I turned around and went back to the synagogue. I did not have to tell Rabbi Silberman what had happened. I am sure that my face said it all. He called me into his office and explained to me the responsibilities I had and the things I had to do. I was excused from all Shabbath obligations and spent the day making a lot of telephone calls. I also had to go to the funeral parlor because I was told that they would not bury her until all the expenses for the funeral were paid; not a pleasant activity to do on the day one's spouse died.
I am not going to dwell on some of the unhappy times there were at this most difficult moment in my life. Suffice it to say that I was all alone. I did not get any support from any of my children, so much so, that I drove myself to the cemetery on the day of the funeral. I did get a lot of support from the many friends who came to pay their last respect to Anita and I was pleased to see how many remembered her and took part in the short ceremony at the cemetery. I was in a daze throughout the proceedings and was glad that one of my friends insisted that he would drive me home. There I sat "Shiva" (time of mourning of seven days during which one sits on a low seat while people visit you). Many people came to visit me and bring food and give me support.
I had studied the Jewish way of mourning in the Shulchan Aruch, a kind of instruction book for our religious laws, and I decided to follow it precisely. I must say that this helped me in getting through this terribly debilitating time. Unless one went through this, one can not even imagine the emotions one goes through. But I felt at peace with the knowledge that I had done all I could for Anita while she was alive and now I wanted to do what she always wished for but which she was not able to accomplish while she was alive: to get along with everyone in the family. More than anything, I wanted to make up with Rochelle. I had no idea where to start but I knew that, given a chance, we would become close again.
And so, I started a whole new life. Slowly but surely I got myself together again. The first week was by far the hardest. All alone, with no support from my family, I had to make decisions without their input. Maybe this was for the best. I felt utterly alone but I started to put my situation into perspective. Even while sitting Shiva, I started to add the positives and the negatives. One big plus was that I was in reasonably good health, that I had held up well under tremendous pressure and that I was financially independent and had many friends who were anxious to help me get over this trying time. Also, I felt some relief from the constant worry and scurrying around I had been doing for the past several years. I received so much support from the synagogue which is hard to describe. Dozens of people came over to me and showed their concern and support. Towards the end of my initial week of mourning I felt I could face the world again. Earlier I had scheduled to do a book report on the Sunday, January 17th, which was after the end of my first week of mourning, only one day after the "shiva" period, and I decided to go through with it. I had worked on the book report while Anita was in the nursing home. I was ready to do it and I am sure that, if Anita could have, she would have encouraged me to go ahead with it. Also, I was teaching beginners Hebrew to an adult class at Temple Beth Israel and taught the fourth grade at the Temple Hebrew school. I continued both after telling the classes what had happened. All this gave me much strength and courage.
Just before the end of my first week of mourning, while I was still sitting Shiva, I got a call from Naftali. It had bothered both Anita and me that Naftali and Robert had shown little interest or support for Anita and me during the last few years of her life. During the first week of mourning I had not heard one word of support from either one, so I was kind of surprised to hear from Naftali. After some hesitation Naftali brought up the reason for his call: He understood from what his uncle Milton had told him, that half of the money we had saved so carefully for our retirement, should go to the three children. I was perplexed. I was not prepared for this kind of talk and told him that I was still sitting Shiva and that he could wait at least until that was over before discussing financial matters. He apologized saying that he had not realized the time difference between Israel and Phoenix. His first week was already over. Again, I do not want to dwell on these unpleasant memories. Anyone who has lost a spouse can well imagine the toll it takes on a person to battle with lawyers and two children while mourning the loss of a wife. If they would have been successful I would have lost my financial security and I probably would have had to return to work. Also, I now realized what Anita and Milton had been talking about that night when, on our way to Israel, we stayed for a few nights in Virginia and Anita had talked to Milton and Sara until deep in the night. Fortunately, Anita and I had set up our finances to protect ourselves from such an event. But the emotional shock stayed with me for a long time. Again, Rabbi Silberman was most supportive and helpful.
I have mentioned the problems with two of my children
and not with three. I must now to go back a little to the days after the
initial week of mourning. As I said, I was very distressed. I could not
sleep in our bedroom and I could not open the bedroom sliding door closets
and see Anita's things there. It upset me too much. So, I made a drastic
decision: I removed all her things. I did not want to sell anything, so
I called the Jewish Family Service and asked them to come with a truck
and pick everything up. I would rather see empty closets than to be constantly
reminded of the tragedy I had just gone through. The wigs, the prostheses
and the jewelry, they all went out. I did not care what would happen to
it all. I cleaned out all the drawers but on a shelf in the closet I found
her wedding dress which she had preserved for almost forty years. Somehow,
I could not get myself to remove this, also. Yet, what could I do with
|Just at that time I got a call from Rochelle! I had not talked to Rochelle for many, many years. She really did not want to talk to me. She just wanted to know if she could get Anita's jewelry. I could barely answer her. I was so overcome with emotion! I told her that all was gone but that I still had the wedding dress of her mother and that I would send it to her. She still did not want to give me her address, so I suggested that I would send it to her uncle Milton and he could send it to her. Then, I pleaded with her to let me talk to her, to let me explain to her or, when necessary, to apologize to her. I did not want to let her go again. Here was my chance to patch things up and I did not want to pass that up. I told her to challenge me, to confront me and to tell me what had made her so angry with me that she refused to talk to me for so many years. Well, it worked out beautifully, thanks to her open mind and understanding. I will always appreciate her willingness to put it all out on the table. We literally talked for hours and got all the bad feelings talked over. The following weeks we were on the phone many times and for many hours. It was like a miracle. We were both pouring out our emotions. We were crying and sometimes laughing at some of our memories. What I had hoped to do had happened: I found my daughter once more, never to lose her again.|
After our first conversation I was so relieved. It was as if a load had been taken off my shoulders. I had somebody I could talk to about my feelings and listen to her talking about her feelings and problems. She has helped me very much in making an adjustment to my new lifestyle.
An idea occurred to me. I had many hours of movies of our family life from 1954, when I had come out of the army until the time the family broke up in 1977, plus a movie of our wedding. I decided to transfer it all on video and to make a tape for all the children so they could see that we had had many wonderful times together. It took me many weeks to edit all that film, which was mostly on individual eight mm movie reels, and to copy all of it on a master tape. Then I transferred that and added music and a few comments in the background. It ended up on three two hour tapes which I instantly mailed to the three children. I do not know how much the boys got out of it but Rochelle loved it and showed genuine appreciation. For me it was not only a work of love for them but it also was almost a mental cleansing for me to see our whole life in front of me during those months. I must say that since then the relationship with Rochelle and me has grown. I think we are as close as is possible. She still calls and talks for hours. It was a great surprise to her husband, John North, who had heard all those horror stories about me, to see how soon we could get so close after all these years of separation. He could not understand it. It is hard to explain. I know that I was anxious and ready for the reunion and I have a feeling that Rochelle also missed her parents in her life. In any case, it was not many months later when she invited me to her house in Thousand Oaks, California, where we had an emotional reunion.
Next -> CHAPTER 19: THE HEALING PROCESS
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