Suddenly, we’re at the head of the line
By Harriet P. Gross

Two more of the good ones are gone. On a single, beautiful May day, I attended the funerals of both Nathan Kaplan and Shirley Fisher.
Shirley, Hebrew teacher extraordinaire, beloved by generations of Temple Emanu-El students of all ages, was my senior by a decade. But Nathan, the long-time chaplain at Golden Acres when it was Dallas’s home for Jewish aged, had only a single year on me.
As the one cousin in my family who is older than I is fond of reminding me: “We’ve moved right up to the head of the line, haven’t we? Whether we like it or not.”
I should have had a premonition of bad things to come when I returned recently to suburban Chicago, where I’d lived for a long time and made many friends before “migrating” to Texas.
But I’ve been here for more than 30 years now, so there aren’t many of those old friends left. A few had retired to warm climes like Florida and Arizona, and I’ve kept in touch with them. And I would see the others when I visited my old stomping grounds every year or two. But the number of “others” has been steadily diminishing, and this time, there were just five left for me to see.
And this is what I saw. The first has lost virtually all her memory. When I picked her up to go out for dinner, she put on an old leather jacket; it no longer fit and was so worn at the collar and cuffs that I knew she would never have worn it in public if she realized how it looked. But she didn’t. At the local Thai restaurant, the one we’d always enjoyed together, she glanced at the menu, then asked me what she wanted to eat.
I took the second one to breakfast. She greeted me at her door, pale and frail and tethered to an oxygen tank. She is housebound and basically alone; her children and grandchildren come when and as they can, but they have their own lives in California and Colorado and New York.
The third asked me to visit her at home, since she has severe heart problems and no energy to go anywhere. The fourth was hale and hearty until the morning of the day when I was to spend a few hours with her — a ladies’ lunch at an old favorite tearoom — when she fell and broke her collarbone. The fifth joined me at the restaurant where I can still get my favorite sautéed lake perch. She is the only healthy one left. She is also the only one younger than I.
When I came home after all those visits, I cried hard. Then came the two funerals, and I cried even harder. And then I had to ask myself the hardest question: Who was I crying for? The good ones now gone? The old friends now truly old? Or — most likely — for my own vanished self?
So I sat down and rewrote my will, which I hadn’t looked at since I took my first flight back to Chicago after moving to Dallas. “I won’t get on a plane without one,” I remember saying then. That was 1981. Since that time, I’ve surely flown more than 100 times, my children have married, and I now have five grandchildren and a great-grandchild!
The money part was easy: whatever there is will be divided evenly — no playing favorites. The tangible “things” they can get together and divvy up between themselves — but I’ve included the advice our mother wrote into her own will for my sister and me: “No fighting, girls!”
For the rest of the “stuff,” I’m providing a good guidebook, “Don’t Call the Thrift Shop” by Susannah Ryder, which will help them make reasonable decisions and dispositions.
And I have written my own newspaper obit, very short and to the point, and provided instructions for all else, taking the lead from my beloved Boubby the Philosopher by quoting her exact last words on this earth for our rabbi to follow: “Please, no obituary. If they don’t know me by now, it’s too late.”
Say the El Moleh and the Kaddish, no speeches. Save the stories for the shiva. These are not morbid things to do; they are simply practical. I acknowledge having “moved right up to the head of the line.”
And I am consoled in knowing that Nathan and Shirley were very good company for each other as they entered Olam Haba together.

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