Category Archives: Grieving

A Layer Of Rebekah

My sister-in-law Rebekah was an avid cyclist. When she didn’t arrive home from a ride, her husband David tracked her to the nearest trauma center, where she had been rushed into surgery. She had fallen and sustained a traumatic brain injury. She was found unconscious, on the side of the road. Their two sons caught flights home from college. They gathered with David at her bedside. For a day, she hovered between life and death. Then her intracranial pressure increased, and she died a few days later.

Rebekah and I married two brothers and over time, the many layers of my sister-in-law revealed themselves. She was a gifted midwife, a role-model educator, a terrific chef, a runner, passionate about Judaism, a tireless advocate for equality in health care. She was a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend. Our paths overlapped and diverged, connected and reconnected, as we moved from our thirties into middle age. Nearly twenty years after we met, when our husbands’ father Arnold was dying, I discovered another layer of Rebekah. 

Arnold was fading. He was in the hospital for a week, and in home hospice care for an additional two weeks. At first, he requested clean pajamas. He asked his nurse for a shave. He initiated conversations. He wanted me to keep him oriented to time. He was living as he was dying. 

Although our wonderful hospice nurse prepared us for what was around the corner, Arnold’s final phase took us by the throat. He lost interest in food, then in ice chips, then in sips of water. He stopped speaking. His breathing rattled. He needed meds to rest comfortably, then more meds, then much more. 

My husband and I lived near Arnold, so we were with him through the progression. As he entered the home-hospice-care phase, David and Rebekah arrived from the other side the country. Together, they went into Arnold’s bedroom. They stayed a long time, bonded in loss and in love. Lying in bed, Arnold turned toward their voices, feeling their presence.

Rebekah was a fine athlete, and she moved with a supple grace familiar to me. But this time I saw something different. As she crossed the threshold into Arnold’s bedroom, her movements changed almost imperceptibly. She slowed her pace slightly, her body took on a subtle fluidity, responding to invisible atmospheric currents. She placed her hand on Arnold’s arm and spoke a few quiet words. Without understanding how or why, everyone breathed easier. 

Before Rebekah arrived, even as we accepted Arnold’s death, we all wanted to fight against it. But Rebekah wasn’t fighting. From a place too deep for words, she understood the essence of Arnold’s experience and in an unconscious instant, she entered his world. Somehow, she opened herself, an unspoken invitation to Arnold’s physical being to communicate directly with her physical being, no verbal translation necessary. At one point, I asked how she, a midwife, an expert in labor and delivery, knew with such completeness how to help Arnold find his path into death. She smiled gently, shrugged slightly. “This is a lot like when someone gives birth.” 

Arnold died in the early hours of the morning. Rebekah saw his skin take on a different hue. She woke the others and brought them to his bedside. Arnold took his final breath with his midwife guiding him into death. 

Today, several years after Arnold died, I know that if love had been enough, Rebekah would have stood up after her fall, dusted herself off, climbed back on her bike, and returned to her husband and her sons. I’m thinking of Rebekah’s hand on Arnold’s arm, the calm of her voice, the curious beauty of her movements. If I close my eyes for an instant, I see her on her bicycle, eyes intent and shining, brown curls streaming. In my mind, she slows her pace, and our eyes meet. She smiles at me, then through me, a quiet light reaching for David and their sons. Then she turns and rides into death, gone and extremely here.

Rebekah Kaplan

1/4/1960 – 11/16/2021

Rest In Peace


Filed under Celebration Of Life, eulogy, Grieving, Midwifery

Eulogy For My Father-In-Law

Arnold Burk

April 8, 1932 – December 10, 2017

When my husband and I had children, we learned something about my father-in-law that we hadn’t known: Arnold was the Baby Whisperer. Our infants would nestle in his arms, filled with pure trust, a core sense of safety. It happened again and again, with all three of our kids. For every skinned knee, every tummy ache, any kind of distress — the solution was Arnold. Sometimes he’d sing to them and as they grew older, they’d mouth the words or sing along. Their bond grew in sleep, in wakefulness, in play, in work, in silence, in song.

Last week, in Arnold’s final days, his rabbi visited. Rabbi Jen sat at Arnold’s bedside and sang in Hebrew, a song simple and soothing. Arnold lay still with his eyes closed, sometimes mouthing the words, sometimes singing from a place deep within, rooted in his own childhood. He fell asleep soon after, smiling quietly. I recognized his expression. I had seen that look of peace on all three of my children, held in his arms.

Now it’s Arnold’s turn to feel that peace. Contemplating eternal peace, eternal anything really, is a curious challenge. We humans are trying to define a concept that’s far beyond our realm. But whatever might happen in eternity, we can be sure of a few things. Arnold will bring strength and decency to his new world. He’ll bring his signature sense of humor that always felt like a surprise gift. He’ll bring his acute intelligence which will amaze even the angels. And if somebody is having an off-day in heaven, Arnold will reach out his hand, gather them in his arms, and sing.


Filed under eulogy, father-in-law, Grieving, Mourning, Uncategorized

Fire And Rain

Grieving for a friend is rough. Grieving for a suicide adds new layers of harshness. Grieving for a 21-year-old suicide defies words. For a week after the phone call, my emotional range was too elemental for language, a visceral spectrum of fire and rain.

I think of this young man relaxing on the floor of our family room, bantering with my son, and I hope he’s at peace. I think of him curled up in his favorite red blanket, asleep on our couch, and I hope he’s resting in comfort. I think of how he sang and danced with my daughter, strumming a wooden stirring spoon. I don’t know if kitchen utensils are available through eternity, so if he needs one, I hope he finds a way to send a message. I’ll figure out how to launch a wooden spoon into the beyond.

Since he was close to my family, his parents kindly invited me to speak at his memorial. I thought of his helping me learn the unfamiliar inflections of The South, how we laughed over my many miscommunications when I first moved from California. I thought of his vibrant curiosity, his questions, his eagerness to explore — from writing novels to urban development, from bovine medical research to gender equality. I thought of the outstanding meals he cooked with my daughter and son and I smiled, remembering the chocolate and avocado cake he and my son somehow decided they had to bake — and yes, the result was as appalling as my daughter warned them it would be. I cried as I wrote his eulogy. I practiced my speech and broke down every time. I paused, trying to translate my grief into words. But I could only feel fire and rain.

At his memorial service, I expected to deliver the eulogy through tears, but I didn’t. My voice held strangely steady. However, my hands shook so violently that they felt like an alien appendage, detached and overwrought. I looked over the large room filled with his family and friends — bewildered, shattered, alive — and the notion that he was dead, truly dead, felt utterly absurd.

He was a young man of action, so I wish him Godspeed. But I’m not sure what that means. Maybe he’s a powerful current in an ocean’s depth, or the foamy rush in a river’s whitewater. Perhaps he’s a different kind of force — the drive within a poet to write, or the push within a scientist to discover.

I hope he rests in peace. But I don’t know what that means, either. Maybe his spirit quietly enriches the minerals of the soil, or gently guides the first spring tendrils toward the light. Although these thoughts are comforting, I’m painfully aware that I can conceive of his eternity only in the limited terms of my familiar world. Eternity is a place beyond the parameters of my imagination.

So I’ll stick to what I know: fire and rain — rage and cold, heat and water, warmth and sustenance, life and life.


If you are suicidal or fear for the safety of another person, please reach out.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1-800-273-8255 

The Trevor Project Lifeline  866-488-7386 

You can also call 911 for emergency assistance.


Filed under Grieving, Suicide Prevention, Uncategorized

After Orlando

The first sign of trouble came just before lunch.

I was around eight years old, and my class was writing stories. My elementary school heavily emphasized the creative arts and as a young, budding nerd, I was not admired. But that morning, my academic style came in handy. While my teacher wandered the classroom helping the kids who were “stuck,” the others turned to me for spelling and grammar. I remember a girl asked me to spell dog, a boy was stumped by house, and another forgot the difference between a period and a comma. In appreciation, my teacher gave me the coveted Morning Helper Award. I was pleased with my prize: pick a friend, and return the classroom’s books to the library. I quickly chose Connie, who also loved to read.

As we happily lugged a stack of books through the front office on our way to the library, the adults were acting strange. Roz — our receptionist, who remained calm in the face of anything – was crying. Ruth — our principal, a renowned motor-mouth — stood silent. Libby — our music teacher, who annoyed us with her constant singing — sat mute. Connie and I exchanged a grown-ups-are-weird look, and continued on our mission. As we left, Ruth whispered something to Roz, who covered her face with her hands.

“Did Ruth whisper someone was absent?” I asked.

“I think so,” Connie began to skip.

“The only one absent from our class today was Alan.”

Afternoon carpool was uneventful. Brian stared out the window. Julie crunched potato chips. Eddie sang a round, chasing himself in musical circles. My brother, 2 years younger, mentioned he needed a new square-dance partner because Debbie was absent.

I looked up. “That’s Alan’s sister. He wasn’t in school either.”

As soon as my brother and I opened the front door, we knew something was extremely wrong. My father was ashen, my mother in tears. They sat us down and spoke tenderly, knowing their children’s world was about to crash. That morning, Debbie and Alan’s father had shot his wife, then his children, then himself.

My family talked for a long time. My brother had recently been to Debbie’s birthday party, and met their father. I asked if he was “mean.” My brother thought carefully. “No, it was more like he just didn’t care.” I wondered how much someone needed to “just not care” to murder his family.

Now, decades later, since the massacre in the Orlando nightclub, I find myself thinking of Alan and Debbie. I wish I could tell them that I’m sorry their lives were cut short, and that their deaths were so harsh. I’m sorry their dad “just didn’t care” enough to reign in his worst self. I’m sorry their community didn’t realize they needed protection.

I wish I could speak to the victims in Orlando, and the survivors as well. I wish I could tell them I’m sorry that some people are so filled with rage, so emotionally blunted that they could commit this hate crime. I’m sorry that some people have such a long way to go in understanding that LGBTQ+ is simply a part of the spectrum of normal. I’m sorry that some view Latino heritage as anything other than enriched and enriching for our entire country.

I’ve also been thinking about the Saturday after September 11, 2001. The World Trade Center was down, death toll rising, rescuers pouring into Manhattan to perform acts of courage that would go down in history. I was living in Northern California, and had never been involved in organized religion. But all three of my children wanted to explore their Jewish heritage, so I found myself sitting in synagogue, listening to the head rabbi’s drash (rhymes with wash, a Hebrew word, a comment on scripture). To my surprise, the rabbi didn’t talk. Instead, he sang the entire drash. He paced as he improvised his song of sadness, anger, hope — a quiet dirge as he tried to comprehend the incomprehensible. Somehow his drash made sense.

Since the Orlando murders, I’ve spent days trying to formulate my thoughts, preparing to write this post. But now I’m wondering if I should approach this piece differently. As I grieve in the wake of a terrible wrong, maybe I shouldn’t strive for wisdom. Perhaps in this circumstance, writing with balance and eloquence isn’t important.

Instead, maybe I’ll pace and bring forward my own improvisational dirge of sadness, anger, hope. In this moment, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible, perhaps somehow that will make sense.

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Filed under Grieving, hate crimes, LGBT, Orlando Massacre, Uncategorized