My beloved mother, Penny Waga passed away this week after many years of suffering from a brutal illness. While she was sick for the last many years, I had decided I wasn’t going to sit shiva as I have been mourning through that entire period. But when the time came it was so clear that indeed we would sit shiva – something clicked and we just couldn’t have it any other way.
Prior to sitting shiva, I couldn’t imagine sitting for 7-days. It has been a healing process and something which has been very helpful as I start to deal with the scary thought of living in this world without my mom.
The time she passed away until the funeral which occurred a mere 11 hours later was a blur. There are many many details to be handled very quickly (and the business of religious funerals is a topic for another time) but there are so many decisions to be made so quickly. From viewing the body to sitting with my Rabbi to understand what came next to crying at home while getting dressed, it still feels like a bad dream. I recall not wanting to exit the car as it pulled up to the funeral home in Cedar Park. I literally sat in the car a few minutes not wanting to go out and make it real – and final.
And at the funeral, I simply believe was at my moms’ funeral – and then when I spoke I couldn’t believe I was actually giving my moms’ eulogy. After the body was put in the ground I remember seeing her name on the ground and was just overwhelmed. I remember crying and people giving me hugs.
After the ride back to the city, l walked back into my home, and immediately a close friend came bursting in apologizing he wasn’t at the funeral. He gave a hug – and as he walked out a few minutes later dozens of other friends came in. And for my sister and I and our families, there was no rest until 11 PM – when I cried in the living room for more hours.
And we were overwhelmed with food baskets, and people wanting to help. The house looked so different thanks to an organization (Misaskim) which brought low chairs, Siddurim, folding chairs and other items to the house – as all the mirrors had been covered. My sister and I couldn’t think straight, and yet had people all around us. Saw people hadn’t seen for years – and we weren’t alone even though we felt so empty.
Day two saw a minyan from my local shul in the living room pre-7:30 AM as my kids prepared for school and I cried my eyes out. Was taught some finer details of saying kaddish, and with my voice breaking I said it. I couldn’t believe was saying kaddish for my mother. And then we sat and spoke – some meaningful talk and some small talk. A dvar torah and telling people stories of my mom.
Her best friend arrived and told us details of our mother’s life which we never knew. Indeed, even after she died we learned things we never knew. And then others showed up – lifeline friends, my mother’s friends, people from my kids’ school, from shul and acquaintances from through the years. Some to talk and share, or hear and others just to give a hug.
Throughout it, the strength of the Jewish community and friends really shone through. People just kept coming and coming. My phone kept ringing but I simply couldn’t answer it. Talking face to face was hard enough – the phone is a whole other thing. Even now, after we ended shiva earlier today I still haven’t been able to answer the phone and talk about it.
Learned a lot about human nature during this awful time. A story my Rabbi Avi Weiss tells about his parents who he was supposed to pick up at the airport. And as he explains he kept saying, “I love you. I just can’t pick you up at the airport.” His parents finally replied: “Stop loving us so much and just pick us up at the airport.” Indeed, many friends showed up a few times during the week and it made such a major impact. Someone’s presence during these difficult times can make such a difference. My wife made the house right amazingly. And some friends just appeared and it was helpful.
Was blessed to have my sister and I together as we know our mother always wanted and we always promised her that we would stick together. And at times, I could feel my moms’ energy with us – whether we cried or laughed. We got to go through dozens of albums of picture books of my mom, and we saw beautiful pictures we had never seen before. And while my phone rang repeatedly I couldn’t bear the thought of answering it until the 4th or 5th day – even when people meant well it’s too much to handle.
It took 2 days or so until we learned we needed to post visiting hours as otherwise people would come in all day and nite – and we needed some alone time. Of course, being in the front row and grieving wasn’t easy – I broke down repeatedly and wept openly. Being in that situation is vulnerable and difficult. But there’s no easy way around it – and even now looking back a few days later I can see how important it was to not be alone. Even when I needed to take a short walk outside was accompanied and not alone – although the ripped shirt I wore all week was dirty and sweaty.
The last day of shiva I wanted to go pray at a minyan instead of at home so I’d get used to walking into a shul for the shloshim period. And indeed I did.
My children are upset at the end of shiva – they loved having people in the house all hours of the day and night and playing and getting attention. Although the night before last my eldest daughter told me “Daddy, I miss you!” as indeed I truly haven’t been “present”. And kids learn a lot from the shiva process also – as they learn their dad isn’t afraid to cry. Life isn’t forever and even at a young age its important kids see that.
And indeed I can say I am scared of life today – but found shiva to be productive, even though much of it was a blur. Happy my sister and I spent a week as adults in the same home. Happy that my mom could look down and be proud at the legacy of our kids and family and all else she left behind. We learned so much about her – and ourselves – during this week.
Can say that I now look at life in many ways differently – and that I will make more shiva calls in the future to anyone I know who has a loss because I now understand the process so much better. The black hole I feel in my heart is an open wound – and will never heal. There is so much more to say for another time.
The mourning process is very difficult, but shiva helped. Unshaven, and a different person I am slowly re-entering the world and I view it much differently. As she told me, “Enjoy this try to make the most of it and I hope when all is said and done you will see it is all really worth it.”
My mother Penny Waga is and was my hero and is sorely missed and will forever be remembered.
Penina (Penny) Waga passed away on Wednesday February 27th. Beloved mother of Ronn Torossian and Karin Beth Torossian.