My mother recently, and pretty unexpectedly, passed away as you may have recently read on my blog post about Shiva “don’t”s. Losing my beautiful, vibrant mom, my children’s devoted grandmother, my shopping partner and all-around friend has been soul-crushingly painful. Reliving all those horrible days in the hospital. Wondering how I could have helped her more, anticipating all those moments, big and small, when she won’t be here and listing all the ways I could have been a better daughter. It all really hurts. A lot.
But, I also want, at least for the sake of my mother’s relentlessly optimistic nature, to make sure I don’t ignore the silver lining (if it’s fair to say) of the mourning process. Which doesn’t mean I am glad to have my mom gone. Or that this process has been simple. Or easy.
It does mean that I have experienced kindness, compassion, and chesed. And not expressing that isn’t fair to everyone who has extended so much love to us.
And so, while the memories are still fresh, I am similarly compelled to reflect upon some of the goodness and generosity that has been offered to my family and me these past few weeks.
1. All the hugs I’ve gotten, some of which were from the unlikeliest people—the ICU nurse who told me about my mom’s final moments, the cashier at Costco who asked why I was returning all the unused lounge pants my mom never got to wear in the hospital and from many, many, friends, old and new. Sometimes, I’ve even asked for those hugs. Because that human contact, that shoulder to cry on, that extension of warmth and caring have all helped me get through these days of pain and mourning.
2. Seeing people I haven’t seen in a while. Many of my friends from long ago reached out when they learned my mom was sick, or that she had passed away. Being in touch with people who knew my mom back then reminded me of how many lives she had touched. And considering how busy everyone is with work and kids and the day-to-day minutiae that consumes so much of our lives—these people managed to come to my mom’s funeral and visit during shiva. During a bad flu season. Pretty huge.
It really meant a lot to talk and reminisce with high school and college friends who knew my mom so well. And it also reminded me how fortunate I am to have these people in my life.
3. Help from people I see all the time, especially parents. I am not usually someone who asks other parents to take my kids. I am that mom who is always happy to host the playdate or watches your kids when you get stuck at a doctor’s appointment. I’m the one who sticks an extra kid in her third row for after-school carpools. But when my mom was in the hospital, and I needed a few extra hours in the afternoons to be with her, I started asking for help from good friends of mine, from parents of my kids’ good friends, even people I didn’t know that well. What was the common bond among my ask-ees? The people who seemed genuinely happy to be there for me. These were the ones who would ask if my child could join their kid’s karate class for one day or have a midweek movie party to see the new Star Wars film, and even throw in popcorn and candy. They would make a little more dinner so my kid could stay a few extra hours. As I’ve told these friends, the gift they gave me is one that I can never repay. Because those friends gave me time with my mom. Time that I’ll never have again. Or ever regret. Time we spent together, even if it was in a hospital.
4. A gathering in almost, dare-I-say, a kind of party-like atmosphere. I know it sounds weird, maybe even twisted to say it, but shiva was, in some ways, kind of like a party. People coming together. Platters of food served. Stories shared. Exactly the kind of event that my mother would have loved to attend. And hopefully, somehow she did.
5. People flying from other places to be there for us. My in-laws abandoned their annual vacation in Mexico to help my family. My dear friend abandoned her family in California to help me. My mom’s friends traveled from Florida. Cousins flew in from the west coast. More cousins flew from the mountains and MA and PA and lots of other places. All to honor my mom (and she was worth it).
6. Platters of food. Baskets of food. Mountains of food. People baked, shopped and ordered food for us. Soups and salads, challahs, chocolates and cookies, deli, more deli, and, of course, bags of bagels. After all of the eating and sharing there was still so many extras that we made three separate trips to bring the rest to the local homeless shelter. Since I was raised learning that food is love, I was very grateful to receive (and share) so much delicious, often chocolate-covered, affection.
7. Emails. Texts. Calls. My mailbox has been filled with cards containing love and warm wishes since the start of shiva, and more cards continue to arrive each day, as do loads of emails, texts and phone calls. People checking on us, letting us know that they are thinking of us, sending us remote hugs and smiles and prayers. Receiving such thoughtful messages has been enormously comforting and very much appreciated.
8. Past grievances have been forgotten, or at least pushed under the rug, as everyone came together. Family members that had previously avoided each other actually hugged each other in the shared solidarity of grief and shock. Perhaps for the sake of shalom bayit (domestic harmony, or literally “peace in the home”), or just in recognition of the common need to focus on the good, the squabbles have paused, hurt feelings put aside and everyone has been getting along.
9. Flowers. I know that floral arrangements aren’t included at traditional Jewish funerals or graves, but the seriously beautiful flowers that have been delivered to my home have been a welcome blessing. From the classic to the dramatic, these stems have given me more pleasure than I should probably allow myself. Yes, perhaps a guilty pleasure, but one that I think my mother would have appreciated, too.
10. People sharing stories about my mom, reminding me how full her life was, telling me about her childhood or the exotic trips where they met her, have all given me new perspective into her life and filled me with wonderful and important memories. Because it is these memories that we need to hold onto and pass down to my children if we are going to preserve the legacy of my kind, creative, generous and warm-hearted mother.
So, there. Shiva can have a silver lining. Of course it would all be much, much better if my mom were here to listen, eat and share along with us. Accepting that she isn’t is unbearably hard. But I can feel that pain and still appreciate all of the people who have contributed their love, their memories, their time and generosity to easing it. I hope to be able to tell them each how much it meant to me and to be as good of a friend or relative or neighbor to them in their time of need.