By Harriet P. Gross
How do you best remember a loved one who’s taken his permanent leave? I’ve been thinking about this a lot since my husband Fred passed away in early August.
The period from that to this, not much more than 10 weeks by actual count, sometimes seems like a few days, and sometimes like a few years. When things are much quieter at home than they used to be, time seems to drag on slowly. But when I see how much post-death work of all kinds still remains to be done, I can’t figure out how the days have flown by so quickly.
Somewhere during those few weeks, I entered the realm of “memories and regrets.” Whoever first coupled those two words knew how the mind works. Fred and I entered into this joint second marriage as two adults who had known each other for years and thought it would be very nice to grow old together while experiencing new things. Our “growing old” lasted for more than three happy decades, and we both learned a lot.
So I’ve decided to remember him by doing, alone, what was dear enough to his heart for me to have done with him, even if I wasn’t much interested. First case in point: Fred had marked on his calendar the date on which a member of our synagogue would be presenting a travelogue on his exploration of the Amazon. That day came during my shloshim, the 30 days of non-entertainment mourning for a spouse. But the rabbi I talked to said I wouldn’t be doing anything wrong in attending a program in memory of my husband — in effect, doing what he would have done because he could no longer do it himself. So after that, I went to the club year’s opening meeting of an organization we had both belonged to. Fred would definitely have wanted to go; I was definitely sure he’d have wanted me to go in his place, as well as my own.
The best so far involved a Dallas Symphony Orchestra concert (after shloshim, of course). When DSO first announced its Beethoven festival, I had been thrilled to see that my very favorite piece of classical music, his Kreutzer Sonata, was on the bill. Fred had never even heard of it, but said he’d be happy to go with me to experience it for himself. I bought two tickets, and we both had a thrilling afternoon. Also on the symphony’s seasonal list, but coming quite a bit later, was a performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, which happened to be Fred’s very favorite piece of classical music. I knew its themes, which weren’t favorites of mine, but I said I’d be happy to go with him and listen for what I might have missed. Of course, life torpedoed our joint plan. I hadn’t yet ordered our tickets before he died. So I bought one for myself and sat in the Meyerson alone, transformed, because I was listening to that music with new ears — those of my late husband.
A coda to this musical story: Andrew Schast, who played the concerto that day, said that his teacher, David Arben, pleading for his life in a Nazi concentration camp, told the guards that he should be spared because he had been a child prodigy who could make glorious music. To prove this, he played the Beethoven Concerto, and so avoided certain death. Fred would have treasured this poignant anecdote.
So now, continuing my quest for living memories, I’ve bought Dallas Theater Center single seats for two plays in the new season. I will watch Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” for myself, and I will watch Moliere’s “School for Wives” for Fred. The regret that we can do no more together is somewhat eased by the fact that I’m a former wife enriching my own life by continuing to learn from my late husband…