Every day is something new, and an adjustment for us all. And every day is a bit much. I have every right to feel sorry for myself over my newfound responsibilities, and sometimes do. More frequently my experience has been one of receiving and uncovering a succession of gifts, untold opportunities to be of use to someone who needs help, in a profound way -- a daily reminder of the preciousness of life and the power of love and gratitude. And of family, whether born into or the result of a marriage or loving partnership.
Bandar Arraj was born Feb. 1, 1925, in the hills just outside Beirut, Lebanon. She grew up in a traditional, Lebanese-Byzantine household. She dropped out of school in the 3rd grade, or possibly earlier. She was needed at home to help manage the household due to a family member's illness. It may have been her older brother, Sam, who had fallen ill and required a multi-year convalescence time. Whatever the reason, Bandar stayed home, learned to cook, clean and do household chores and little else. She never learned to read or write Arabic, her home language, let alone English, not then, not ever. She can barely write out her name. She can't write a letter or read a map. Street signs have little meaning to her beyond the numerous logos and sign shapes she recognizes. She never learned that there are nine planets, nor that their number recently was reduced to eight by scientific consensus. She never heard of World War II or Hitler even though she was 20 years old on both VE and VJ days. Neither the Great Depression nor the Great Pyramids have any specific meaning to her. She does possess uncommon street smarts and has an intuitive intelligence that allows her to fake her way in and out of most situations. By her accounts she had an unremarkable childhood and had a few boyfriends in her teens and twenties. From the pictures of her early life, Bandar was strikingly beautiful. Yet, for reasons unknown, Bandar remained single until her 31st year, when her American husband-to-be, David Murad, traveled to her country with the sole purpose of marrying Bandar Arraj as was pre-arranged through an intermediary at his Lebanese church in Cleveland. David was 14 years Bandar's senior and a 44-year-old bachelor. Their courtship was three weeks. They married in 1955 and began a life together in Cleveland.
As a new widow in the '90s, Bandar adjusted with understandable difficulty. But adjust she did. Unable to drive, she walked to nearby stores, learned how to get around on the bus and even took a part-time job bussing tables at a catering business a short walk away. Self-conscious about her poor English skills and inability to read or write, she eschewed typical social outlets available to seniors -- adult day care, travel clubs and other senior-oriented activities. Sophie and her siblings along with their spouses pitched in as they could to help with reading the mail, paying bills, filing taxes, banking, shopping, yard work, entertaining and so on. Much of those responsibilities fell to the youngest daughter, Sophie. We frequently took Bandar out to dinner, and Bandar became a regular overnight visitor here, staying with us perhaps one or two days a month. Always a healthy eater, and as a result of her vegetable-rich Lebanese diet and frequent walks, she stayed in decent shape up until her late 70s. Then, as loneliness, osteoarthritis and bad knees began to take their toll, her visits with us became more frequent over time, to the point where last year she stayed overnight two or three days each week, requiring us to factor in Bandar for all of our weekend plans -- weddings, family outings, date nights, vacations and work events. Everything either had to be done with Bandar, or we had to make alternate arrangements for her. With increasing mobility issues and general pain and weakness, we discovered about six months ago that Bandar could no longer get up and down our stairs to our guest bedroom. So she moved in a little closer on our personal space, now residing in our first-floor master suite when she spends the night. Sophie and I sleep upstairs and will do so indefinitely, whenever Bandar is our house guest.
This brings us to the big stumble of 2009. In mid May while checking for the mail on her front porch in Brooklyn (Ohio), Bandar, tripped on her doorway step and fell onto the slab and down the three cement steps to the sidewalk below. She'd fallen, but, thankfully, could get up -- this time. She received a very noticeable black eye and scrapes on her forehead, nose and cheek. She limped back into the house and, rather than calling anyone, she waited until the next day to casually mention it on the phone to her son, Morris, who raced over to inspect the damage, commiserate and send out the alarm to his siblings. Sophie, an RN, commenced with getting Bandar to the ER for X-rays, and later to a long line of pain specialists, neuropathic doctors, orthopedic docs and physical therapists. Sarah flew in from Virginia for a couple of days to assist where she could. Bandar's back pain was bad, and the initial X-ray missed detection of the spinal cord fracture -- at T12 on her thoracic vertebrae, located at about the height of the lowest part of the rib cage. Over the next few days, the pain and associated leg weakness worsened -- to the point where the docs considered surgery. Bandar was ordered to go on pseudo bed-rest: she is not allowed to take a step without the physical support and supervision of another able adult. She was fitted with a back brace and given a regimen of PT exercises. She's been living with Sophie and me since.