Unsolicited Advice

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My ninety-five year old uncle called me after Ariela died, right after Shiva, the Jewish ritual of seven days of mourning. He told me he was sorry for our loss. “You loved her, you did everything for her. You gave her everything you could. Now, get over it. Move on with your life.”

At first, I was stunned. On the face of it, his words seemed so callous.

“He didn’t really mean it the way it came out,” his son told me. I wondered about my uncle’s curious advice.

My mother-in-law used to say, “When you live as long as I have, you can say anything you damn well please.” She was well into her eighties when she said this. Still, I didn’t want to dismiss my uncle too quickly.

I saw my uncle this weekend. He lives in Chicago now, and I don’t see him often. He uses a walker and has trouble hearing. He still plays Scrabble. He plays with the dictionary by his side and looks up words before he places his tiles.

He called me “Hairy-et.” I called him, “Uncle Rudy Kazootie.” My uncle from Luxembourg, a country too small to see on our globe. My uncle who manufactured draperies and bedspreads, who read the New York Times every day on the subway, who always wore a hat to cover his balding head, who rooted for the Yankees while my dad cheered for the Orioles, who was openly affectionate with his wife. “She’s a hot potato,” he’d say as he pulled her onto his lap, something my father would never do with my mother.

“I’m the last of the Mohicans,” my uncle said after my cousin Robert died last year. Robert was in his eighties. That left my uncle the last person to know my parents before I was born. “What were they like?” I asked him.

“Good people,” he said. “Your father was an exceptional person.” He put two fingers to his lips and kissed them, like he had tasted fine wine. Then, he squinted his eyes and pushed his palm against his forehead, trying to squeeze out more memories.

My aunt died more than ten years ago. My parents are both gone, too. Of his four siblings, only Rudy’s younger sister is left. A black and white photograph of his younger brother hung in a central position in my uncle’s living room. A handsome man in a soldier’s uniform. “He volunteered for a mission over France and never returned,” my aunt said shaking her head. He was twenty-two, younger than Ariela.

I told Gary about my uncle’s advice. “Don’t you remember Ariela’s favorite expression?” he said.

Ariela spoke with a computer. She used her eyes as a mouse. She had hundreds of phrases filed into folders by category and subcategory. When she was done listening to other people’s complaints about anything from traffic to taxes, from colds to Comcast, she’d navigate through her files and say, “Get over it.”

Book Drive

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Ariela was never without a book. If she liked a book in a series, she’d read the entire series back-to-back. She was in the middle of Xenocide, the third sequel to Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, on the day she died. She loved fantasy and science-fiction. The good fight against evil, and anything is possible. Characters travel across time. The sick are healed, and the blind can see.

Ariela was visually impaired. Initially, we read aloud to her. Then, she listened to audiobooks. She amassed a large collection of books on tape and CD, mostly gifts from friends who knew how much she liked to read. Later, she used Bookshare, an online service for people with print disabilities. She could download almost any book she wanted. One word at a time, in bold black letters, marched across her computer screen. I often sat beside her and watched her face as she read.

Gary and I tried to encourage her to read the classics. When she read The Hunger Games, Gary suggested she read The Grapes of Wrath, “if you want to learn what hunger was like in this country.” When she finished it, she returned to sci-fi.

When she read Twilight, I said, “If you want to read a really great gothic romance, you should read Jane Eyre.” She became very distressed when she read about Rochester in the burning room, and she smiled when he finally kissed Jane. I think that was her favorite book.

I gave all of her recorded books to the California School for the Blind. The director was one of Ariela’s favorite teachers.

Last month, a charter school for underprivileged children, grades K through 8, opened in a nearby town. Ariela had about sixty children’s books left. Her Girl Scout troop’s book drive, depleted her shelves of hard covers and paperbacks years ago. Sixty books wouldn’t fill a new school library. So, I posted a message on my town’s listserv. “Looking for Children’s Books.” Within a week, six hundred books were on my doorstep. Thank you neighbors for sharing the love of reading.