As I lit the Yahrzeit candle, hoping my uncontrollable tears wouldn’t extinguish it, my little ones watched on. I could feel their eyes on me, waiting for me to “snap out of it” and move onto serious business like pouring the milk on their Fruity Pebbles.
“Do you miss her?” were the words out of my 10-year-old daughter’s mouth.
As I choked on my reply–“She would have been so very proud of you”–my youngest, 7, asked if I looked like her. Her being my mom, who at the tender age of 35 passed away, leaving behind three young children.
I stared at my little one, not even able to consider what her life would be like if something suddenly happened to me. I asked if they’d like to look at pictures of my mom, their grandmother.
I pulled out two huge cardboard boxes that overflowed with pictures bundled in old rubber bands and spiral notebooks full of journal entries circa 1959, along with majestic poems authored by my mom (a PhD in semantics). Suddenly, the woman who was the reason behind the candle became very real.
I began sifting through her memories, reading the poems out loud. Words, written more than 30 years ago, were landing on the ears of my mother’s grandchildren. We read about the angst of a feminist of the 60s as well as the joy of a young mother holding her newborn baby (their uncle). I saw the connection being made as my girls stared deeply into the faded black-and-white photos of people they would never meet. I was giving them a tiny piece of what the woman they would’ve called grandma was like. It was a surreal moment for me, a moment of pure connection.
Until recently, Grandma Jackie was simply the name of someone who was “mom’s real mom”.
My children would become uncomfortably quiet and conflicted when I would reference her, and I would become disappointed in their lack of love for their grandmother. But how could I expect them to love a person they never met? My memories were not theirs and it was up to me to introduce them to her. Showing them pictures and having them hold her writing was equivalent to a trip to a children’s museum. For a brief moment, she became real, they became interested, and we were all together, my mom included, sharing a moment.
When it was time to pack up my time machine, I decided to leave some poems and photo albums out for the children to look through. It was an open invitation to the past. As I smiled at a picture of my mom pushing my eldest brother in what would be considered a very chic carriage, my 12-year-old asked, “What are you laughing at?”
I pointed out the exhausted look on my mom’s face that only first time moms experience and said, “I know exactly what she was feeling!”
We don’t always have the time to peruse old photo albums and remember those who have long passed. Life always seems so busy, and there is always a load (more likely loads) of laundry that needs to be tended to. Or a bowl of cereal that desperately needs its milk.
But as my Yahrtzeit candle burned and I ran out of tears, I was granted a bit of clarity and gratefulness. For a moment, I slowed down and opened a floodgate of memories for my children to share with me.