Yesterday I attended a memorial service. It was held at the same church where we memorialized my mom, and was attended by many of the same people. The same violinist played. The same platters of tiny sandwiches and bowls of punch were waiting for us in the same fellowship hall.
It was eerily, terribly familiar.
The service was for Betty Rosenbloom, one of my mom’s oldest friends. They were a few years apart in age, but grew up at Riverside Presbyterian Church together. In 1983, both my family and Betty’s family moved to Sherwood Road, across the street and a few doors down from each other.
Growing up, we had a very tight-knit street. In the evenings, neighbors would wander down to each other’s houses for visits that would stretch into the night. We kids would ride bikes, or play in the vacant lot, or watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Betty’s middle son, Hoyt, was in my grade, and her younger son Carter was around my brother’s age. I joke that my first co-ed sleepover was at the Rosenblooms, when my parents were there late one night and I fell asleep.
Hoyt and I are the same age. We went to the same church, the same schools, and even rowed on the crew team together. We were always friendly, but never friends. I have tried to explain it to Jason, and the best I can come up with is, “We were children together.” We grew up in the same time and place.
Betty and mom frequently served as team chaperones on our many crew trips in high school.
Betty and Percy were close to my parents, and felt like a second set of parents to me. When my father was diagnosed with kidney cancer, mom and I immediately drove to the Rosenblooms’ to research the disease online and discuss strategy. Percy delivered a eulogy at my father’s funeral.
Betty collected rescue animals and re-homed them. In 2013, she collected an elderly Boston Terrier named Boots, who came to live with us here in Tallahassee.
Betty was diagnosed with leukemia within months of my mom being diagnosed with her brain tumor. We joked about them getting adjoining rooms at the Mayo Clinic. Betty was in and out of the hospital over the last years of mom’s life, and the Rosenblooms came to visit mom in Tallahassee – together and separately. Betty was not able to come to mom’s funeral, and I still remember how upset she was on the phone when she told me.
When she died last week, I finally began to experience what everyone else must have felt when my parents died. It was a terrible shock. Because I live a few hours away, I had to make do with updates from her friends. I didn’t want to bother the family. I thought about them almost constantly. I wept for them.
I had a hard time making it through her memorial service. I felt so many layers of grief – for Betty, for my mom, even for my dad. The service took place one day after the fifteenth anniversary of his death, and the sanctuary was packed – just like for his service.
I wish I could say I have learned the magic formula for getting through such a terrible loss. But I find myself utterly unprepared. It’s weird and uncomfortable to be on this side of a death. I don’t know what to do, or say, and I find myself uttering the same trite phrases I heard over and over just seven month ago.
I find myself with a whole new set of awful skills to learn.