Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Year of Mourning- The New Normal

Toronto is a great city in which to be Jewish. It's a unique place where it's still relatively easy to be Jewish, observant or not, wherever you are on the spectrum. I have a plethora of Conservative synagogues from which to choose.

As we venture back into real life schedules (although kids don't go back to school until next week), the multitude of minyanim allows me to fit them to my schedule. Tuesday 7:30 am Shacharit at Pride of Israel with 4:45 pm Mincha/Maariv at Beth Emeth to be followed by Wednesday morning 8:00 am at Beth David. we'll see where I end up for the afternoon.

Through all this I realize there are many people who still don't know my father died, and more that do be I have not yet seen. Each new (though not really new) place I attend minyan, each person I see for the first time brings all the feelings to the surface. Does this have a finite end? Does it stop when I've davenned at all the Conservative synagogues in the GTA, or does it continue when I'm elsewhere in Canada, in the US, or in Israel? Here it's hard to be just a person attending minyan. Sometimes I just want to find a corner in the room and pray privately. This is the value of a regular minyan, where you are known, but left alone if you want.

I've spoken with many who share the experience of mourning. You can't know it until you've been there. I knew this before, but am willing to admit I didn't fully know it. Back at my desk I am distracted. Getting work done, but something is off. I am lucky. I work for two wonderful organizations with understanding leadership. It makes getting back to work easier (and doesn't hurt that the only other person in my office is a very close friend). I hear from many of the difficulties of going back into the world. Outsiders don't get it. People don't understand why you're not "fine" when you come back to work. It's even worse for those who don't observe shiva or shloshim. When do they truly mourn?

We marked the shloshim at shul on Shabbat, the kids braving the cold on a day they'd rather have been hibernating. We provided kiddush, Sean opting for parve over meat. (A successful choice by the looks of what everyone ate.) We left it to late to be in the Shabbat bulletin, but that didn't matter. It's not about the publicity; it's about the personal. I read haftarah. Comfortable and yet uncomfortable, like so much else.

Shloshim ended, but in mourning for a parent not much changes. There is still the rest of the year.  Some restrictions will remain, others less so. I believe in practical Judaism, a Judaism that is adaptive and responsive. Our traditions have created loopholes which allow us to say, "How can we do that," rather than simply saying no. It's about finding ways to live positively rather than restrictively. It means my daughter has new shirts she's wearing that she'll give to me so I have appropriate clothes with short sleeves for my tefillin. I bought a new coat. I didn't have one. I gave mine away last year. The day my father died was the day I planned on shopping. It's been dangerously cold. The law about not buying new clothes was created at a time when new clothes were a special occasion, not things you could purchase in the supermarket. True necessity takes precedence, as does the safety of being properly attired for the weather. Haircuts were Sunday, but not for me. I have a year with no reason beyond vanity to do so. There will be no live entertainment, but I have no problem with movies. I wasn't ready during shloshim, but feel it's okay now. Still, I don't seem to like music. I drive without the radio, unusual for me. Time is clearly needed.




A special shoutout to Joe and Tiara Catering for gifting us the (very delicious) food for my father's shloshim even beyond what we'd ordered. (And not mentioning anything until Sean tried to pay afterward.) You have been a supportive friend since our arrival at the Pride of Israel. Thank you.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Year of Mourning- Shloshim Ends

Shloshim ends tonight. Two phases down, but for me the year has just begun. Most people do not realize that shloshim ends mourning most of the time. It is only for a parent that the mourning restrictions continue for a full year. It’s an interesting statement about the complicated relatiuonship of child to parent, a relationship like no other.

Of course, that is not to say that emotions suddenly change on day 7, day 30, or at the end of the year. There are things no one tells you about. Brain fog is the worst for me. I move through days forgetting what I’m doing. I forget. I can’t get moving. I say half a sentence and stop, not fully realizing that I did so. I am clumsy. I bump into things (even more than usual). I am tired, not physically. My mind shuts down my body.

 Today began particularly hard. It’s darker than it was. Though the days are getting longer, sunrise is also slightly later. Darkness in the morning affects me. I have trouble focusing on prayer. It doesn’t bother me at the end of the day. It feels normal then. It’s -24 Celsius. I should be huddled under my covers, but instead, I have pulled myself from my bed to get to minyan in the dark. The sky brightening slightly as we pull out of the driveway.

Today is 10 Tevet, a fast day. As we get to Avinu Malkeinu I am overcome by emotion. I need to leave the room. I sit, in the quiet darkness of the breakfast room sobbing. I am out of control. At first I fight it, but then just give in to the tears. Why now? What’s the trigger? The tune of Avinu Malkeinu? I only hear it in my head. The shatz isn’t singing. After about 10 minutes I get up, tears still streaming; finish my tefillot, and remove my tefillin. They feel constricting instead of comforting as they usually do. I want to rip my tallit from my shoulder as well, but stop myself. I straighten the siddurim of the shelves. Giving myself a job helps stem the tears. Sitting once again I practice the haftarah for Shabbat, given to me in honour of the shloshim. It’s not what I would have chosen, but no one asked me. It’s the norm. So I’ll do it. I return to minyan when I hear Aleinu. Mourner’s Kaddish is coming. I recite the words quickly and quietly, now with my tallit fully wrapped around me like a child in a blanket, holding in the tears I don’t feel like sharing.

The sun shines now, deceptively warm through the window. All I want to do today is curl up in my bed. Life has other plans.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Year of Mourning - Minyan Antics & Day 27

With the holiday weekend (how odd that Christmas has this effect), I've been at Pride every minyan. It's different than joining another community. I know the shul intimately. It's mine in a way the other aren't. I wander into the kitchen. I know where the good food is hidden. There are chocolate bars and lollipops in the office. I know just what's there because I buy them. I bring a tallit and tefillin to Beth Emeth each day, but I have a set that lives at Pride. I understand the inside jokes.

It's hard to believe that the shloshim ends Thursday night/Friday morning. Has it really been that long?

It's been long enough for minyan to become routine for the entire family.
It's long enough that people know I don't speak in the morning (not while I pray, not all).
It's been log enough that when I said Shabbat shalom to the morning minyan at Beth Emeth they responded, "Aren't we going to see you tomorrow?"
It's long enough that sometimes I am tired of going to minyan.

Yet, it hasn't been long enough.

The crying has stopped (at least for now). Memories are still shared frequently. I wonder if we did that before, but didn't realize because all was so normal.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Then there's stuff like this...

Monday- The Lerner hall, right outside the chapel at Pride has a long table. It was filled with stuff that needed sorting and organizing. Our ritual director was doing it, but got sick. So there it sits. But not anymore. Besides the clutter, the havdalah stuff is there and the hanukiyah. There is also some oil splatter from the hanukiyah. It's messy. I don't like clutter. I find it distracting. I also don't like the image it sends to minyan attendees. By the seventh minyan in a row I can't take it anymore. I can't help it. At lulls in the t'fillot I begin to organize - after I've finished my Amidah, but before the repetition. Between Kedushah and the Torah service- after I've finished my davening, but the minyan is only on Ashrei.

15 siddurim, 2 machzorim, and 1 chumash returned to the shelves in the chapel. 
Genizah materials in the genizah box. 
Pictures set out on the piano instead of in a pile on the table. 
Books to be sorted in a box with others, placed in the corner instead of out in the room. 
Can someone explain why the is a bag filled with night light lightbulbs? 
Also there's a large plastic bag and a cabinet with discarded tallitot and tefillin. And an old, dusty tv monitor, likely from the old security system. 
The hanukiyah and havdalah set are moved to the side table along with a box of new siddurim. 
The old havdalah candles that should have been discarded now are, along with old batteries that were sitting there. (Again, why?) (There were two for the garbage.) The kiddush cup is in the kitchen for washing. (I draw the line at doing the dishes, but I did fill it with water.) 
The table is wiped down.

I no longer worry about where I can put my bag while I put my tallit on. No one will comment. I'm not even sure if the change will be consciously realized. But I breathe a little easier.

Tuesday- It's Sean's day off, and a day off from school, so kids are all asleep. Sean is getting up as I ready to leave. I make myself a cup of tea in a travel mug, and grab the compost to take out. I place my tea on the car bumper to put the compost in the bin. The cover is frozen shut. It takes real effort to pen it; something I am not good at in the morning. Finally open, I take the compost and the garbage to the curb for collection. I get in the car, and drive to shul. I retrieve my tallit and tefillin. Begin to put them on. Realize I forgot my kippah. Go get it. Put on my tefillin, and begin to pray. Minyan hasn't started yet, but I like to do Pesukei D'zimra on my own. At the end of Birchot Hashacher I look for my tea. It's not there. I am confused. Suddenly I realize where it was. It was on the car bumper. Damn.

When I came home I looked for the mug. It's not in the garage. It's not on the driveway. It's not in the street. I wonder how far I was able to drive with it still on the bumper, and how it could have stayed. Maybe someone picked it up. I hope they enjoy the mug. It was filled with good Tazo chai tea.


Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Year of Mourning - December 16 - One Week Ends, Another Begins

Sometimes life seems almost normal. People say, "How are you?" And at that moment I am okay.

Then there are the other times.

I take kids to school. I go to work. I cook meals. I shop for groceries. It's all normal. And yet, very much not normal. I can't multitask. I forget names of people I've known for years. My focus is shot.

Friday night I started crying at dinner. No specific trigger. Just started, and couldn't stop. How can there be a world without Daddy? Gavi, the family's comic relief, took one look at me, and said, "Eema's broken." Then he brought me the cat, and gave me a hug, setting me off laughing. So there I was, crying, laughing, completely confused.

Regarding t'fillot - there's a lot more keva (the requirement of prayer) than there is kavanah (intention). Weekday Shacharit is meaningful, but Shabbat, Shabbat seemed empty. It was loud and it was fast, an assault on my senses. People greet me, and I realize they don't know my father died recently. Why would they?

I keep realizing the things I won't do this year. I won't see "Come From Away." (Yes. I do have tickets.) I won't be at my children's music night. I won't be at the gala celebrating the Masorti Movement in Israel's 40th (even though I actually will be. I'll need to be there for speeches etc., but leave for the party part.) I won't be at my daughter's play. I won't be at our annual Rabbi Burns Night (our own version of a Robbie Burns Party). I won't be at Sean's cousin's wedding. I won't be at another wedding. I won't attend the Second City event during the RA convention. And I'm only up to May.

There will be more. Likely many more. More mental confusion. More random crying. More events I miss.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Year of Mourning- Midway into Shloshim - Day 13

Most people know about the recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish by aveilim following the death of a first degree relative (parents, children, siblings, spouse), but lesser known are the restrictions beyond. For thirty days following the burial (the time period is sometimes changed within the Jewish calendar) the restrictions of shiva are eased, but the mourner does not fully enter society. While back at work and interacting with the world, joy is still limited. Any mourner can tell you the feeling linger well beyond shiva (or other religious mourning practices). The mourner refrains from things like buying new things, cutting hair, or attending social events and public entertainment. For a parent, these restrictions are extended for an entire year. This means my family has an extra ticket for Come From Away in May. Though I joked that since I cry from the opening number, it's not really entertainment, I will not be attending. It's okay. I believe the process to make sense, not just halakhically, but emotionally.

But then there are the ridiculous ironies. Let me explain by sharing a silly moment from last night. I am not a morning person, and so I generally decide what to wear the night before when my brain is awake and my eyes open. Women's clothes are not designed for tefillin. (Okay, neither are men's clothes, but they are more adaptable.) I often put on a t-shirt to pray, then change into whatever top I am going to wear to work. Why? Many of my tops either have cuffs that cannot be pushed above my elbow or no sleeves at all. The tefillin shel yad (for more info on what tefillin are, and how they are worn, try Wikipedia) is placed slightly to the inside of your weaker arm on the bicep (my left). Nothing is supposed to come between the tefillin and the skin. If my sleeve won't allow for the proper clearance I have a problem. In synagogue, where I'll be for the next year, it it not appropriate to wear a sleeveless top. I have put tefillin on with a sleeveless top, and a jacket over the tefillin. I generally prefer not to do this, especially in winter. So this is me last night. "Ugh (or some other sound approximating this), I have no tops or dresses that I can wear with tefillin!" Sean replies, "And you can't buy anything new for a year." "Oh! My! God!" This is followed by more frustrated noises; me trying on various tops and trying to roll up the sleeves to no avail; and some light cursing along with a few repeats of "Oh. Come. On!" Sean, while sympathizing, laughed through most of my comments.

Like so many halakhic issues, there are loopholes. Clearly I will need to attain some tops that both look professional and can be worn with tefillin. Keren may need to wear them all first. We'll figure it out. Meanwhile, today I wore an older Jets t-shirt with a nice poncho over it so no one would know what it was. (Speaking of loopholes, the poncho was once a four-cornered garment, which would require tzitzit. I sewed the corners together.)

One more day of laughter and tears. But today no tears at Shacharit. Things improve.