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Dec 4 2014

After My Brother’s Death, My Kids Saved Me

By at 11:04 am

after my brother's death my kids saved me

The depression creeps up on me every December. I should recognize the signs by now; it’s been almost 12 years since it happened. Yet each year I am startled to discover the source of my sadness, and how fresh the grief feels on my brother’s yahrzeit (the anniversary of a person’s death). A raw ache, a wordless, gut-clenching feeling, envelops me each year, and it’s as if no time has passed.

My brother Avi died suddenly in his sleep at age 26. I still remember the exact moment when I found out. I had a few unusual minutes of quiet as my 2-year-old twins were occupied, and I jumped on the treadmill. My husband took the early morning call and handed me the phone with a stunned look. In a single instant, my world was irrevocably changed. Life would now be divided into the before and after of this awful event. My parents, my other two brothers, and I would forever carry this deep wound, and the well of hurt, regret, and a trail of “what ifs” along with it.

We all busied ourselves with the duties of new mourners: notifying others, arranging a service, and preparing the house for shiva. I felt strongly that my boys should not travel with us to the funeral; I didn’t want to expose them to a sadness and devastation they couldn’t understand. And I didn’t want them to see their mother fall apart. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 6 2012

Yahrzeit for a Dog

By at 6:13 am

yahrzeit for a dogIn Judaism, the anniversary of a person’s death is called their yahrzeit. On that day, the mourner lights a candle, says the mourner’s kaddish, and reflects on the meaning that the deceased person had in the mourner’s life.

These rituals are, generally, not done for a dog.

If they were, though, Captain’s yahrzeit would be sometime in the beginning of August. He died two years ago under somewhat sketchy circumstances. First things first: Captain wasn’t even my dog. And truth be told, there were plenty of moments when I really didn’t like him. But the fact of the matter is that Captain actually changed the course of my life. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 16 2012

For My Mother, On Her Yahrzeit

By at 10:43 am

four aces on wooden tableThe following piece first appeared in Sarah’s blog, The Crazy Baby Mama. We’re running it today in honor of her mother’s yahrzeit.

When I was still my mother’s little girl, my parents and I spent our sunsets strolling south along Ocean Front Walk. We enjoyed checking out the architectural anomalies along the way–the homes that stared down the sea and sky were almost cartoonish with their clown colors and garish asymmetry. And, every evening–except when the fog rolled in–their windows were lit on fire with the colors of the sky, and walking past them, it felt like we were surrounded by the sunset, completely enveloped on all sides in a primordial orgy of red, violet, and gold.

My parents and I loved our evening walks, when the sun lay low on the lip of the sea, and the wind sashayed through the palm trees. Usually, we’d just stroll down to the old Venice Pier, and then turn around again, but once in a while, we’d linger on, and have dinner at one of the restaurants on Washington Boulevard.

One of our favorite places to go was The Crab Shell, a large restaurant-slash-bar painted Pepto-Bismol pink with mighty windows boldly facing the sea. My mom loved this place because they served up a mean Bloody Mary, delicately spiced and garnished with not one, but two crisp celery stalks. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 27 2011

Lighting a Candle for a Woman I Never Met

By at 11:37 am

yahrzeit candleI always used to pride myself on packing light when I traveled. No fashion plate, I generally err on the side of leaving that extra dress or pair of shoes behind. But as I prepare to travel abroad with my five-month-old daughter, that conservative thesis has gone out the window. A baby is a fashion plate by necessity, of course, as someone who poops herself on a fairly regular basis. So the suitcases are going to be jam-packed with diapers, formula, pacifiers, clothes, and flammables.

TSA-readers, don’t be alarmed. In terms of the first flammable, I’ll be traveling with a hannukiyah and candles in my bag. I’m not sure how I’ll light them on a transatlantic flight, but they’ll find a home on the ledge of my hotel window in France. And I’m also bringing a yartzheit candle.

My husband’s mother died in December of 1998. It was long before I knew my husband. It was, in many different ways, a lifetime ago. At that time, the man who is now my husband and the love of my life was married to someone else. And I was in law school, dating the man who would become my ex-husband. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 20 2011

Blowing Out The Candle

By at 2:15 pm

Last week, we lit a yahrzeit candle in memory of my father-in-law who passed away two years ago. Benjamin, my 7 year old, blew it out.

I knew I couldn’t blame him. Benjamin can’t help but think “birthday” when he sees any kind of candle—even the deathday kind. That’s just how his hyper-literal, behaviorally-trained autistic brain works. But at that moment, staring at the bleak, extinguished wick, I couldn’t help but feel annoyed.

I am never thrilled by the destruction that often occurs when Benjamin is left unsupervised for even just a couple of minutes. It’s one thing, though, for him to dump an entire bottle of expensive conditioner into the bath, or scale the kitchen counters in search of the candy he thinks is hidden in the highest cabinets. But putting out the flame that is supposed to bring his Saba’s spirit into our living room for 24 hours? Now that was just taking it to a whole other level.

And of all people to dishonor. Nobody doted on Benjamin like my father-in-law did. The guy was so obsessed with his grandson he basically forced us into letting him be our nanny when I went back to work. While that was definitely not a perfect situation (our new babysitter was convinced car seats were a marketing scam, and we lost a significant amount of closet space whenever ketchup or scratchy, one-ply toilet paper went on-sale at Pathmark), it was sweet to see the special bond that formed between the two of them.

I considered calling Benjamin over and reviewing the difference between the candles on a cake and those on our credenza, or maybe even attempting to explain that he’d done something that made me feel sad. But it just didn’t seem worth it, especially since I’m sure my father-in-law would have found the whole thing funny anyway. Instead I sat there thinking about the the Hebrew songs he used to sing to Benjamin as an infant, the homemade baby food he made for him, and most of all, how over the moon he’d be if he knew his formerly non-verbal grandson could finally say “Saba.” And that he actually says it now whenever we show him his Saba’s picture.

Then the phone rang. It was my mother-in-law, calling to remind us of the yahrzeit. Which would take place the next day.

The following evening we lit the candle again. This time Benjamin didn’t blow it out.

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