Edie Weinstein tells a story about her parents, now gone, and the special way they had of connecting.
I had the extreme joy of standing on stage back in August, with the glare of spotlights in my eyes, as I shared a poignant story at The Good Men Project Live storytelling event in New York City. Prior to the pivotal experience, which I have to say was a highlight of my summer, I was hornswoggled by unexpected stage fright. I made it through with the help of my loving team of cheerleaders on this side of the veil and the other.
For those who weren’t in the room, I offer you both the video and transcription of the story called “Meet You At The Gate.” May it remind you of all the love in your life and the myriad ways it arrives and never departs.
“I was an inquisitive child. According to my parents, I asked questions about nearly everything; usually at the dinner table and lots of times about sex. This story isn’t about sex. Sorry, folks.
What it IS about is borders and boundaries, lines and delineations. The spaces between here and there, now and then, beginnings and endings and how sometimes they blur and merge. Mostly, it’s about love.
I often told my parents that I was an alien baby left on their doorstep. I think they believed me.
When I was 8 or 9, my mom Selma, my dad Moish, my sister Jan and I went to a ranch in a part of Pennsylvania that bordered on New York State. I was fascinated with the idea that on each side of a street in that town, was another physical state. After looking to see that no cars were coming, my parents let me stand in the middle, with one foot on either side. How cool was that?
A few years later, on a trip to Canada, when we crossed over in Niagara Falls, I got to test out whether the air felt different in a whole new country. It didn’t, but I liked considering the possibility that it could.
Over the years, I traveled mostly in my mind. As an avid reader and curious about the world writer, I would visit possibilities rather than literal destinations. My imagination took me soaring.
In 1989, my energetic 65 year old parents retired to Florida; moving into a condo in Ft. Lauderdale. Both stayed fit. My bus driver dad had six pack abs into his 70’s, remaining a gym rat and my switchboard operator mom taught senior stretch classes called Stretching with Selma.
My husband and I followed them a year later; purchasing our first house in Homestead. Now, if that town name is familiar, it is with good reason. On August 24, 1992, a tropical depression exploded into Hurricane Andrew. It blew us back up north and here we remained.
Annual visits occurred as we winged our way down there. Initially, my parents would meet us at the gate, arms outstretched in greeting. As they aged, the distance between our arrival point and their reception expanded. They would then meet us at baggage claim; still all hugs and kisses.
In 1999, the shared trips became solo, as my husband died on December 21, 1998. Baggage claim greetings were no more. Instead, they would meet me at the car; my mom driving, my dad leaning against the passenger side door. Parkinson’s was beginning to take hold. The next time I visited, he sat smiling, in the car and waited for me to lean in to kiss him.
In his waning years, he would say more often in his gruff South Philly accented voice, as I was arriving “I hate to see you go, Doll Baby,” to which I would reply, “Dad, I just got here. Let’s enjoy our time together now.”
One more trip chauffeured by my mom, had my dad sitting on their screen porch awaiting my arrival. The next time, my cousin Jody and I took the shuttle, to be at his bedside as he passed in 2008.
After his death, I would head down more frequently to be with my mom. Still vital and engaged in life, she welcomed me from the porch, as the airport shuttle became my consistent mode of transportation.
In May of 2010, a major shift occurred as my mom began receiving hospice care. I was blessed to have been able to visit seven times in 6 months. We spoke a great deal about life and death. I asked her what she thought would happen when she died. Her response, with shoulders shrugged, was “I don’t know.” “Do you think daddy will be waiting for you?” Again “I don’t know,” as I ran down a list of other members of the family who had died. “Well, when you do know, come back and tell me.” She assured me that she would come back as a butterfly.
From time to time we would take fantasy trips. One day I asked her “Where are we going today, mom?” “Hawaii. We’re going to Hawaii.” “What will we do there?” “Dance the hula and get lei’ed.” I laughed and said “Yup, two wild women out on the town, getting lei’d.” I knew that she meant we would have floral wreaths placed around our necks. And then she said we would be going to a luau, “but no roast pig.” “Okay, a kosher luau.” What will we have there?” “S’mores,” My mother always had a sweet tooth, chocolate being her drug of choice like mine. “I don’t think they serve them at luaus, but I bet they serve s’mores in heaven.” She sighed and said “I hope so.” I’m still waiting to find out, but occasionally I will indulge in her honor.
I last saw my mother alive Halloween weekend that year. We sat in her living room as she held court when neighborhood kids came calling. They were more excited about hanging out with their surrogate grandmother than the sweet treats she had for them.
As Thanksgiving approached, I asked if she wanted me to spend the holiday with her. She said it wasn’t necessary. I replied that I wouldn’t be down until the very end. Neither of us knew just how close that was. I called several times a day over the next week, each time she was drifting farther away. On her own trips to who knows where?
On November 26th, the day after Thanksgiving, I called and spoke with the hospice nurse who told me that it would be soon. I asked if I needed to get down there ASAP. She thought it would be a good idea. I was on my way to my job as a social worker in a psych hospital. I spoke to my father and said “Take care of her.” And then added, “Take care of each other, like you always did.” Less than an hour later, my sister called to tell me that our mother had departed. A visceral howl ran through me. Even though I was a therapist, a minister and bereavement counselor and thought I had prepared for her death, I knew I would need to learn how to live without her. I was now an adult orphan.
My cousin Jody ferried me to the Philly airport. On the way down 95, a car pulls in front of us. Guess what was on the back window? A butterfly sticker. When I arrive at the gate, it occurs to me that my mom picked the least busy travel day of the year to die. Always thinking about us.
On the plane, I was doing my best to keep it together. I had a book open on my lap, spine up, called Glad No Matter What, written by SARK. Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy. It was about loss and grief; as her own mother had recently died, as had her 16 year old cat and a long term relationship had just ended. A flight attendant walked by and I noticed that she was wearing a badge that says her name is Jewelee. I was to discover soon what a jewel she really was! She commented “Oh, I love SARK! I offered to loan it to her in flight, bringing it back to the galley to show her. She asked why I was on the plane and I told her about my mom. She began to cry and told me that a dear friend had recently died, as well. I related the butterfly story to her and at that, she hitched up her skirt and showed me a tattoo, not a butterfly, but a close cousin … a dragonfly that she had gotten in her honor.
My red haired angel took care of me on the flight and has remained a close friend. She gave me this scarf that I am wearing it and it feels like both my mom and Jewelee are hugging me.
When my sister and I arrived at the airport, my mom’s upstairs neighbor Diane, who she thought of as HER angel, picked us up and said she had a story to tell us. “Remember the suit your mom wanted to be buried in?” I recalled the beautiful rose quartz hued silk jacket and skirt that had hung on the back of the door to her den, waiting for the day when she would once again wear it. “When the undertaker came for your mom, I forgot to send it with them. Myrna – another neighbor- came over to help me clean the condo before you girls got here. She said to me ‘that door just closed by itself. I’m too freaked out to go in. You go in and check it out.” So she did and then laughed and said “oh, that’s Selma reminding me that I forgot to send the suit over.”
The next stop was the funeral home to set up the service which I was to officiate, I am greeted by more of what my mom sometimes called flutterbies that hovered over the building. Remember that this is November in South Florida. Not typical butterfly season. The next day was the service and they had invited a whole bunch of friends. One kept dipping and diving into the grave.
The day following the service, I went to my mom’s bank to set up an online page so I could manage her account from home. You know how you have the option to choose an icon as kind of a passcode. Guess which image showed up? The teller asked why I was laughing and I told him the butterfly story. Looking astonished, he said that there were something like 3000 potential options and this one came up randomly. Nah, not random at all.
My last trip to the Ft. Lauderdale airport was the day I sold my parents’ condo. No one was there to meet me as I let myself in the door.
So many miracles have presented themselves over the years which assures me that when my time comes, my parents will once again be there to meet me at the gate.”
Photo courtesy of author