October 06, 2011

Missing them

I have spent the past few days practicing yizkor, the memorial service for Yom Kippur. Yesterday I had the bright idea to find the CD my friend T made of an old tape recording. My dearest friend from high school, Charisse Kranes, became a rabbi. Only a few months after her ordination, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She attributed the hard lump she felt in her belly, plus the various tummy aches and pains, to nerves as she approached ordination. Instead she had a tumor the size of a grapefruit.

After surgery and while she was undergoing chemo, Charisse got married. A year or so later, when she and her husband had moved to the Bay area, I asked her to record some high holiday music for me. This became the "love note," as she called it, which my friend T had transferred to CD for me a few years ago. Charisse died in 1989 at the age of 32.

Imagine my surprise when I didn't recognize Charisse's voice on the CD. Who was that talking and singing? Only after a few moments had passed did I realize that I was listening to Charisse, z"l. I spent the next while labeling all the digital tracks and uploading them to iTunes. I didn't find the particular tune I'd hoped she'd recorded, but that brief trip down memory lane made me realize how much I missed Charisse.

Preparing for yizkor also makes me think of my father, Sheldon Charles Cohen. He did in 2008 at almost 80 years old. How I wish that my husband had had the chance to know my dad when he was younger, less bitter and more happy. Dad survived a stroke at age 62 and spent his last few years with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He gradually let go his hold on life. On my last visit, when I was deputized by my mother and sister to find out Dad's wishes regarding a funeral etc., he was still filled with hope. I had the hard talk with him, and he asked why I was crying. He said he wasn't planning to die. This, while he was practically immobile in a nursing home bed. Somehow, we never do want to let go of life, even when we are dying.

The death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is all over the news today. I heard a recording of him giving the 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University. Here is the part that struck me in the heart:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.
So I practice my yizkor tunes, think of my departed family and friends, and hope that I will do justice to what they taught me this coming Yom Kippur. Zichrono l'vracha, may the memories of our loved ones be for a blessing to all who knew them.


  1. amen. good thoughts.

  2. Lovely post, and of course I always appreciate your reminiscences of Charisse.