I’ve cried a lot in the last few weeks–sometimes overwhelmed by sadness and pain…but sometimes overwhelmed by gratitude. There were incredible kindnesses from people that gave me hope and strength.
I want to share them here, in hopes that I can somehow recognize these acts and in hopes that I can bring to light how meaningful they can be.
We operated on a tight timeline those first few days of grief–she was not in the ground yet, and we fought an uphill battle to put her to rest as soon as possible (by Jewish law, the deceased must be buried the same day–pending delays from autopsy or transport or the start of Shabbat).
Passover would start in a week (shiva (where a family sits in grief for a week, simplistically put) ends at the start of Passover, at which point we are obligated to celebrate and put aside our grief). We wanted to give the family as close to a week of shiva as possible, even though we knew our week would be cut short. That meant we only had a few days to get her to Israel, and yet we faced Shabbat and a weekend ahead of us.
Our timeline was to put the family on a flight to Israel on Monday night, and for my husband and I to follow with his mother’s body the following day. That meant everything had to be lined up over the weekend–including passports for teh family Monday morning.
The coroners were incredibly kind–we needed a death certificate or a letter from the coroner to get the family passports on Monday morning, even though she had not been examined yet. I made calls–could someone help me? A coroner said he’d help. He reminded me of Horatio Crane on CSI, “Listen–I’ll write you a letter. It won’t be official, there will be no stamp on it, but it should get you through.” I was overwhelmed with gratitude and told him so, noting his name for a future thank you note. “And sweetheart, I’m off tomorrow but back Wednesday–you call me for anything you need,” he said in true Horatio Crane style.
Wow. And within a few minutes, we received a letter from him via FAX. True to his word. I clutched the letter.
The passport office people were also incredibly kind–I reached the State Department, and someone there said he’d send word to the Passport Agency. When I called to followup on Monday as the family was told there was no such appointment, the Passport Department reps pushed the family through to the head of the line, so that they could receive passports and get on a flight to Israel later that same day. It was not a pleasant process (what government process is?), but the outcome was possible because of individuals who opened their hearts and pushed us through somehow.
I also thought one individual was extremely kind that morning. The family had run out of cellphone battery and they were calling us from a payphone outside the Passport agency. I’d asked them to call me back once they’d gotten into the building, but of course I didn’t hear from them after that last call to the central Passport Department–had they gotten in? Or were they sitting in despair outside the building?
I called the payphone. A man picked up. Were they there? I asked. He said he would walk around and ask for me. I could hear him call their names. He told me he would look around for them. I could hear him calling their names faintly in the distance, genuinely looking around. “They’re not here,” he said. Was he an employee of the Passport Agency? No, he wasnt. He was just waiting in line outside, trying to get a passport. Wow. G*d bless you, I said, explaining our situation and what his act meant to me that morning.
When my husband and I got to the airport for our flight to Israel, we had had 15 minutes sleep. We were exhausted from coordinating logistics, and from our own grief. Could we get an upgrade to business class so we could sleep? We explained our situation for what seemed like the hundredth time in a stricken monotone, “Our mother was killed in a car accident. We are transporting and accompanying her body to Israel, where we will bury her.” They were nearly sold out, with only one seat available. I looked at my husband’s grief stricken face–and thought about his mother’s body in the plane’s cargo hold. “You should take it.”
The airline agent said he would process it and excused himself. After a time, he came back with two business class tickets. “They are not directly together, but I got you two seats,” he said, extending his condolences. I burst into tears. People were so kind. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, sobbing at the ticket desk.
But then there are massive jerks.
Today, weeks (has it been that long? Yes it has been over two weeks now) later, I got a phone call from MCI. “We wanted to let you know that there were several calls made to Israel and that you have no international calling plan.”
“Several calls were made to Israel, and you have no international calling plan.”
How could I have NO international calling plan? Apparently, when I switched from AT&T to MCI long distance, I switched to a long distance plan with NO international calling plan. “What kind of plan is THAT?! Why would I, a second generation Korean American, and my husband, a second generation Israeli, with relatives abroad SIGN UP for a plan with NO international calling?! Those calls were made to arrange for the burial of my mother!” It was ridiculous. I made plans in my head to immediately switch back to AT&T.
The agent said, “I’m sorry, but I’m just letting you know,” in a way that truly didn’t sound sorry.
I asked them to put me on an international calling plan and make it retroactive so that the calls to Israel would be covered. I asked for a manager and reiterated my statement.
The manager said, “I’m sorry, We’re MCI but I’m not customer service. I’m just letting you know.”
That is when I just lost it. “Do you KNOW what those calls were for? They were NOT some happy call made to a relative to chat about weather. They were calls to mortuaries, and to cemeteries, and relatives in grief, to transport and BURY our mother!
“I’m sorry. I can give you a number to customer service to get you on a plan.”
That is when I continued to lose it. “I REFUSE to dial another phone number! I have made enough phone calls this month for sad reasons, YOU figure it OUT!”
“I’m sorry. I can’t do that. I’m not customer service.”
Continuing to lose it, I said, “Do you have a mother or father?”
She replied, “This is not personal.”
“Okay,” I continued, “I curse you with this much pain and inconvenience in the wake of a death in YOUR family, and I hope you learn HOW unhelpful you are to someone in this much pain. How the HELL can you give me, ‘That’s not my job’ as an answer?!”
That’s when she offered to connect me to customer service personally. Okay. I took that. “Thank you. I’ll take that.”
MCI’s Customer service, btw, was actually helpful.
Kindnesses go a long way. I will never forget the kindnesses.