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2004-10-07 - 9:04 p.m.

Goodbye, Mrs. B....

B has been my best friend since we were 12 years old and trying to get out of gym class together. We both had a crush on Christopher Reeves in the 2nd Superman movie. We practiced Ms. PacMan on a daily basis, harmonized to old Beatles songs together, wore the same clothing, invented cartoon characters and had them write letters to each other. We did every single class project together.

B’s mother (Mrs B) was diagnosed with Multiple Schlerosis when B was about 4 years old. B’s parents were divorced when she was 5. B continued to live and take care of her mother until she was 16, when she went to live with her father.

Mrs. B. passed away two weeks ago.

My first memory of Mrs. B is of her standing in the kitchen, the time I came home with B when we were 11 years old. In fact, that is the only memory I have of her out of a wheelchair. When I first met Mrs. B. she and B were joking and laughing, in between their battles. Mrs. B. had a dark, dark sense of humor. Knowing both Mrs. B and Dr. B (B’s father), I am certain that her humor comes from her mother.

Mrs. B. was absolutely the worst cook I’ve ever known. The woman even destroyed a Sloppy Joe meat sandwich. Another classic meal was created when she “boiled” a frozen dinner, stored in a plastic bag, by cooking it in a frying pan. Without water. (or at least, by the time we arrived, the water was gone, as was some of the plastic.). We ate at my house mostly…

Also memorable was Mrs. B’s driving skills, or lack thereof. She drove a massive yellow Buick – the kind of car where you cannot even FIND the front of it. And when I say that she drove it, I mean that she drove it ALL OVER THE ROAD. We sat in the back, white with fear, thankful that the Buick was built like an army tank.

As Mrs. B’s physical condition declined, her bitterness grew. Mrs. B. was jealous of anyone who took up B’s time, which made me a prime target because B and I spent every waking hour together. When I came to visit, B’s mother would lock the door and scream at B. B used to sneak me in through the upstairs window. Worse were the times when Mrs. B. would fall, and little, tiny B would have to pick her panicked, anxious, and crying mother back up and struggle to return her to the wheelchair. It is not a life that a young girl should lead, and B cared mostly for herself from the time I knew her. Not surprisingly, this kind of life led to some special problems for B. But she was (and still is) my best friend.

B tells me that one defining moment in her life occurred when my own mother saw how bad the situation was, and lied to Mrs. B. so that B could have a night away, sleeping over at our place. From that day forward B viewed my mother as her second mom. My mother even came to B’s wedding in 1994 (after which Mrs. B was moved to a nursing home in California where the eldest daughter could care for her).

You might imagine what such a life would do to a daughter. Yet B remains one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. B now lives in England with her husband and three children (my “nephews” and “niece”). Her home has been *my* second home for all of the years I lived in Europe. She understands me better than just about anyone on the planet – we share the camaraderie that only the 20 years of friendship can impart.

We cried together when B called me last week to tell me of her death. B cried in sorrow, guilt, emptiness, and that lost feeling you have when your parent dies. I cried for the loss of someone from my childhood, a little because I remembered the loss of my own (alcoholic) father, and mostly for the pain I knew B was feeling. It is so hard to lose a parent. And there is a special hurt mingled with guilty anger when you lose a parent like this one. And B is such a strong woman – it’s hard to see her in pain.

Although I made a donation to the MS society, and sent cards and called when I could, we didn’t really get to talk until this past weekend when B returned to England, and she told me the whole story. It made me laugh so hard. The story that follows is the truth as reported to me by B (who believes that the only way to deal with pain is to laugh. For this I have always loved her). I SWEAR. It is NOT an excerpt from a Robertson Davies or Michael Chabon novel.

{very dark humor to follow. You may wish to stop reading here>}/p>

As is appropriate in Judaism, the family decided to cremate Mrs. B., and B and her sister went to “oversee” the cremation. First they had to choose the container for delivery to the crematorium. They decided that since she was going to be cremated, they didn’t require a formal coffin, so they chose the most inexpensive (and combustible) form of transport. And then discovered that this is a coffin-shaped cardboard box, with the word “HEAD” scribbled on one end with a Sharpie black marker. (am uncertain as to why, at this point, it matters where “Head” is… nevertheless)..

Mrs. B. (or rather, the former Mrs. B) was loaded into the box, and then transported in a white Ford Aerostar. (not a hearse. An Aerostar). B and her sister followed to the Ford Aerostar to the Crematorium. When they arrived at the crematorium, the box and the former Mrs. B. were placed before the burning chamber. B and her sister stood before the cardboard box marked “HEAD” at one end. B was continually reminding her self, “This is the shell that once contained my mother, this is not ACTUALLY my mother…”

A man came in, in a dark blue uniform with the name “Skip” embroidered on the lapel – just like a gas station attendant, or a member of a bowling team. “Skip” shook their hands and introduced himself and explained the procedure. He then asked if one of them wanted to push the button themselves…. They, um, declined. The cremation was then over rather quickly, and they left, carrying their mother in what looked like cigar box.

Now, ever since Mrs. B. has lived in California and been driving the eldest sister crazy, the eldest sister has saying, “I’m going to throw her off the bridge.” Ergo, B decided it would be a perfect idea to scatter the ashes off the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s a certain dark humor in that. And, I agree with B. Mrs. B, at least in her younger years, would have appreciated this.

Okay, this idea was nixed. Too dark for the other sisters for one. Secondly, it’s kind of illegal to dump people ashes without a permit, IF they catch you (as the funeral assistant carefully informed them). So…the three sisters, armed with cigar box in brief case, drove to the pier, determined not to be caught (with paranoid sister 2 ever alert for the passing of police helicopters).

When they arrived at the pier, B, chanting the phrase, “this is not my mother anymore” dug her hand in the ashes and tossed the first fistful of "Mom" off the pier (carefully aiming DOWNwind). The oldest sister took the second handful. The third sister, unwilling to put her hand in, suggested that the remaining ash be returned to Boston for a formal Jewish funeral ... just as Sister 1 knocked her hand into the box, causing B to dump the rest of the ashes into the wind and all over the pier..... B fell to her knees and blew as hard as she could to transfer the piles of ash to the water, as this was far to superior to leaving lumps of her mother on the old wooden planks of pier, waiting for the next San Francisco rain...

And that was the end of Mrs. B.

I would like to believe somehow, that wherever she is, she is free of her crippled, earthly body and brittle burdened mind, and that she is able to fly, released of all of her bitterness towards life and humanity. That she has returned to making those strange dark jokes that I vaguely remember as a 12-year-old. If nothing else, I hope her spirit finally recognizes that it’s the humor that lives on B – the humor that has me sometimes laughing so hard that my sides hurt. And what better is there to do in life but laugh?

Good bye, Mrs. B. After knowing you 20-odd years, the least I could do was make a donation to the MS society so that your 2nd daughter (who also has MS) and perhaps also your future generations may see a better life. In turn, I hope you can remember me as someone who will always love and care for your youngest daughter. I know there’s no Jewish heaven. But I hope that wherever you are, you are making people laugh. And that you aren’t the cook!

With love, B’s best friend.

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