As you read over here (and maybe on Facebook), darling Dr. Miller passed away on Wednesday. Here’s how his oldest son described it:
After a small nightcap of whiskey, making his funeral intentions abundantly clear, refusing all unnecessary medical help (as only a surgeon can), having returned to his home… my father, almost 97 years of age, a former clinical professor of surgery and departmental chief in innumerable hospitals in Boston, a true gentleman with generosity and heart from a bygone age, passed from this earthly plane to one of bliss.
And now Maida, darling Maida, is lonely.
“I know I’m not alone… but I only want Harold.”
Her plan was always for them to pass into “bliss” hand in hand. Even in her tenth decade of life, living without her partner of 66 years was unfathomable until the cruel reality of his death. And although this is devastating, it’s an absolute honor to witness: to be called to comfort a woman capable of this much love.
Following traditional Jewish rites, Dr. Miller will be buried promptly and without pomp and circumstance. I can’t make it out to California in time for the service, but (if little boy schedules, flu season, and somewhat reasonable airfares permit it) I really want to pay a visit while the family is “sitting shivy.” Jews really do this well: let the family stay put, let the world come in and bear witness to a life, and let us hold close the ones suffering the gaping wound of its absence. I want to be a part of that for Dr. Miller, for Maida… for me.
My boys are, naturally, shaken. I’ll admit that my first fascination with the adorable Millers morphed into a bit of an outreach program to teach Brodie and Teddy the importance of generosity, kindness, and neighborliness. It was a joy to bring the boys across the street… to watch Maida’s face as Brodie played their Cold War-era-tuned piano or to find Teddy watching televised soccer at the feet of a snoring Dr. Miller. Coffee cake delivery to our ancient neighbors was a job to teach the boys how to cross the street carefully, looking both ways before they were greeted with kisses and pinches and love. And although we had discussed the sooner-than-later mortality of our 90-year-old friends many times, I wasn’t prepared for how sad I’d be… and how that would affect them, too. Teddy told Grandma Karen:
“The last time I saw Mommy cry was when she told us she had breast cancer.”
I’ll be reeling from that blow to the stomach for a little longer. Brodie reminded me of a funny voicemail from them: a rambling message from Maida listing all the reasons we were lucky to know each other, with Dr. Miller in the background yelling his “me, too!” endorsement of these sweet sentiments. I hadn’t deleted it. And it made us laugh all over again.
There is going to be a lot of talk about Heaven, where and what it is, and if Dr. Miller won’t need a walker because he can fly now. Because the afterlife is impossible for me to explain to anyone, much less these logical little people, I focused on more earthly explanations. I told them that Heaven can be found find right here in little moments. When we curl around my cell phone to listen to a funny message and laugh… that’s Heaven. When we stand in a circle and squeeze each other after Teddy yells, “Family Hug!”… that’s Heaven. When Maida opened the door and gazed with delight at two eager little visitors who never once shied away from a lipsticked kiss… that’s Heaven. We can bring a little taste of it to each other right here, right now. And if we’re lucky enough to notice it, it’s bliss.
(Farewell, darling Dr. Miller.)