Realizing my significant other and losing her

This is an ode to that charismatic figure the “Significant Other.” Right now, at a time when I could most use one, I don’t have any.
When a person is in a marriage that’s at least tolerable, the partner qualifies as the most significant of “others.” I had a long first marriage; when it finally disintegrated, my two children were still at home and jointly qualified for that “job”: We shared all the household duties; my son was old enough to drive; life, although different, went on very much as it had in the past, for the next 10 years.
During this period, my daughter — a classic minimalist who was in charge of dusting — frequently reminded me that for every new thing that came into the house, two had to go out — regardless of size; this was very good advice for someone like me, who is a born collector. Life with two “Significant Others” was excellent, indeed.
Then both son and daughter found happy relationships with the “chosen two” who would soon become their spouses, so there were four to help me with all phases of the moving adventure, which that truly was: I pulled together everything that would be sent from our house to Dallas in a moving van, and they decided what they wanted for their own homes-to-be in the near future. {Side note of some humor: The only fight the two of them ever had over anything involved the old Electrolux canister vacuum cleaner I had bought when he was 4 years old and she was just starting to crawl. She won — and it is still working well for her as she prepares to turn 60!)
For me, then, it was a joy to have Fred, a truly “Significant Other” of the spouse variety for the next 35 years: someone to share, to help, to accept and understand almost everything — and to make light of those inevitable “almosts.” But then he was gone. And it’s no fun, I’ve found, trying to fill that role for myself.
This became completely clear to me during these past weeks, the final stages of my sister’s life. Now she has passed away, leaving behind very clear wishes which none of us in the family would dare not respect, not even the three rabbis, who tended to her even more tenderly than her doctors and nurses during those final weeks in hospice, who got to know her well enough in that brief time to understand that Ruth was the essence of novelist John Mortimer’s “She Who Must Be Obeyed.”
She emphatically specified her desire for cremation; then, just as clearly, “No Eulogies.” Somewhere, somehow, she had broken with the Judaism so important in her earlier life. Why? That’s the major unanswered question for those of us living beyond her. Still, we can’t let her go without something…
So now, I’m packing for a trip to New York, for a memorial service at the temple that is the spiritual home of my niece and her family, where my grand-nephew became a bar mitzvah less than two years ago, where my grand-niece is already preparing for her bat mitzvah in less than two years to come. And after that, we will have a mini-shiva of sorts, when together, as visitors come and go, we will share photos from the treasure trove of family pictures Ruth had in her apartment. And I am putting in my suitcase the favorite headshot she used in her professional life, the picture of her as my bridesmaid so long ago, and an old snapshot of the two us as children, wearing identical skirts made for us by our mother.
My sister and I lived far apart, and far different lives, for many years. But now that she’s gone, as I’ve looked through so many other old pictures that I’ve decided should also go with me, I’ve finally realized this: that she has always been my most Significant Other.

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