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2006 Journal

A Letter to All Whom We Think of as Friend

The adage “The only thing that does not change is change,” describes Andy’s and my world in 2006. At year’s end, we commit ourselves to reflection. Often, the days look familiar; however, this year is antipodal in many ways... like a blizzard covering up a summer field.

And so, I am writing a ‘This is what we did / this is where we are letter’ communicating with those who we feel truly want contact with us. Looking back and reading our combined diary Andy wrote the following on January second 2006 while we were still in Santa Fe with Tommy: ‘The healthful life is worth reinforcing.’ Interesting how reinforcements both physical and mental would play a major part in maintaining strength and, hopefully, a positive character.

On our first visit with my mom in 2006 we had to have drilled open an unused safety deposit box. Its key had been lost for years. This began a year of finishing projects for her. Frequently her projects meant: “When I am gone- you can deal with it.” Despite Sylvia’s procrastination, everything became urgent after her planned one-day procedure in Columbia/Presbyterian Medical Center that led to a seven-week stay in New York, between the hospital and my apartment.

Despite our preoccupation with Sylvia, life went on. Following a few months of arrangements by me, and score learning by Andy, we traveled to Katowice, Poland in February. Here, Andy conducted the recording of two of his concerti, Loving Mad Tom & The Heroic Triad with the Polish National Radio Orchestra. We brought soloists, Simon & David, two fine performer/friends of ours with us. The house staff was professional and on top of every element of the recording part of the project. They were inspiring. And, no, the CD is not out…yet.

After years of wearing glasses and never being comfortable with them, I had Lasik surgery in March. Because of the physical freedom I achieved through the procedure, I was mentally freer too. Soon; however, life became complicated. Mom was in the hospital, and Andy was continuing the composition of a suite from our ballet, “Focus of the Heart” that we are creating together for the Chinese Government and our friends at the Guangxi Art College/Institute in Nanning, China. Andy was scheduled to conduct a suite from the ballet in April, and Mom, now in the hospital, insisted that I go too. Andy and I were working on this common project and in addition, Andy’s life at Juilliard was changing dramatically. I knew that Mom wanted me to stay with her, but she also knew the importance of the project, the meetings we needed to attend, and the significance of this work outside Juilliard.

On the trip, I presented the story and the set designs for the production at project meetings in Beijing. Two days later we were off to Nanning, which is West of Hong Kong towards Viet Nam in Guangxi Province. Andy started rehearsals at the college. I wanted to see the theater. It had to be large enough to fit the required 100 instruments for the ballet (60 Western and 40 traditional Chinese). The theater was close to our hotel - just over the Yongjiang (Yong River). Entering the theater grounds we saw a 30-foot-wide poster with pictures of Andy, the soloists, and me. I thanked the producer, Li Jiang, our close friend and principal of the Attached Middle School, for including me. He looked puzzled and said, “Well, you are the Master of Ceremonies.” This was Tuesday afternoon. The performance was Thursday night. He told me that I had to write my script and Email it to the translator for next morning’s rehearsal... and for the crawl track. ‘Crawl track?’ The concert was to be nationally televised!

Andy began his first rehearsal in the theater (only about a sixth of the stage had been used… a big, big stage). I ran back to the hotel and researched the concert works on the web. At that time, China blocked Wikipedia, so my writing was not easy. I finished about 11:00 PM (23:00) and sent the script off to be translated by my co-mistress of ceremonies. At the rehearsal on Wednesday, she and I split up the speech in logical segments. I spoke a few sentences, then she, and we went back and forth. During a small break I looked at the orchestra and said, “Oh my God!” - loud enough for Andy to turn and ask “What was up?” “100 instruments!” I said. He said that they fit quite well on the stage. “Yes,” I said, “but there are no dancers. There is not an orchestra pit in the world that can fit 100 instruments!” For this concert performance all was well, but I am in the process of figuring out how to hide the Chinese orchestra in and around the multiple sets I need to redesign.

While in China, Andy and I telephoned mom every night, spoke with her floor nurse, and her doctors. In a sense, Andy and I were more together with mom while traveling than if we were actually there. She delighted in our activities and journeyed vicariously through us. We were a continual source of news she could think about and tell to others. We found that everyone at the hospital or The Brookside (her assisted living residence in New Jersey) knew where we went and what we did, sometimes with a bit of embellishment painted by mom. She did like over-painting the images!

The morning after the concert in China we traveled home. It is a long, long distance and many, many hours between Nanning and New York. We had Peter, our driver, who always takes us to and from the airport, leave me at the hospital and take Andy home with the luggage. I entered mom’s first-class room in the McKeen Pavilion (I did work at the hospital in the past and still had connections.) Surprise!! Mom was dressed, in her wheelchair, and ready to go to my place. This was unexpected. She still had to see doctors a number of times in the next weeks! I wished I had a few days to recover from the trip, or at least had a doctor, nurse, or the social worker prepared us for Sylvia’s sign-out. I had to learn, and fast that “where the ball lands is where you play it."

Mom was now with Andy and me, and I had to arrange for 24-hour aid assistance. It was Friday evening, and I would get no service until Monday. As we have heard from others- we now understood the meaning: ‘the child becomes the parent.’ There were involved technical procedures and record keeping for which I needed instructions; the 12-hour jet lag did not help; when mom was scared, embarrassed, and needed my assistance, I did not cry in front of her, but I wanted to.

Eventually, the aids were consistently present. Now, though she had stayed here from time to time, frustration and unfamiliar surroundings caused continual problems. The aids would help, but they were not interested in relating to Sylvia. Worst of all, they would baby her.

Every night, Andy, mom, and I would have my home-cooked dinner together. Most days I would also have lunch with Sylvia before I shopped for ‘momma things’, including shopping for ‘specific woman’s things’ at Filene’s Basement. I saw the stares from the women there. We all knew that nothing on the racks would improve my looks or self-image. The first thing mom said was, “How much was it?”

In May, after seven weeks with us, Mom told me that she was giving me a birthday gift. She was leaving my apartment and going back to her home. On May fifth Peter drove her home, back to Brookside. She called me up the next day, forgetting that it was my birthday. Understand, ‘She is Mother’ and mothers do not call - children call. “You know,” she said, “You have always been more tolerant of me than I have ever been of you.” I was touched and floored by her comment.

In June Sheila, a long-time friend from Colorado, visited. Friends - really good friends - were my strongest allies this year. There are kindnesses from strangers who will aid for a moment, but it is a friend who will intentionally adjust their lives to help by selflessly being a healing spirit.

Also in June, Andy stepped down abruptly from the Directorship of the Pre-College because of a partisan administrative declaration. He was given, at his request, and as part of the separation arrangements, the title of Director Emeritus. You may read into this situation what you will, knowing the history of Juilliard. Andy loves the education of these talented students - future citizens of the world - whose creativity can only be viewed as good for all humankind. He has never stopped teaching and most likely never will. He has the effect, as most of you know, of making those he touches with words, kindnesses, and knowledge- better.

Still, reeling from the events at the beginning of June we began our seven-week Summer sojourn, taking the train to Albany to start a week’s mentoring program at Williams College in Massachusetts. (Albany is the closest train, and airport terminus.) Andy began a yearlong program teaching composition to three gifted children. These kids: Kseniya, Kirill, and Elizabeth are eager to learn and to have Andy as their guide. The other faculty members and staff: Alan, Amy, David & Mary, Jim, Mike & Joan, Richard, Rena, Jay and Ashley made this one of the most stimulating weeks of our lives. These are people one wishes to know. We hope our associations will build into friendships. I recorded representative elements of the week’s events on 35mm film.

July led us back to Santa Fe to be with our family member, Tommy. This is truly ‘our home away from home’. We are generally here twice a year and have developed a number of friends: Mary Dare & Oren, Stephanie & John, Sergio & Kurt, Pete & Ewa, Russ & Pam, Eleanor, Marilyn, Dave and many others.

In Santa Fe, Andy had to study to conduct the Suwon Philharmonic in South Korea in August and to teach at the Seoul Music Festival that he co-directed for two years. We attended the Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet and some orchestral concerts. We also drove Tommy up to Trinidad, Colorado to meet up with Sam. Tommy would be staying with Sam & Bob for a few days in Denver, where he donated some of his rare birds to the Denver Zoo. Andy & I drove back to Santa Fe through Cimarron, Angel Fire, Eagle’s Nest, Taos, and the Rio Grand Gorge before arriving in Santa Fe before dark.

After a three-week stay in Northern New Mexico, we flew to Las Vegas staying at The Venetian Hotel to meet another friend, Hyung Suk from Seoul, and my niece Jodi with her husband, Adam from Washington. The Venetian is the hotel with the Grand Canal winding its way through a re-creation of Venice. Very nice, but the over-the-top, Las Vegas surprise is the realization that the canal, palazzo, and shops are all on the second floor!

Next morning we drove to Tropic, Utah to stay with Jeanee & Kevin, our friends who run the Canyon Livery Bed & Breakfast at the bottom of Bryce Canyon. It was wonderful for Andy and me to share good friends and family. We hiked Bryce, a bit of Zion, some of Grand Staircase/Escalante National Park, rode horses through slot canyons, toured off-road on ATVs (all terrain vehicles), and Bar-B-Qed at neighborís homes in the daylight hours. At night, we ate at Clark’s. (It is THE restaurant in town. It is also the grocery store, gas station, candy shop... I think it is also a motel.) We also put on an impromptu musicale. (Andy played the piano, Adam and Jeanee & Kevin’s oldest son Joey played guitars while Jeanee Xeroxed lyrics so everyone from the town who had dropped in could sing along.) Later, we watched the stars of the Milky Way and the storms of the monsoon season from the massaging heat of the outdoor hot tub. One night, lightning from one of the thunderstorms hit the Glen Canyon Dam blacking out all Southern Utah. The sky looked as close as being in a spaceship. I think it is as close as I will ever go out to it.

Our time in Tropic ended much too soon. We drove back to Las Vegas where, after seeing Cirque du Soleil’s “O”, we met my sister and brother-in-law, Ellie & Mel - who are also Jodi’s parents - for dessert at Michael Minaís Restaurant. We said goodbye to the family at The Bellagio and to Hyung Suk at The Luxor where we spent the night. All attending in our group went their own separate ways.

Andy & I flew off to San Francisco to visit another niece Debbie and her husband Lou in El Granada near Half-Moon Bay. We biked, went to the rodeo, toured San Fran’ a bit, visited with John from the San Francisco Conservatory and his wife Annemarie, had a “bassoon brunch” (a bassoon trio concert!) at ‘the yacht club,’ and just spent good time with family. (No one at ‘the yacht club’ has a yacht.)

Then we were off to Seoul for the orchestra concert, a chamber concert at SBS TV where Andy performed, and the Seoul festival. We also visited with our dear friend, Hyung Sukís mother, YoungShin. They feel like extended family. We had dinners with Hyung Suk’s wife Mi Kyung and YoungShin’s high schoolmates, Son Hee and Clare.

While in Korea, I spoke with mom’s nurse at Brookside. She believed that mom needed an aid during the night when the regular attending staff was minimal. I spoke with mom who was upset because her “legs are giving out.” With the combined effort of the Brookside staff, Tom (mom’s accountant) and me - we made all the necessary arrangements for a nighttime aid, following all the required procedures. Naturally, mom was not happy about the cost of the aid. But, she agreed, while I was away, that it would make ‘me’ feel better knowing that she was being taken care of. So she agreed to the attendant until I was to see her.

During the seven weeks away, we called mom so that she would receive the call just after dinner, sometimes in the lobby of Brookside. She could speak loudly and let everyone know that we were calling from some exotic place. The day before we flew back from Seoul to New York, mom told us that she had to be wheeled back to her room from dinner in a chair. She was annoyed. On the day, we left Seoul she was upset that she was now in “the chair.” We would never see her walk again.

From that point on, mom’s decline was steady. She thought she was deteriorating because she was not walking. However, everyone else knew she was not walking because she was failing. Mom argued that she did not want a private aid, though she was less forceful about it. “She (the one that was arranged for her) has a heavy Russian accent and does not understand me,” mom said. "She is trying to take charge."

Mom was trying to force me to make a decision for her about the nighttime aid. I spoke with everyone concerned and decided that mom should have one night without the aid, and if the outcome of that night were all right, she would continue ‘solo.’ If there was to be a problem it was better for this to happen sooner than later. The experiment gave mom some control of her life and distracted her from charging that I was pushing her to doing ‘something she did not want.’ Her solo night did not go well, so she decided to employ the Russian aid for now.

On Monday’s visit mom decided that she did not want to go out to a restaurant as we usually did. Andy and I brought in sandwiches, which we shared. This became a new routine. When I visited the ‘Wellness Department’ at Brookside, I found out that mom had not been eating. The nurse made me face mom’s failing state and told me it was time to contact Hospice Care. I crumbled emotionally at this watershed, but pulling myself together and washing my face, I went forward and went back upstairs to continue visiting with mom with Andy.

...So, Andy and I rented cars more often, driving to Brookside. Mom became more and more unclear. Our long telephone conversations now reduced to “How was your day? Did you go outside? Did you eat?” and “I love you.” The last statement was deeply heartfelt on both sides.

During this difficult period, we took the bus to Washington on Labor Day weekend to visit our long-time friends John & Greg. Pre-College registration was also on that weekend, and it would have been too painful to be near Juilliard. This would be our last traveling before mom left us.

I then received a call from Hospice Care about mom that eliminated any illusions about Mom’s condition that I might have had.

I had the Power of Attorney for mom. I didn’t want the responsibility, though I knew that I was the correct person for the job. I had refrained from using this power for a long time. Even when mom was in the hospital, I had insisted that ‘she’ sign the requisite papers after we thoroughly discussed her options with her doctors and social workers. Now, mom’s world was imploding.

At this point I signed all the hospice papers. All the hospice personnel were incredible people, especially Sara who was there even more for me, I felt, than mom. I needed Sara through this, ‘my mom’s final process.’ Mom’s transition was more difficult because my brother and sister were estranged from her. To be honest, mom was very high maintenance, but neither she nor her older two children behaved well, and every bruise they inflicted on each other became a deep slash. Mom’s grandchildren visited and called, and they behaved like adults. I could not be more proud of them. Andy and I feel closer to them than ever before.

Mom died on September 28, and was buried on the 29th between Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. My friends, Tip, and her girlfriend, Nico, visiting from Amsterdam, were great supports. I knew I could count on my steadfast friends Eve & Sid and Tula to be good listeners as well as great spirits for me.

Immediately after the holiday I was sworn in as mom’s executor. Mom’s accountant, Tom gave me a list of dos and in what order to do them. He made my work far easier than it might have been. Immediately before mom’s passing we had visitors from the Beijing Dance Academy. They stayed through the week after the funeral, cared for by the father of one of Andy’s Pre-College composition students, Mung Wah - a good person and a great help. A few days after the mourning period, we had a planning session concerning the ballet and other topics with the heads of this group in my apartment.

In October, Andy and I flew to Sydney, Australia for special composition teaching that led to a performance at the Sydney Conservatorium. Sydney, for us, was love at first sight. We got reacquainted with the former head of the Prep-Division, Barbara, and met many others through our contact person, Allan. This was the first time I had not called my mother on a trip. I had no reason to. Sara, the hospice therapist asked me after my mother’s death: “When would I be well?” I said, “When I get home from my first trip”.

When we got back to New York it was almost time to leave for Santa Fe, though there were still family and professional affairs to tend to. First, we went to sister-in-law Judy’s surprise birthday party in New Jersey immediately after having a few special days at my place with Jodi & Adam, and Debbie. Then we met with Lou, Kerri & Chris, and Dan & Rose - our Kessler family nieces, nephew and their spouses. We also had a large dinner for Andy’s students and families. AND we had visiting guests Ray, whom we just met in Sydney, his wife and son, Vonni and Oscar. John & Greg came to stay for a few days - our tradition at the beginning of the holiday season for years. Jenneke & Joan also visited us for our yearly holiday get-together.

Now, I am finally finishing writing this long, long therapeutic journal from my bed in Santa Fe, with a cold blizzard blowing outside and warmth within the house. As at the beginning of this year, the end closes the circle. We can only live for today, but we plan our trips for work, for friendship, for helping make this world just a bit better. How dramatic that all sounds. Is not religion drama too? Our communion, however, is our unique contribution, - not a rigid formalization.

From all the many names mentioned in this journal, you can see how warmly you fit in our hearts. We wish we had coordinating schedules so that we could have spent time with: Alice & Eric, Terry, David, Vivian, Penny, Maria, Arlene & Mark, Anie, Jiwan & Jean-Louis, Marie-Jose, Kurt & Anton, Shirley & Susan, Esther, Frank, Co, Tony, Marcia, Nadre, Adelaide, Inger-Jo, Ralph, Joe & John, Judy & Rich, and Gail & Joe, Alicia & Stan as well as relatives: the Thomas Family, their children and grand children, The Sollens, Liebers, Shapiros, Salamons, all special to us. Surely, I have missed some names. This year’s history would have been.. ‘even more’... with the warmth of their touch.

OK, this has been a difficult year for us, but it has also been a time of great joys and profound learning, thanks to all of you. We learned much:

✓It doesn’t pay to spend time with negative people who suck the air out of a room and starve every one of life. Real friends, be they related to us or not, are our wealth and strength.

✓It is best not to participate in the problems of others when there is nothing you can do to help.

✓Make decisions like an adult: deal with issues as they are, not the way we wish.

✓Few actions will be totally correct, so it is important to find out all possibilities and try to see which will have ‘better consequences.’

We have lost much this year, but we have gained more. I guess that means that we are back from our first trip. “We are better.”

Oh yes, I found the safety deposit key.