Aug 13 2014
Many of us who grew up watching Robin Williams in so many dazzling roles are left reeling at his death at age 63 and the tragic circumstances surrounding it. It’s odd to think that a man who brought so much joy to so many people was quietly struggling with such severe depression, and a sobering reminder that mental illness can touch anyone, no matter how seemingly blessed and glittering the externals might appear.
Like other children, I watched “Aladdin” with rapt attention when it came out in 1992, and became an instant Robin Williams fan at age 6–though I only put a face to the Genie the following year when Williams starred in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Since then, I’ve followed his career, along with a few million other people, and the canon of work Williams left behind is vast and the stuff of cultural legends. A few of the movies in which he starred have taken on an added meaning for me since I became a parent, and in re-watching some clips in the wake of Williams’ death, I found two parenting tidbits from his movies to be particularly powerful.
First up, in what is generally considered a lighthearted comedy, “Mrs. Doubtfire” actually contains one of the most moving monologues I’ve ever seen Robin Williams deliver in character and certainly one of the most touching discourses about parenting from any movie I can easily recall (and I watch a lot of movies). Towards the end of the film, the judge presiding over the custody case between Williams’ character, Daniel Hillard, and his ex-wife Miranda (played by Sally Field), asks whether Daniel has any closing remarks to make to stake a claim for partial custody of his children. In response, and with reference to his cross-dressing antics, Daniel says this: Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 29 2014
When a Kveller reader recently sought advice on finding a Jewish ritual for mourning the passing of her cat, I wrote off the request as being outside of the boundaries of normative Jewish practice. Judaism’s elaborate and meaningful mourning rituals and practices are for people, not pets. I felt that saying kaddish or observing the yahrzeit of a pet, no matter how beloved, would somehow take away from the meaning and power of these customs and laws.
And then our beloved guinea pig Caramel died.
Caramel was no ordinary guinea pig. In addition to her rather impressive size and multiple chins, she was a fairly accommodating rodent who often kept my eldest son company during homework time and who enjoyed a good (supervised) romp on the front lawn (The smells! The tasty grass!). Caramel occupied a special place in our hearts (no offense to her cage mate, Cinnamon), and I knew that mourning her was going to be difficult.
We chose a sturdy shoe box for her coffin and my husband went outside to dig the requisite hole in the yard while the kids mourned over her furry, lifeless body. Not wanting me to close the lid, I explained to them that the coffin is closed during most Jewish funerals so that we can remember the person as they were when they were alive. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 7 2014
My husband and I bought cemetery plots today. We are both only 42 years old and (thank God) in good health, but we are trying to do the responsible thing. My parents purchased plots when they were around the same age and we figured it’s always smart to prepare for the future.
Unfortunately, there were no available spaces right next to our family plots, but we were pleased to find a nice spot just a short distance down the pathway. In some ways, the location is probably just right–close to my parents and family, but not too close.
The thing that makes me a little sad–but also a little happy–is that (in 120 years) we will not be buried right next to our daughter. Four years ago this month, we lost a very difficult pregnancy at 21-weeks gestation. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 2 2014
It’s been two whole days. Two days and I still haven’t told my daughter.
When my daughter was little, I used to worry that she didn’t have an appropriate sense of life and death–that she might do something stupid, even if I told her it was dangerous, because she didn’t realize what “dangerous” could mean. The first time she asked me about death, I grabbed the opportunity to try to reinforce the idea that death is serious and final–only realizing later that I had neglected any mention of a soul that lives on after the body, or any religious perspectives one might think a believing Jew should be teaching her child. It was so important to me that she grasp the great divide between life and death, I forgot that I believe in a continuum.
I say “when my daughter was little,” but she’s 8 now–is that still little? I don’t know. I still don’t think she grasps the possible consequences of “danger” as fully as I’d like her to. The other day I mentioned that some friends of ours are finally on the verge of aliyah, after putting their plans on hold years ago, because the father was hit by a bus. (I couldn’t bring myself to say “bus”; I told her he was hit by a car. I think that’s the biggest–maybe only–lie I’ve ever told any of my children.) Her big question? “Did he have to go to the emergency room?” Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 1 2014
Too early that March morning, my mother came into our bedroom and told us, “You don’t have a Nana anymore.”
My sister and I sat up in bed, sleepy-eyed, and shocked into silence. We knew Nana had been in the hospital, but we had no idea she could die.
Although it is contrary to today’s thinking about children and death, I am still grateful that, at 9 years old, I did not go to my grandmother’s funeral. I know that forever after I would have thought of her suffocated in a box. Despite the trauma, at least my memories are of a smiling, well woman who delighted in me and whatever I did. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 25 2014
I say that I’m the oldest of five. But that’s a lie. I’m actually the second oldest of six. Four months before my life began, my 16-month-old sister’s ended. She’d be 38 this month.
Born with a congenital heart defect, her early death was fated–her life clock rapidly marching towards death with her first breath of life. And although her death was certain–an eventuality that could be prepared for–it was no less tragic. It’s taken me 36 years to fully realize just how much impact my sister’s life–a girl I never knew–had on my own.
I don’t know when I began referring to myself as the oldest of five. I’ve been doing it as long as I can remember. At some point, you learn that people you’ve just met (or even those you’ve known and befriended) don’t want to hear about your dead sister. So, you remove any possibility that your sixth sister will ever come up in idle conversation. Eventually, denying her existence just became a convenient habit. Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 28 2014
One of the things I love and admire about Judaism is its focus on life. Judaism, unlike many other religions, is concerned more with this life than what comes in the hereafter. Judaism does provide rituals for mourners to cling to in those dark days after a loved one dies, but beyond the first weeks or year of mourning, life resumes, and any mention of the departed one brings sympathy and comfort from those around.
My dad killed himself 10 years ago.
The ritual afterwards was completely different. He couldn’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery and asked to be cremated with no funeral, no shiva, nothing. Not only did we have to lose our dad and find some way to reconcile his taking of his own life, but we had to do it without the rituals, which are there for a reason. We had to carve our way, largely on our own and without a community. Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 23 2014
He picked up my newborn daughter from her plastic hospital bassinet carefully, with nothing short of love.
“Did you know,” he told the nurse checking my vitals as he checked my baby, “that I’m not only this little baby’s pediatrician, but was also her mother’s? And I was the obstetrician’s pediatrician too!”
“That’s really something!” the nurse said, smiling.
And it was. This anecdote sounds like I live in a one-horse town somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I don’t: I live in a pretty big suburb of New York, where people move away and life goes at a relatively fast pace. Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 17 2014
Shortly after our discussions on Kveller about the appropriateness of the Purim story for preschoolers, my 4th grader needed to read “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry (whom I will always adore due to the “Anastasia Krupnik” series).
I knew it was a book about the Holocaust, and I decided to read it first, so that I could be prepared for any questions he might have. (I’d initially confused it with another title, which follows the main character and her family all the way to Auschwitz.)
What I found in “Number the Stars,” however, was a book about the Holocaust… kind of. Read the rest of this entry →
It all started on Purim in my daughter’s nursery school in Jerusalem. Her teacher went into a considerable amount of detail regarding the hanging of Haman and his ten sons and the murder of Queen Vashti when she refused to appear naked (“in just her crown”) in front of the Royal Court. I assumed that Raphaela had no real understanding of the finality of death, at the age of 4.5.
It continued with Passover, with the teacher’s in depth explanations of the 10 Plagues, with a liberal use of the words “death,” “died,” and “killed.” In this black and white view of the Universe, my daughter was taught that the plagues affected only the Egyptians and their property, because they had enslaved and abused the Jewish people. Pharaoh and the Egyptians deserved their fate, because they were wicked and the Jews were good.
Raphaela came home with two drawings, and described the scenes set out in both: Read the rest of this entry →