Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.
Elliot liked it when I gave sermons that included song lyrics. But I never thought about using a song lyric at his funeral.
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.
I keep thinking about this line from the James Taylor song where he mourns:
But I always thought that I’d see you again.
Elliot and Diane had been living a wonderful time in their lives, with travel and real enjoyment, and then came these last few years, which have been difficult at best and often terrifying and painful and brutal. Sweet dreams came crashing down.
And now we’re here.
And it’s just horrible.
These last weeks, which have been the worst of all, have coincided with the season when Jewish people say a certain psalm, Ps. 27. It’s a prayer about our fears and our hopes for G-d’s protection. And near the end it says:
Loolay he-ehmantee leeroht betuv Adon be-eretz chayyim
This is a very difficult sentence to translate. Some translate it like this:
Despite what I face, surely I will enjoy the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
We say this Psalm twice a day during these weeks. But I kept asking myself:
“How can I be saying this while Elliot is fighting for his life?”
And then – “How can I say this now that Elliot has lost his courageous fight?”
I believe in G-d. But like Job in the Bible, I do not believe that faith in G-d is the same thing as believing that everything is just.
Bad things can happen to good people.
Sickness can happen to people who strive for health and do everything right.
So I kept thinking about the psalm. I found another translation that states:
If only I could be sure that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living…
And then there’s an ellipsis, dot dot dot.
This translation is saying: I’m so down, I’m so besieged by the problems of my reality, that I wish I could be sure of G-d’s tuv, G-d’s goodness in the land of the living.
I said, “Ok, I can do this. I can hope, despite what is going on with Elliot, despite seeing sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground, that I will still see the reason and the justice in this world.
And so I tried that for a while. But Elliot kept getting worse, and I had to keep saying that psalm, and it was really hard.
Why is Elliot’s story so hard for all of us?
If you’re here, you know Elliot like we all do. Because Elliot was the same person in every aspect of his life. He may have been the most consistent person I ever knew. Most of us have different faces for different people, but Elliot had the same, sweet, kind, thoughtful, respectful, face, and tone of voice, for everyone. At work at Alderman Dow with his brother Norman and their employees and their customers for nearly fifty years, with Diane for 52 years of a fantastic marriage, with Cyna and Jennifer as a proud and supportive father, with his friends, friends that go all the way back to his childhood and friends that he gained over the years, with everyone at this synagogue that he was President of, and such a vital part of for decades; in his volunteer work with organizations like the American Red Cross, teaching CPR, starting blood drives here at the shul; everywhere he went and everyone he was with, he was the same genuine, sincere, polite, organized, efficient, good guy.
This is hard for all of us, but it’s especially hard for some of the people in his life.
I want to say something to Elliot’s friends. You have been unbelievable. I’ve never seen such devotion and loyalty and patience and love. You have re-defined what friendship means.
Norman and Caron and their kids could not have been closer. They are all one family. Norman’s grief is so deep that it cannot be measured.
Elliot loved Cyna and Jennifer as much as any parent, and they loved him. Cyna will talk in a few minutes. But I just want to emphasize how proud he was of each of them, and appreciated not just all the support but every single bit of communication they ever had with him.
Elliot and Diane. They loved each other and respected each other and have had the kind of marriage everyone wants.
So it’s last November, and Elliot had had that frightening neurosurgery, and we weren’t sure what shape he’d be in when he came to. And I went in with Diane and she leaned over him and put her face close to his, so I couldn’t see her face or his face. But I have never seen two faces express such love in my whole life.
For Diane, who has been one with Elliot during this battle, every minute of every day now changes.
I’ve learned so much from Diane over the years that I can’t imagine giving her advice. But what I can do is tell Diane the kind of thing that Diane would say to Diane:
Here’s what you do.
You put one foot in front of the other and maybe you walk. Or maybe you don’t walk.
You accept invitations and you go out, or maybe you don’t feel like going out.
You allow yourself to go all the way down, because otherwise you can’t come back up.
You’ve been through a war; you’ve been through hell, and you don’t even know how exhausted you are, mentally, physically, emotionally.
And every day, you just try to figure this out.
Or maybe you don’t figure it out.
Maybe we can’t figure life out, and maybe we can’t figure death out.
Maybe we just do the best we can.
But if anyone will figure it out, it will be Diane.
Please pardon me if I say a few personal things. We all have our stories and memories and I know I’m just one witness, but I’ve known Elliot for over 35 years.
At one point, when we knew what the score was, when we had to really face up to what was happening, I was so rock bottom depressed that Dorene found me just sitting, staring at a blank tv screen. And I just mumbled Elliot’s name. And she said, “They were our first people.” What she meant, in a way I never could have put it, was that when we came here to Hamden, Elliot and Diane were front and center and very important to us right from the start. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that we moved after a couple of years to their block on Underhill Rd. They lived a life that was not pretentious or ostentatious but a nice life on a nice street in a nice neighborhood and I’m sure that this informed our decision. And they were there at every simcha, even one all the way in Canada. And at that wedding in Canada, I told everyone a story about something that had happened right in front of the Aldermans’ house. They invited us to the only Christmas party I ever went to. Even after they moved to the wilds of Canterbury, they were always our neighbors and our friends.
So the other night I went back to Hospice just to sit with him for a while.
And it was quiet, and I said the Vidui, our last prayer, and asked G-d to take him be-ahava, lovingly.
And then I read some other psalms and I came to that same psalm, Psalm 27, that I had been struggling with for weeks.
And Elliot was lying there, literally on his deathbed, and still, something was emanating from him.
And all of a sudden it hit me
It didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks
It enveloped me like a cloud
It was the tuv, the goodness of this wonderful man, even as he lay there at the very end of his life.
The psalm was right after all, the psalm was right after all:
I surely have seen goodness in the land of the living
And so have you
We were blessed
We saw goodness
We knew Elliot.