different from all other nights, something strong came through for me. We ask “why on all other nights do we not even dip our greens/vegetables once, but on this night we dip twice?” This refers to dipping parsley in salt water and charoset into horseradish, so two dippings, double dipping that is encouraged. I was inspired to get honest with my parents about something very hard and sad for me, and so I gave them access to my feelings by introducing the subject through this idea of double dipping.

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The Pre-Passover double dipping table in the San Diego home of Helen Redman and Kenny Weissberg

I shared that usually we all avoid our feelings and on Pesach/Passover, we are being asked very clearly NOT to do that. If we think of the salt water as our tears and ourselves as the thing that needs to dip into them, we can see that our first dip is just a small foray into the emotional realm. Oh, there’s my feeling, yes, I know you’re there, that’s enough. We have that choice, most of the time, to stop ourselves from actually deeply feeling the sadness, grief, joy, fear or whatever emotion we are just lightly touching/dipping into. But, if we have the time or are able and have the support to immerse completely into our emotions, to really double dip, then something transformational and intense happens and we are no longer on the outside looking in, we are fully immersed.

So, this is the territory of emotional work, of grieving. It’s a place, where if we are healthy, we can have some agency and choice. I can’t live in this immersed in pain place all the time. Nothing would get done. It’s also not fair to my friends, family and community because I’m really not able to be present for others when I’m fully immersed in my emotional territory. My husband likes to say that I’m due and can take all the time I want. This is just one of the many things I adore about him. My middle son Issac, upon hearing about some of my sadness a few months back, said: “Mom, you’ve done so much for us, for so many people, if you take the next thirty years off to do whatever you want, that won’t even come close to covering it.” Both these men in my life are deep wells of grounding and tenderness in my life. I’m so very blessed by there understanding of my emotional double dipping.

To be fair, neither one of them likes it when I’m sad, but they don’t push me or aren’t upset by my sadness. I don’t feel as if they’ll topple or be hurt by my pain and grief. I trust their own steady grounding.

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My man Issac, able to hold up whatever needs holding up. We take good care of each other, he and I.
The thing about family is that it’s not perfect or fair. Some members are better able to be around and take care of each other than others. Some parts of my family can hold my emotional double dipping better than others. This doesn’t mean the folks who aren’t able to do that don’t have gifts for me and aren’t available in other extremely helpful and important ways. My family is a messy, complex, messed-up and deeply caring for each other family. I think probably, this is true of most families.
As, I let myself be sad today and grieve the passing and end of day to day interactions and laughter and shared toast in the morning over coffee moments with my father, I’m so grateful for all the members of my family still here for me to cherish and honor and love and be loved by.
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My mother Helen Redman, Beau-Père Kenny Weissberg, and youngest son Ethan, cherishing each other!
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Issac and Shira honoring each other.

 

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Maren, my Mother-in-Love (because we are much closer and care for each other much more than the Mother-in-Law moniker makes room for). Maren and I share a deep love for all things flower and here she is cherishing one of her Iris blossoms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My brother Paul and his partner Kathryn and me too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I were to put up all the pictures of my sisters, my many G!dchildren, my bonus brothers and sisters and all my friends and community who actually are also behind what makes me smile, this blog post would never be finished. So, to all of you, not pictured here, please know, deep in your bones that you are in my heart/mind/Lev always and enable me to double dip, to triple dip and to just be all around drippy as well as silly and whole.

Thank you All!

Tending to Ending

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My father on Father’s Day, his last awake day, seeing the Pacific Ocean in Trinidad, one of his final wishes.

As I began writing this piece there were four more days of sitting shiva happening in our home. This shiva process has been an incredible blessing for me. I have facilitated and been present for many folks at this time, but never been the one to receive this offering. This last year, my father’s death was always on the table. We all knew it could happen at any time, but his will to live and his longevity, had us all a little fooled.

It’s been hard for my husband and I not to blame ourselves for taking him to the beach on a day that turned cold. It was sunny when we left the house, but by the time we got to Trinidad, the weather was cloudy. Also, it was the once a year fish festival, so everything took a very long time, which really wasn’t good for my father. The excursion to the beach was the equivalent of an aerobic work-out for a man with a weak heart, bound to hasten his heart giving out. I didn’t think this at the time, because my father, even in his slow weakening over the last few months, still seemed so vital and alive. This is not about my guilt, although I have some, which I think is okay. Perhaps he would have died a few days later or we might have had him for a few months more. If I’d been in charge, we certainly would have had more time together in the sun and in our home. I’m not in charge though, the Holy One is. My father’s pull date was never in my control.

It was a good last day of him being aware and enjoying his family and surroundings. As we were walking by the Seascape restaurant on the pier, my father said “wouldn’t it be nice to have some French Fries?” I’d been cooking for days to make a Father’s Day Moroccan dinner for my Papa and my husband, and I knew that French fries would eliminate any chance of my father eating that meal. I motioned for my husband to take him down to the pier and indicated that I’d go procure the fries as a surprise for my Papa (papas for Papa).

It took forever, because the restaurant was packed. I’d never ordered fries from this particular place, but when I finally got them fifteen minutes later they were in a large brown paper sack, that was warm, with grease coming through. Kevin and my father were coming towards me and I handed my chilled father a hot bag of fries. His face lit up, he put his hand in the bag and encountered warmth and grease and took a bite and was so happy. We all tried some and I have to say, I do not think I have ever had better fries in my entire life. I am never going back to this restaurant because they are seriously dangerous and I might only ever eat fries again for the rest of my life. Ethan, Kevin, my father and I just kept reaching our hands into the bag. It was truly a never-ending bag of magic delicious ever-warm fries.

We loaded my father back into the car and decided to take the scenic route home, hoping for some sun over the water. This was a bad choice as well, because the road was bumpy and my dad had to hold onto the handle above his seat to feel secure in some parts and that was effort-full and the sun never came out, so the view was obscured and it was just a long twenty-minute bumpy drive. By the time we got to our home and I got my father in his bed, he was not feeling well and had spiked a fever. This was the first fever he’d had since I took over taking care of him (over 6 months full-time care) and I knew it wasn’t a good sign.

Our beloved friend Ana, one of our care-givers, and her boyfriend, had come over for dinner. Originally my father had wanted to meet the boyfriend and give his approval or not! This was not to be. While my sons, husband and our company were eating the meal I’d prepared, I was with my father, trying to get him comfortable. The Humboldt Hospice nurse and I were on the phone a great deal and I got Tylenol into him and started him on .25 ml of morphine every hour for the first time. Ana, gave me a short break and I had a quick bowl of soup while she held his hand. Then Issac and Ethan took a turn.

I spent that evening giving him doses of morphine every hour or more, but in the morning he was miserable and uncomfortable and told me he was miserable. At this point the nurse was on her way and I asked him to wait a few more minutes before I upped his morphine dosage. I thought perhaps the nurse would advise me to do something different or more. He agreed to wait and our regular nurse Tiffany came to our rescue. She wasn’t supposed to be working that Monday, but the Holy One and the Angels must have worked some magic for us, because she happened to have traded shifts with someone, without knowing at the time, we would need her so desperately.

This was huge for me and my father, because she wasn’t someone he didn’t know. She knew him, us and our situation. She helped me get my father set up better in the bed and told me to increase the amount of morphine from .25ml to .50ml every hour and to let me know if that wasn’t working. It did work and from that point on, my father was not uncomfortable or suffering, that we could tell. She told me to call family and tell them he had a day or a few more hours most likely left. She felt certain that he’d had some kind of episode, and I felt so too, because his hands were shaking a lot and he just never had that happen before. I spoke with my brother in Boulder and told him to come now if he felt he needed to. He and my daughter looked into it, but it was pretty clear things were moving very fast.

So, with the help of my sons, we set up the computer by the bed so he could see them and they could see him and my smart technology savvy sons made it possible for my brother, his partner and my daughter to say goodbye to my father visually. He was still conscious and saw them and could smile, but couldn’t talk. He was lucid until his last two hours and could communicate with me via his mouth. I would ask him if he wanted more morphine or water or chocolate (his favorite thing in the world). “Yes,” would be open mouth, “No,” would be closed mouth, and this worked for us. When the small glass I was using, made by my friend Bryan Raskin of Mirador Glass, no longer worked, he was hydrated throughout his last hours with dropperfulls of coconut water or water. I hate plastic and the feel of the smooth glass was soothing for my father and for me.

Papa.Judy.Glass.Perla
My Papa, Jacques Barchilon, born Jacobo Alberto Cohen, in Casablanca Morocco in 1923. He is pictured here: in his Free French Forces uniform; on the day of his wedding to Judy, the love of his life, at the age of 75. The beautiful woman in the back is his mother Perla Barchilon. The sign translates as “Careful! Mean Dog, Ferocious Master.” My father had a bark, but never a bite and didn’t have a dog, but this sign was on his door. The glass from Mirador that I gave him his last liquids with, his wedding ring, his watch as well as stones to remember him by, (a Jewish thing).

During my long vigil with my father (from Sunday afternoon until Tuesday, early a.m. hours), in the afternoon on Monday, I started getting a Maurice Chevalier song playing in my head. It was from our childhood and the chorus goes: “Paris, je t’aime, je t’aime, je t’aime.” Which means, Paris I love you, I love you, I love you. Now, Paris is where I was born, where my father had the best times of his life with his beloved wife Judy, may her memory be for a blessing. I changed the lyrics interspersing, “Papa, je t’aime….,” with the Paris part. He loved that and smiled. I told my brother and he found the original record we’d listened to as children and he put that on for my dad, via our technology sharing. My papa loved that.

The computer became a hindrance, since I wanted to be holding my father’s hand and he wasn’t really in a visual mode anymore. So, we switched to speaker phone and for the final hours of my father’s life in a body, my brother, his partner and my daughter were present. My mother and Kenny were also able to say goodbye this way and this was very important and a huge further healing/tikkun. We all sang to him and cried with him and told him we loved him and would miss him, but were ready for him to go. He was pretty lucid until shortly before his dying. The last words he heard was my chanting the Shema to him.

I will write more about my father’s final weeks and his coming to a belief in an after-life, after 95 years of avid and strong atheism. This made his leaving, for me, so much easier, because he was finally less afraid and had a bit of hope about joining his wife and daughter, my sister Paula. He took his final breaths in the arms of myself and my son Ethan, with our family present for him across many miles via technology that was truly a gift.

Jacobo Alberto HaCohen, (name at his birth), Jack Lawrence (nom de guerre, inspired by his favorite author of the time D.H. Lawrence, so the Nazi’s wouldn’t know he was a Jew, in case he was caught), Jacques Barchilon (American name), Jacov ben Perla v’Haim (Hebrew name) lived 95 full, intense, painful and glorious years from 1923 to 2018, he will be missed.

L'hiver
From my father’s home, which I brought back with me to my home, and which exactly describes what he received from my brother and me. “Quand un père chéri, glacé par la viellesse, Reçoit de ses enfants les soins les plus touchans, Il voit le sombre hiver s’écouler sans tristesse, Et s’endori attendri dans leurs bras caressans.” When a beloved father, made brittle and hard by old age, receives from his children the most tender and touching care, He sees the somber winter of his life evaporating without sadness and falls asleep attended by their caressing arms.

 

 

 

Hooray, Heaven-Driven and Heading Home to my Honey and my Hearth

May Rose from Theresa May
My Merrily Blooms in May rose from my Rosey friend Theresa J. May

My father has agreed to move to our home in California!!!! I can be at my own hearth and help him and have all the support I need. It’s taken a year of my life and my brother’s life and our families’ lives. It has been extremely trying and deeply painful, but more triumphant and terrific than I could ever have imagined. Caring for all the parties in this story, including myself, has taken all of my being. Really, like the rose pictured above, which by the way is the size of a pecan pie, and smells like heaven, there are layers and layers to something this beautiful and there are thorns as well!

If it’s in the cards and written in the stars and with the will of the Divine we will move my father to our home in California. Since last March I have been here most of the time and home very little. It’s been very hard for me to be away from my husband and my home. It’s also been what needed to happen to help my father recover from his heart-attacks and subsequent heart issues and the death of his beloved wife Judy.

“A person, her days are like grass, She blossoms like a flower of a field. Then a wind passes, V’EINENU, and it is all gone, nothing! Her place on earth no longer knows her. But Havaya’s love stretches from world to world, the Holy One’s sovereignty embraces all life.” ~Psalm 103: 15-19  Rabbi Tirzah Firestone’s translation

It appears that my father is not in danger of dying anytime soon, in terms of how he seems to my brother and me. The  Denver Hospice folks are not so sure. My father is better than he has been in months. We have found the right cocktail of different medications given throughout the day along with an oxygen machine. He still uses his walker some part of every day. He sleeps a great deal of the time but is also awake and telling stories and getting his affairs in order. He has been given three choices.

  1. Move in with Kevin and me in Bayside.
  2. Stay in his apartment with care-givers 6 days a week and Paul one day a week.
  3. Go into a nursing home in Boulder with Paul and Kathryn visiting many times a week.

He is choosing to move in with Kevin and I. He is talking with Kevin regularly and there is a growing sense of him having something to look forward to. Ethan will be home for the summer and will help spell me when I need a break and I’ll hire a care-giver as well. The tricky part will be getting him to our home. Paul and I and the hospice team are working out the details so as to minimize the trauma to my father on his body. He has a medical death sentence, he is not getting better, but he may defy the odds and the statistics which do not account for the kind of care my father has been getting. The food, the massages, the love, the time spent in silence and also the stubborn strong Barchilon/Cohen genetic make-up are just not what most folks at this stage in their lives have.

My grandfather Jaimé, lived to almost a hundred and two. My great-grandfather, the Rabbi of Tangiers, Aaron Cohen lived to be a hundred and four. My father has longevity in his bones.

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Aaron Cohen, Rabbi of Tangiers, my Great Grandfather

There is no way to predict when my father will cross the river Jordan and leave this earth. I can no longer stay in his home caring for him indefinitely, the toll on my body and heart is just too great.

The current plan is that I will head home to California the first week in May. My friend and sister, by choice and love, Terret will fly from Boston to Denver to help me pack up the Xterra and drive it back to Arcata. Terret and my father have a sweet relationship, when I moved away, before he found Judy, he would take her out to dinner regularly. She was my proxy, while she lived in Boulder spending time with him.

Terret will spend two days here in Denver with us and then we will drive to Boulder and I will say goodbye to my mother and Kenny, who are now in Boulder to take up residence at their new condo at the Peloton. They will spend a few months of every year here and perhaps move back to Boulder. My brother Paul and I have been getting the space ready for them, with furniture and stereo systems and they arrived to a mostly furnished home. We will fête Kenny (my other beloved father/beau-père) who will be turning 70 on April 30th.

Mom and Ken by Ellen
My mother Helen Redman and Kenny Weissberg, picture taken by his sister Ellen.

It will take Terret and me three to four days to drive back. My friend and another one of my Holy sisters by love, Tara has already been in touch with the Humboldt Hospice.  When I get home, I’ll start getting the back bedroom and our house ready for Dad and making our home accessible and safe for him. My brother will fly with Dad in early June with a portable oxygen machine from Denver to Sacramento. I will drive down to meet them and we will go to a hotel overnight and let Dad rest there. The next day, we will get on the road and drive two or three hours more and stay at a hotel again, unless Dad is up for another three hours of driving and then we will be HOME!

On a spiritual/emotional/liminal note, I have a sense of how hard it is to leave a body. I’ve spent a great deal of time with folks leaving their bodies in my time as the chair of our Hevra Kadisha/Sacred/Burial society. Please see my piece Encountering Death Consciously if you haven’t already. I’ve attended many bedsides and witnessed folks crossing. It is rarely easy for a person to disengage from the shell/vessel of their bodies.

It takes time and some interesting uniquely personal set of circumstances for each person to be finished with their bodies.

Since my father has no religious beliefs, of any kind, it’s pretty much the end for him, like stepping off a cliff and knowing that’s final. I think moving to our home is sort of a gentle step towards death, a letting go of Judy, of their home, of his life as a professor of French for over 35 years at CU, of all his Free French Forces resistance books and posters and all the stuff of his 95 years of life.

This is where he met and married my mother, this is where my sister died, this is where my brother was born, this is where he was divorced, this is where he worked and lived and where he got together with Judy and married her and enjoyed almost 20 years of love with her. This is where she died and where he is mourning her actively.

Our home is none of those things. It’s full of music, books and great art and the best part is Kevin (who my father, like me, adores). He will be able to sit on my deck and enjoy the flowers and the sunshine and the beauty of the outdoors. He will be closer to the sky and the earth and to a place of expansiveness and grace. So, his coming to us, is like a step away from his life, but not the final one, it’s the next one, bringing him closer to the step out of his body.

Please hold him, my brother and me in your thoughts and prayers as we navigate the next two months of work to make this happen. My father will have been six months with Denver Hospice by May. The statistics for his condition, age and situation say he should be dead very soon. As Mark Twain said though: “There’s lies, damn lies and then there’s statistics.”

We just have no idea what will unfold, but we’re making plans for a shift and hope it will be a gentle bridge to a time of sunshine, Ethan playing Chopin and Bach on the piano for him, Kevin having intellectual conversations with him and telling him jokes, flowers blooming, time on our deck with the birds and my beloved Redwood Tree standing sentinel over Papa and reminding him of all that is beautiful and good and of course, lots of artichokes!

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Chez Papa with my brother Paul Barchilon and his partner Kathryn Taylor. Photo by my cousin Dan Levy.

While my father and I spend a great deal of time in silence, his preference, there are times when he wants to wax philosophical.  I’m sharing teachings with him from the Buddhist tradition, the Jewish tradition and many others. Lovely and meaningful conversations are ensuing and unfolding around all of this.

Here’s one of the teachings from a Buddhist perspective that we read together.

37 Practices: Verse 4

“You will separate from long-time friends and relatives. You will leave behind the wealth you worked to build up. The Guest, your consciousness, will move from the inn, your body. Give up your life—this is the practice of a bodhisattva” ~Tokme Zongpo

“Tokme Zongpo was a 14th century Tibetan monk. After serving as abbot of his monastery, he retreated for 20 years and wrote these 37 practices of a Bodhisattva, seen by many as the core of Mahayana Buddhism.” ~Rabbi Tirzah Firestone

This teaching comes from the materials that were part of a Shabbaton/Weekend intensive I attended, called: (Lighting the Way in a Dark World The Tzaddik and the Bodhisattva). This workshop was given by one of my dear friends, and teachers Rabbi Tirzah Firestone.  My father remarked that the teachings were very interesting and beautiful. No more comment has been made about them, but I know he is processing slowly all of these moments we share. One of the teachings from the weekend really moved me profoundly and my favorite line is at the end.

“He (Rabbi Akiva, born 20 CE) used to say: Everything is given on loan. And a net is spread out over all that is alive. The store is open and the storekeeper extends credit; the ledger is open and the hand writes, and whoever wishes to borrow may come and borrow. And the collectors go round every day and exact payment, with or without our knowledge. And they do not act capriciously; their judgments are correct. And everything is prepared for the banquet.” ~Mishneh Avot/Pirkei Avot:

“Commentary: Life is on loan. Receive all that is given, and do not pretend to choice or ownership. You are a knot of God’s infinitely knotted net, never apart from and always a part of the One Who Is All. Reality allows you to do as you will, for good and for bad, and every deed has its consequence.”

~Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Many folks no longer have any relationship to Holiness or any beliefs or spiritual practices, and my father is in that category. This makes me very sad for all the suffering and fear he and others endure around so many things. This teaching by Rabbi Akiva, is one that speaks to my core. I know that everything is being prepared for the banquet. One of my ways of serving the Divine is to try to prepare a banquet for folks now, to offer them beauty, delicious food, kindness, compassion and spaciousness. I do this because I want to help create a pathway, in all those I encounter, to remind them that Olam Ha Ba/ the World to Come is real. Our time here on this earth is an opportunity to practice our table manners for the glorious banquet on the other side of this life.

 

Blue Shabbat Flowers
The Banquet I prepared for the Shechinah, every Shabbat,  in Ireland when I was on my silent, solitary retreat.

 

Sharing Stories, Settling Down, Sorting, Sifting and Slowly Letting Go.

Morocco Street by Perla
Painting of Moroccan street scene by Perla Barchilon, mother of José, Arthur, Lili, Jacques and Maurice, my paternal grandmother. The colors here are not as bright and vibrant as the painting itself.

 

“I’m depressed, Nicole and I have many regrets.”

“Well, Papa, that’s understandable. You are slowly dying and your body is getting weaker every day. This is not easy or pleasant and your mind is completely aware of this slow degradation of your body. Your beloved wife died a few months ago; you have lots of reasons to be sad.  I think you are incredibly courageous to be navigating this time the way you are. I wish there was more I could do to help you feel better. Would talking about your regrets be helpful? I’m here if you want to share.”

And then my father started to tell me about his deepest regrets and how badly he feels and what a failure he was with certain people. He mentioned how he behaved towards his mother. This was his first statement of regret. My father has never said one nice word about his mother in the entire time I’ve been alive. Every story about her is negative and puts her in a bad light. So, for him to say, he felt badly about how he treated her, is pretty monumental. I feel waves of energy and spirits are moving through the space as my father shares. It’s a timeless and powerful moment. I also need to mention that my father regularly shares that I am like his mother, especially around how much food I prepare and eat, but unlike his mother I do not force him to eat anything.

I ask him about what he regrets in terms of his behavior towards his mother, my grandmother Perla. He says he wasn’t empathetic to her and didn’t have empathy towards her situation. I asked him if he’d ever apologized to her and he said he had and that  she had told him: “You never need to apologize to a mother.”

Perla Posing
Perla, age sixteen or seventeen, Morocco right around the time she married my Gran-papa, around the turn of the century.

This is the first remotely loving story my father has ever told me about his mother. I can see her dismissing my father’s apology with this statement in one way and also being very moved by it. My grandmother, Perla Barchilon y Cohen was an amazing woman, but she wasn’t the mother my father wanted or needed. Nevertheless, he has a portrait of her in a place of prominence that my mother did of her, when she came to Paris for my birth over 54 years ago.

We spoke more about his mother and I asked him if Perla had ever been empathetic or sensitive to him, if she had taught him how to be kind and empathetic? He said “No,” and I pointed out that he didn’t have any role models growing up about how to be the way he wishes he had been. I told him I was amazed at his empathy and how he was still growing and working on improving himself. We spoke about how Judy, May her memory be for a Blessing, was the person who finally taught him the empathy he wanted to have. She showed him how to be kinder and to think about the feelings of others more. He agreed with me about this and it made him sad to talk about Judy.  Perhaps we will revisit this mother regret, but I hope that he feels freer to let this one go now.

IMG_2165
Perla Barchilon, age seventeen probably.  At the age of sixteen, she was married to my grandfather Jaimé Cohen (Spanish version of  the Hebrew name Chaim). He was 20. She had five sons and was a wonderful painter in Morocco in the early part of the last century. She lived through World War II in Morocco and her artwork was celebrated and respected for over fifty years. She was a Jewish woman in a Muslim country and she was a painter. I remember her still painting when I was a little girl in Morocco. She was a very old woman at that point in her seventies, which now that I’m 54 doesn’t seem that old to me. She was born around 1898 and died in 1988.

I am in this very complex place of trying to comfort my father in any kind of way that works for him. I’m trying to balance my inclination to impart, share,  and perhaps somehow convince, through my touch and my heart and my presence, the tremendous relationship to Holiness and to Hope that is possible for my father. I don’t want him to be sad, depressed, afraid or certain that his end is an end. He has no belief in any spiritual system at all.

Whereas, I am walking into and out of Olam Ha Bah and the Angelic and Supernal Realms often. I feel these energies surrounding my father and I’m wanting him to feel the presence of the Divine and to know that he will be safe, at peace and not suffering after he dies. This is my need. My father is a devout Atheist. He maintains there is no such thing as a soul, so he doesn’t have one and there won’t be any Heaven for him.

In the Jewish tradition, we have a final confession as part of the dying process. We didn’t borrow this from the Catholics, they probably got the whole idea from us! Our confession is very different though. It is called a Viddui and is said by someone when they are on their deathbed. It is a general request for forgiveness for all wrongdoings in our lives and a listing of those wrongs. It also has a clause/caveat that states, we might not be dying, a miracle could happen and we might recover, but we still want to be clear now. I love the language of this, asking for forgiveness, stating our wrongs and then saying, we might get better, who knows? This might not be a final confession after all.

In addition to the final confession, there are daily, weekly, monthly and yearly cycles of self-scrutiny, correction, confession of wrongs to the person one has wronged, making amends and attending to the patterns that might be causing us to make these errors. We’re all about confession, it just doesn’t happen in a box with a priest and a screen.

I keep looking for opportunities for my papa and I to cross the bridge between my world and his. I don’t need him to change or believe, I just want him not to be in pain or distress, physical or emotional. If there is something I can offer to ease his suffering, than I want to do it. He appreciates my touch, my cooking, my massages and my taking care of his daily and nightly needs. He is grateful for my care and the care of my brother Paul and the caregivers we have working with us.

Since I’ve been living with him in his home in Denver, there have been many moments of storytelling and he has asked me to query him and volunteered to share whatever stories or ideas with me, with my brother, and with others who want to know more. How can I ever know all that he wants to share or even what questions to ask? I think I know my father pretty well and most of his life’s stories have been written down or lived together or shared. I think he is not a mystery to me. I am so wrong about that.

I ask my father about his dreams in the morning. I ask him about his sadness and if he wants to talk about anything, when he volunteers that he is sad.

I ask him what he wants for breakfast and how long I should wait before checking on him when he is in the bathroom. I ask him what number heat setting he wants on the heating pad and I ask him if there is anything I can do to make him more comfortable. His reply is usually, “Make me forty years younger and smile.”

His dream the other day, the one he remembered to tell me, went like this:

“I dreamed I was in the home of a very famous man, you will know who he is, Freud. I was rearranging the furniture in his house.” Another dream had been that he was in NY, and there was a starving, lonely cold child on the street and he was with Eloise (the famous NY storybook character who lives in a hotel). She was talking to someone about how much money should be given to this girl and my father and she agreed that it should be $100,000.00. What’s interesting about this dream is that he didn’t remember the name of Eloise, but he remembered that his niece Coco loved this character and so I suggested we call her and ask her if she remembered the name of the NY storybook character. Just as we reached Coco, Papa, said “Eloise!”

His mental acuity stuns me, and I truly feel at half his capacity. I can’t remember things from my childhood or my children’s childhoods, the way my father remembers his niece’s favorite storybook from over fifty years ago. His memory is a golden mine of treasures and I don’t think my brother and I will ever plumb its depths.

220px-Eloise_book_cover

For now, though, I am grateful for my technology that is allowing me to record his stories when he wants that done. Every tale he tells is a golden offering that will be of value to me and to all of our family.

I hope I have the presence of mind and the loving care and support my father has when I am leaving this world. We all deserve to be with those who love us and where we are comfortable, surrounded by our art and what makes us feel at home; to be safe and to suffer as little as possible.

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Portraits of Perla and my brother Paul Barchilon by my mother Helen Redman, hanging on the wall with paintings by Perla. Also, a Moroccan print of my brother’s in the bottom corner.