Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sitting shiva, yahrzeit, and other memories

My mother died a long, long time ago, over twenty years ago in fact but her yahrzeit was on Monday, and of course I have been thinking of her. Her passing left a great big hole in my life. You never get over it, you just go on.

I can barely remember the funeral, arranged by my cousin B, of course. He is the designated funeral arranger for that side of the family. My family and I were living 600 miles away, and we had to fly in. I remember going to her house, and seeing all the medicine bottles and throwing them away. I remember seeing her slippers, and how they almost broke my heart--such little slippers. They were so sad.

The woman who had taken care of her during her last illness started to regale me with details of her death, details I cannot bear to think of to this day. My daughter saw how this distressed me, and shut her up, the old crow.

When we got back to the house, women from the congregation had prepared a meal for us. We sat down, me and my husband and two daughters, my uncle and his wife, and my brother and his wife, and a strange man. I was in shock, but the kindness of the ladies who had prepared the meal was like a balm to my spirits. They came like elves, they did not intrude, but the food was there. We could no more have arranged a meal for ourselves than we could have climbed Mount Everest, we were so exhausted.

Later, I remembered the strange man who sat at the table with us. Who was he? Oh, someone said, he always comes to funerals and eats.

Then we sat shiva. Oh, it was a long, long ordeal. Every morning, a minyan showed up at the house to pray. After that, people dropped by from time to time. I made fresh coffee over and over. Cookies were put out, and eaten, and more were put out.

Some of my mother's friends sat down and reminisced about their friendships with her. They made me remember lots of things I had forgotten: how we took walks together when I was a child, the way she would always dig up flowers from vacant lots and take them home and plant them, her little quirks that were hers and hers alone.

Every night, someone would send over dinner. Every day, letters would come, sympathy cards, charitable donations in her name. During the times when there were no visitors, I tried to pack up and dispose of her things. She had many things. She kept everything. Her drawers were filled with presents I had given her, wrapped in the tissue paper in which they were presented; they were too good to use. It's ironic how things survive their owners, isn't it?

In a cedar chest in her upstairs hall, I found skirts and sweaters I had worn in college. Some of my grandmother's clothes were there too--she had been dead ten years. I found my grandmother's silver. And dishes, many many dishes. All observant Jews have lots of dishes, but she had her own and her mother's too. Sets and sets.

By the end of the third day, I was just chucking things into garbage bags, right, left, and center. My husband and daughters had gone home, back to their lives, and I was alone there with the shiva visitors, the other mourners, and the stuff. I swore to myself I would never leave all that stuff for my kids to go through. I haven't exactly kept my promise, though.

I went on with my life, too, of course. It would be odd if I didn't. But I find myself missing her at odd times. Yom Kippur is hard, yizkor is hard. Passover brings back memories, because we always spent that holiday with her. But mostly they are good memories.

I was very lucky to have her, and I cherish her memory.


dick stanley said...

Nicely done. Reminds me of my own mother's death and others since then.

airforcewife said...

The things you write about your mother make me feel like I knew her. And you write of a person with so many admirable qualities who made the world so much better.

She really did leave a footprint behind, I can see it even though I didn't know her.

miriam said...

Thanks for the kind comments.