Passover is a-comin’. This holiday is a little bit like the gigantic trip you know you are going to take, no matter how much you deny that it’s coming, and involves a lot of preparation and a bit of dread, but you also can’t wait for it.
For many, Passover is the most beloved holiday of the year. For many (women), it’s the least beloved holiday of the year. The preparations involve spring cleaning of a religious and, in many cases, compulsive order, abiding by the prohibition from the Torah to rid our houses of all wheat, rye, oats, barley, and spelt. The ritual meals of Passover—the seders—contain 15 parts which each have their own rules: eat parsley, dip it in salt water, break matzah in half, hide one half, drink four cups of wine, and on and on… The word “seder” means order, and there is a definite order to it all!
For people like me, Passover is a wonderful reminder of the need to clean our cabinets, our fridges, our stoves, and our closets—both literally and figuratively. Passover preparation allows us time to decide what we keep and what we get rid of; what has worth and what is no longer needed. It’s not just a physical purging; it’s an emotional cleansing as well.
I spend the month between Purim and Passover trying to get rid of all of the hametz (leavened products) in my house. My kids eat pancakes a lot this month, and we eat veggie burgers in the pita that’s been in my freezer for months, and we eat lots of pasta. My cupboard will look pretty bare by the time Passover rolls around.
I also take this time to give my appliances in my kitchen a good cleaning, enlisting my kids to help. They complain, but so what? A little labor won’t kill them. And I get to remind them: It’s not like we’re slaves in Egypt anymore. Scrub harder.
For divorced families who don’t get along, Passover must be a really hard time. For divorced families like ours, Passover is a time to be together and a time to split the cooking among two houses: mine and my ex’s. I can’t cook as much as I used to since my car accident, and I enjoy us all pitching in. I prepare all of the dishes that involve intricate dicing and—no insult to my ex—he prepares all of the dishes that don’t.
My ex’s mother’s birthday falls right smack on Passover this year, and I am going to attempt to make a Passover friendly vegan cheesecake for her birthday. The word “turtle”—you know, that combination of pecans, caramel, and chocolate—is also implicated in this dessert, and I am hoping it works well. If not, there’s always fruit and chocolate covered almonds and those weird jelly fruit slices I’ve been a fan of since the 1970s.
But this year, Passover also brings with it a tremendous set of horrible memories. My father died on Passover last year, you see, and no matter how festive this holiday is, and no matter how different we try to make it from last year which was so painful, it’s still going to be painful.
What’s the solution? I have a few which I hope will see us through:
1. Staying busy. Not to the point of unhealthy distraction (hence, “drinking a boatload of alcohol” won’t make this list), but using my hands and my time and my energy to cook, bake, prepare, and clean. It’s OK to keep an active mind when you are simultaneously coping with something painful.
2. Staying present. I tend to focus a lot on what I don’t have, and my dad is what I don’t have. But what I do have is my mom. My kids. My ex, and his mom, and a few close friends who will be joining us for seder. I have a home and fresh water and access to medical care, and I live in a place which affords me more rights than many women—many people, in fact—enjoy in this world. It’s not lip service to keep reminding myself to be grateful.
3. Staying authentic. I’m going to be sad. I’m going to have a hard time this year. My dad led seders every year of my life except last year. This year will not be shiny and happy and joyous. There may be moments of joy, but it’s also OK to be true to my needs. I imagine I’ll need a lot of down time. And a lot of regrouping time. And a lot more sleep than I typically would plan to get. And that’s OK, too.
Passover comes every spring, whether we are ready for it or not. There is always something to celebrate about spring. There is always some way to find hope in the spring. And there is always a new way to appreciate all that we have, all that we have lost, and all that there is to gain by being present.