I spoke with the funeral director that evening so arrangements could be made to get my brother to the morgue. Early Monday morning, final burial arrangements were made, and we left for Linden Avenue to begin the arduous process of cleaning his room and choosing burial clothes. We also had to pack what would be donated to the Veterans Association, to Rafael and Bill, to KenCrest, and what would be shipped to Florida for family. My husband, Ms. Lee, Janice, and I were a formidable team. Through tears and laughter, we were able to choose his burial clothes, not an easy feat as everything my brother wore had to match. Imagine three grown, accomplished women, his big sisters, fretting over what Brucie would want to wear. Most sisters argue about money or who their parents loved more. Not us. We did agree on Champion sweats, no formal suit.
“OH, that won’t do. No, no, no—he won’t like that. The bottoms are too tight,” argued Ms. Lee.
“The funeral director told me shoes are not necessary,” I explained to her, “The Man Who Would Be Sneaker King would roll in his grave. Take these sneakers. The white and black match his top and bottom.” I offered my two cents.
“Listen,” Janice piped in, “We need black sneaker socks, not white if he’s gonna wear those sneakers.”
I learned that he gave Stephen a hard time and refused to be taken to the hospital that Friday morning until he found the perfect sweatshirt to match his sweatpants. We then focused on his room. Taking a much-needed break, Bruce, Janice, and I delivered his clothes to the funeral home, stopped at the cemetery to finalize the site and ordered food for shiva, the Jewish mourning period for immediate family, to be held at Linden Avenue following the funeral. After all, where better and who better to mourn and celebrate Brucie’s life with than our extended family in their home?
We returned to finish our packing and left that evening for the UPS store to ship our boxes of memories back to Florida. The door to Brucie’s room remained closed. It was too difficult to see this finality of emptiness.
Not having a local rabbi, one was shared by the funeral parlor, with whom I spoke Sunday evening. We began our conversation as strangers, only to learn he knew my parents and David. “Lynne, I need to ask. Ezersky is not a common name. Do you know a man named Izzy?” I chuckled. “Yes, he was my father.” Even from the grave, everyone knew my father. I knew the rabbi’s parents, but we were a few too many years apart to know each other. Bashert is Yiddish for destiny. Not every rabbi would serve a family not affiliated with their temple. How lucky were we to have him?
His next question was not so easy to answer: “Lynne, what four words would you use to describe your brother Bruce?” Really? I thought, rolling my eyes, thankful he could not see me. Just four words? Cute, funny, loving, fashionista all came to mind, but would not suffice. “Rabbi,” I sigh, “Four words just won’t work. I realize this could not possibly help much, so let me share some memories instead.” If crying is truly good for the soul, the next hour spent reminiscing with the rabbi cleansed me for the next decade. I ended our trip down memory lane, which had been peppered with amazingly intuitive questions from the rabbi, with these last words: “To know Bruce was to love him.”
“My final question,” promised the rabbi, “Will you have family with you?”
I needed this kind man to appreciate the family he would be meeting at the funeral service. “I will be surrounded by family,” I boasted, “Not related by blood, but love and choice and not related by religion, but by faith in each other.”
My eulogy at the funeral service was comprised of thank yous for my extended family—thirty of them—who braved COVID and the cold to stand with me; for my husband, who spoke lovingly of his brother-in-law; for David, Lisa, and our rabbi for truly listening to my stories about Brucie and the family standing with me that Bruce had created, as reflected by the service and stories we told that day. Our plans for Brucie were to open and enrich his world. Oh, but being with Bruce accomplished so much more. He opened the world to us, enriching our lives. What more could be asked of one soul with a great big heart? I also included a quote from Mr. Rogers, summing up Bruce’s outlook on life and effect on people: “Mutual caring relationships require kindness and patience, tolerance, optimism, joy in the other's achievements, confidence in oneself, and the ability to give without undue thought of gain.” Brucie, we are still listening!
Bruce, the rabbi, and I waited for everyone to participate in the final ritual of shoveling dirt onto the grave before leaving the cemetery. We would be returning to Linden Avenue for shiva and the celebration of Bruce’s life. “Lynne,” the rabbi interrupted my thoughts, “I know you told me you would be surrounded by family. I am overwhelmed. I have been doing this for years and have never felt such warmth, such love, as today.” My smile was my only answer.
Shiva was exactly as I requested: a life celebration. Latoya, ever ready to respect and support my needs, supplied our group with five bottles of pink champagne. We shared many memories, laughed and cried, but never lost sight of the positive light my brother had shone on all of us.
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