The year of aveilut for my mother officially ended a few days ago. As I said mincha on that last day, it felt the same as the previous 354 days. The finality of it all will be more palpable on a random day that quietly sneaks up on me in the next few weeks. Memorialization can never recapture the immediacy of actual events. But what ritual practices like reciting kaddish and listening to less music and not attending simchot and not wearing new clothes and not going off the beaten track for vacation can do is keep the events in mind for a longer time. This allows them to be reprocessed, reconsidered, and refocused long after the event has passed into personal history.
Each one of us memorializes things in our own slightly different way. For me, it is writing and to remember my mother, it was this series of short monthly essays. I enjoy writing. It frees me up to express my thoughts and feelings without the embarrassment of speaking about myself aloud and in company. When I write I avoid that uncomfortable, self-conscious flush that rises to my face, the sweaty feeling in my armpits and the small of my back that would have appeared had I been talking to you, whoever you are, out there. I have no idea if anyone has read a word of what I have written over the last “year.” But these posts gave me a chance to recall my mother’s life and what she meant to me. I could speak about what the Trachtman family looked like when I was growing up and the shape it is in now. Fortunately for me, if my thinking became pretentious or overly sentimental, I was spared seeing you roll your eyes or pick up your phone to find something more interesting.
Did it help me deal with things better over the year? I have no idea. Ask my family what they think. Figuring out how to deal with things is a high bar. But contextualizing what happens to us is something that is within reach. Putting the passing of my father and mother and all the other things that have happened to me over the last 2 years into a broader setting that includes Audrey, my children and their children, my friends, my colleagues has been meaningful for me. It is similar to the value that patients find when their illness is placed into a larger narrative that reflects who they are as a person living at a specific time in a specific place and with a specific worldview. It fosters an appreciation of their uniqueness as full-blooded people and not simply patients. This approach has been shown to promote greater understanding of what they are going through by their doctors and hopefully leads to better treatment outcomes.
I like to write because I like to think that literature makes us more sensitive human beings. Reading can get us outside of ourselves and increase the chances of gaining more understanding of ourselves and insight into others. My monthly essays are my simple attempt at literature. They grew out of the traditional framework of mourning and provided a narrative of memory of my mother, my parents, and the life I was fortunate to have received from them
Let me end with something more tangible so that I can know that I left you with one good thing.
Take the following ingredients:
4 cups of flour
2 tsp of baking soda
¾ cup of sugar
¾ cup of oil
2 tsp vanilla
½ cup of orange juice
Mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate the dough for a few hours (or overnight)
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it out to a thin layer on a cookie sheet
Sprinkle on a mixture of sugar and cinnamon and chopped nuts (check with your people first)
Roll the dough into a long tube
Cut ½ inch slices and bake at 350°F, circle side up, until the tops are lightly brown
This is one of my mother’s cookie recipes that everybody liked. You can eat them by biting away the layers, chew them in one big bite, or dunk them in a cup of coffee confident that they will not disintegrate. They are easy going cookies that will go wherever you take them. I plan to do a trial run this week. If they come out OK, then I will follow-up with a larger scale order along with a few other cookie varieties to be served with desert during one of the meals on the Shabbat of my grandson’s upcoming bar mitzvah one week after Pesach. This will be how I bring back to life the joy of my mother’s life. Because when people will see the cookies on the table, everyone will immediately recognize them as my mother’s cookies. And I can be just as sure they will say that mine are not nearly as good as hers.
So, take this recipe and bake a batch in my mother’s memory. Share them with family and friends and celebrate our shared humanity in times of happiness and in times when happiness appears to be out of reach. They will sweeten the moment.