Memoir Bytes – Beginnings and Endings – Familiar Faces

Memoir writing

Beginnings and Endings – Familiar Faces


Where the number of funerals outweigh the number of weddings I attend, funerals being a sad parting of ways whereas weddings are joyous and the promise of new beginnings in life, there is one parallel I find in both –  meeting up with old familiar faces – people we haven’t seen in years, or decades. These events are usually good reminders of how much time has actually gone by in our own lives.


Awhile ago a dear family friend had lost his beloved wife of 62 years. As is customary in our faith, the mourning period ensues for the immediate family known as the ‘Shiva’. At this time, friends and family come to visit the mourners at their home throughout the Shiva period. The visitors come to the open house and may come and go at random from noon till around 9pm at night. Every morning and evening there are prayers for the dead, called a minion, where at least 10 men are required to form this minion. It’s a given that this is protocol, many male friends of the lost loved one or remaining family members will drop by in the morning on their way to work and often at night and many bring their wives and families to pay respects to mingle with the females while the men do prayers. Evenings and Sundays (no Shiva on the Sabbath) are times when we’re mostly likely to run into ‘old familiar faces’ when they drop by to visit.

While I was visiting our friend one evening, I began scrutinizing the faces of those there who I recognized from the long ago past, trying to place their face back in time when I remembered them being a more frequent part of my life.

After prayers ended, I was sitting on the couch with my sister conversing with the our recently widowed friend. The house was crowded and many visitors came up to him to offer their condolences. I nodded hello to them as they brushed up against me in efforts to hug or shake the hand of our grieving friend.  And then there were 4.

I looked up at the rather tall man with kind eyes who’d almost stepped on my foot while struggling to fit through the crowd and squeezed in between me and the coffee table to say hello to my sad friend. I stared at this man whose height had shrunk some, now hunched shoulders and sallow eyes as the decades had diminished his posture,  and sucked his sunny demeanor from his face, and I said “Hello, do you remember me? I’m Tody’s daughter and this is my sister Marni.” He wore a blank look on his face and managed a nervous smile while nodding hello in politeness. I wasn’t sure if he remembered me or perhaps didn’t hear me. The years had been kinder to his wife as she maintained her looks well through the years and her hair was still the same recognizable, vibrant red. They both had to have been pushing 80.  That moment took me back into a time warp, back to when I was a young girl.

Tody was the nickname everyone knew my father by, given to him as a toddler. The man I saw was one of his closest friends since his childhood.

Within minutes the next couple making their way over to my friend in mourning walked right past me. At first I didn’t even recognize the man. The years past had overhauled anything familiar to me about the man, but then his wife peeked out from behind and once again I recognized who they were. This woman too had preserved herself nicely for an 80 year old woman. She was still blond and pretty, and although sporting a few lines of wisdom on her face she was still attractive. She stared at me as though I too looked familiar to her, but never acknowledged me.  I think I was overwhelmed in the moment where I was re-living my childhood with the presence of these people standing in front of me, so I bowed my head to break the eye connection between us until they finally left the room.

Because I didn’t recognize the women’s husband, I was trying to make the connection in my head. I suddenly realized , Yes! I know who her husband is, it was my father’s best friend when he was young. I wrote about that couple in my memoir – the man my mother was in love with, the man who didn’t succumb to my mother’s advances, the reason my mother chose to go after my dad in hopes that this man would get jealous and break up with his then childhood sweetheart who had become his wife.

After my sister and I left the Shiva house, while walking to the car, I exclaimed, “Wow, how freaky was that? I haven’t seen those couples in 40 years and only recently published my latest book with the story about Mom being in love with Dad’s best friend.”

My sister replied, “You should have gone up to him and thanked him. If it wasn’t for him, you would never have been born.”




36 thoughts on “Memoir Bytes – Beginnings and Endings – Familiar Faces

  1. I’ve thought a lot about this, how even the smallest of circumstances turn the tide of our life dramatically – the moment you crossed paths with someone (or rather, the moment you had decided to go out that time of day), the left turn you made, the sign overhead that you noticed. A roomful of history, memory, secrets and disclosure. Who needs fiction?

    So sorry for your friend who lost his beloved, D. Hope it’s a special week in better ways.


    1. Thanks Diana. You are so right. Everything we do determines a new fate. I’m from the school of ‘everything happens for a reason’. Thanks for your condolences too. That’s life, as they say. 🙂 Happy holidays to you. ❤


  2. I think Shiva is a wonderful ritual for so many reasons. It offers a time and place to mourn in communion with others; it evokes remembrances of the departed that can be shared; it brings family and friends together in support of one another; it reunites those who have gone their separate ways. You literally had a blast from the past, Deb; and Marni’s comment nutshelled it. I’m SO glad you were born. If you ever see that gentleman again, be sure to thank him for me as well ?


    1. T, besides your kindness and gigantic heart, you have summed up what Shiva means to a ‘T’, pun intended. 🙂 And your phrasing was also apt when you called it a ‘blast from the past’! Thanks for always adding your great wisdom! xo ❤


    1. Thanks for sharing that here Christoph. Indeed, it’s interesting to delve back into our family history and always interesting to find some skeletons regarding our own births and heritage. That’s why I enjoy writing memoir so much. Big hugs to you too. ❤


  3. Another great episode for another memoir! Being an unexpected arrival when my father was 41 and my mother 38, I’ve been somewhat off the path of visitations with departing relatives for some time now. When I was there, it often came in my childhood to youth. Still, I can recall the events which had some similarity to your experiences–minus the faith-bound elements that were unlike mine. An opportunity to meet, greet and reminisce often with humor or laughter–so surprising given the occasion. My goal to make my own departure’s celebration a happily humorous one is a direction to have Frank Zappa’s “Moving to Montana Soon,” a featured musical selection.


  4. Your sister has a point! Weddings and funerals do have the affect of bringing together people we haven’t seen for decades. I’ve never been to a school reunion, but I’ll bet in some ways they’re similar, although it might be easy to tell who everyone is since I think they sometimes wear name tags. 🙂


    1. Lol, Bun, from what I’ve seen of others who’ve attended reunions, it sounds like they need name tags. The years aren’t always kind to everyone. I’ve never been to a school reunion either. 🙂


  5. Ah, those delicious twists of fate. I’m the family elder in my lineage now other than a few cousins who live far away. I’m digging into the past through photos rather than seeing people in person. In boxes that belonged to my mom, I find images of a time before my dad got sick. A time when my mother looked spicy and ready to dance rather than worried and haggard. Memoir material is everywhere. I’m glad you still get to see these people once in a while. It gives us perspective and helps us see how far we’ve traveled in this life.

    Have a Peaceful New Year with more weddings and fewer shivas.


    1. Thanks so much Elaine. Yes, old photos are a treasure trove for memoir writers. I too have boxes of them, and may begin some digging later next year. And you’re so right, seeing people from the past is a great indicator of time traveled!
      Thanks for your well wishes as always Elaine. Wishing you a peaceful and bountiful New Year my friend. ❤


  6. What an amazing story Deb! I had this post ready to read and at last have done so. Wow…I wonder if the man has read your book?! He would recognise himself as the man your mother was in love with…but what a great line by your sister, and so true! Phew! It is amazing though isn’t it, these people from our past who trigger memories of so long ago. I feel like that looking at the family photos my cousin recently sent me. My mother was broken-hearted, jilted by a man she adored, when she was 18, and then met my dad, a confirmed playboy who upon meeting Mum vowed she would be his wife. I wonder to this day if that is what went wrong, she still had a hankering for her first love. As with you, if she had married him, I wouldn’t be here either. I’m sorry for your dear friend’s loss, so sad after so long. And thank you for sharing about the custom of Shiva, how wonderful to have so much family and friend support at a time of deep loss. Great writing my friend, I was lost in your story, couldn’t wait to find out what happened. And now I know! Wow. The more I read about your mother, the more respect I have for your father. What a great man 🙂 ❤ xoxo


    1. Thanks so much Sherri, for always sharing your own heart and reading my stories. Wow, so we have more things in common! But I’m glad you have a better relationship with your mum. So true, especially for writers, a picture or a face from the past can trigger a story from a memory. And yes, nobody is perfect, not even my dad, but he was a good father in the best way he new how, and my mother smashed his heart so many times, it’s no wonder he died young. And so I write. Thank you my sweet friend. 🙂 ❤ ❤ xo


      1. Aww…such a powerful family story you have dear Deb. And so you write indeed. And how very glad am I and many others for your true gift and heart. Bless you sweet friend… 🙂 ❤ ❤ ❤


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