We had a short ceremony today and “unveiled” the headstone marking my mother’s grave. By Jewish tradition, the one-year anniversary of the death of a parent marks the end of a period of deep mourning. It’s just regular old mourning from here on out: the ups and downs of memory and loss.

We Jews generally aren’t so big on monuments and shrines, but there is something about the permanence of a slab of stone that is comforting. A few months ago I went to the granite shop to order the grave marker. There was a book of other headstones to look at for inspiration; since they were taken from the local cemetery I recognized a lot of the names. I picked out the stone (a tinge of red, her favorite color) and decided how many surfaces would be polished. I selected a font for the engraving and double-checked the accuracy of the names and dates that sum up my mother’s complicated life.

It was a beautiful day today, just as it was a year ago when my mom was buried. The rabbi and the cantor led us in the traditional readings and prayers, I removed the cloth covering the headstone and we shared some memories and stories. Louise was wearing The Necklace and we talked about the miracle of its loss and recovery. We took a stroll around the cemetery. Then we went for pancakes.

We were a bit overdressed – especially Elijah, who was wearing a navy suit and bow tie (Grandpa Sidney would have been so proud).  An elderly gentleman came over to our table and asked if it was a special occasion. He was a bit taken aback when I told him we had just come from the cemetery, but he was very kind and said he hoped we would enjoy our meal.

We arrived home with bellies full of pancakes and butter. I had some paperwork to take care of at the free clinic and decided it would make for a nice walk. It’s about a mile and a half through lovely residential streets and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

On the way back, I was about halfway home when a man neatly dressed in denim came walking toward me with two large garbage bags slung over his shoulder. As he got closer, I could see through some small holes that the bags were filled with returnable bottles and cans.

“That’s a lot of bottles,” I noted helpfully. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. “The bottle return was broken and they couldn’t get it fixed.” “So you’re taking them all home?” I asked. “Yes, ma’am.” He smiled. He asked me if I was having a pleasant day and introduced himself as Liotus. He asked if I lived in the neighborhood and if I needed any yard work done. I knew my next hundred had found a home.


We walked together for about a block, chatting about the weather. Then I stopped and told him I wanted to pass along a gift. I told him my mom had died just a year ago and he said he was sorry, so sorry, to hear that. I gave him the $100 that was in my pocket and his smile got wider.

“Oh, thank you! Thank you, ma’am!” he said. Then he reached out and gave me a kind of shy hug. He said he was really happy to have the money because he needed to buy some medicine. “Medicine?” I asked.

“Yes, ma’am, I have blood cancer,” he explained. He told me he has no insurance but is hoping the Oregon Health Plan will kick in soon. I wished him the best, he thanked me again, and we said our farewells.

Liotus and his load

I walked on home, feeling the sun on my face and the connection of my feet to the ground. I thought about the cemetery and all the tears that have been shed there. I saw kids playing in the street, shooting baskets and riding skateboards. In my mind, I kept seeing Liotus and his big bags. They looked really heavy and he carried them with such grace.

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3 Responses to Liotus’s Load

  1. Dolly England says:

    Oh Man…. this one’s a real tear jerker!

  2. Haralee says:

    I thought it was going to be a week with-out tearing up from your posts, but you pulled it out with this one, not in a bad way at all. Very touching!

  3. Katie Gates says:

    Hello Jill!

    So glad to have received the alum magazine, which led me here. I love this project, and having read only this post so far, I can tell you I’m hooked. You write beautifully.

    Isn’t money a strange beast? My relationship with it is quite different from yours. In fact, I define money as “something other people need for me to have.” It serves me well as a fundraising consultant. When I review a philanthropy’s assets, my gut response is “They don’t need all that money!”

    Good for you for finding such a creative, compassionate way to rid yourself of some unnecessary DNA (and I say that with no disrespect to your late mother!*). You’re learning that everyone carries a load of sorts. When we recognize and act on the choices we have around those potential “burdens,” we are free.

    If you are not already considering turning this project into a book, I hope you will!

    Best wishes to you,

    *mentioning your mom just gave me a flash of the parakeet who always listened upside down.

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