Shiva and its aftermath: Blessings and curses

Most of this was written a few days ago, but it wasn’t ready for posting. Today is Erev Rosh Hashanah, the start of a new year, and also exactly two weeks since we buried our mother. I just read an excellent Rabbi Frand devar torah on Nitazvim, yesterday’s parsha. It spoke about how there are very few instances of “Atem” in the Torah, and this one should serve to remind us of the miracle of our continued existence as a people. I feel this miracle and agree with it, especially as I am able to live in Eretz Yisrael.

I am also thinking about this parsha as followed by last week’s blessings and curses. Sometimes it feels like life is both at the same time. I was both thankful for and deeply upset by the last week of being with my mother, when she was just existing. We watched every breath, wondering which would be her last, both hoping for an end to the pain and dreading it. It was both wonderful and extremely difficult being with her at the end, but I am thankful that we were there, and that she was surrounded by her loving family for her last quiet breath. I can’t say enough how much I appreciate feeling surrounded by love from the community since I returned.

From last Wednesday night:

The long candle is burning down, almost gone. It has lasted beyond the standard week after the levaya (funeral), since I couldn’t light it until I returned home midweek. I find it hard to watch it go, and know that this phase of shiva is over. One step closer to a long future in which my mother will still be gone.

I know there are bigger, worldwide calamities going on now, from the terrible civil wars to ongoing horrific terrorism, to the awful sandstorm we are barely breathing through, and worse, people who kill themselves because they hate how they are regarded. Yet, G-d in His wisdom saw fit to give us a present of time where we are allowed to mourn, allowed to be a bit selfish and have our minds only on our own pain.

Unlike the requirements of physically crawling into a shell though, I sat shiva in four places — five, if you count the floor of the airport. I was together with both my sisters on day one, at my mother’s house with one sister on day two, and at my in-laws house in the community where we lived before aliyah on day three, en route to the airport and home. Those days were mostly a blur, but my major impression is of being surrounded by many loving people who just wanted to do and say something, anything, to comfort us.

The gut-wrenching part came as soon as the plane started rolling; I don’t know if it was leaving my sisters, or leaving the country where both my parents now stay forever in the ground. I cried for at least an hour; my daughter was kind and let me hold her stuffed doggie and pat my hand.

Then I came home. People asked if it was terrible to be without my sisters. I felt they were so far away, with all our shared memories of our mother. However, I felt loved by my greater “family”– all those who share life in this country with us. A few visited who had known my mother, because it is a small country after all, but most didn’t. I was comforted by those who just sat and let me ramble on, or asked me questions so I could talk about her and show pictures, and also by those who happened to turn the topic to something else, lightening my burden in that way.

I was and am overwhelmed with gratitude by all the offers to help in any way, and all those who did help by bringing food or even snacks and drinks and paper goods (whoever thought of that was brilliant!). You should know, all of you wonderful people (I don’t know if they would want to be named, but they know who they are-even the ones who wanted to but didn’t have the opportunity and especially my friend who organized it all), that I really might not have eaten (even though my husband was trying to get me to and also cooked for me-thank you, my love) if the food hadn’t been brought to the door and handed to me. (Thanks for this also go to my brother in law in America, who made sure I was taken care of even though I was there ‘alone’.) It was hard to want to eat, to go on.

But life does go on. I went back to work today, and all of the wonderful people who didn’t make it in the short two and a bit days I sat here wanted to say a kind word, put out a hand, let me know they shared my pain in as much as that is possible. I am having a harder time handling this attention, and I only hope I am doing it with grace. I appreciate the gesture, and have done it myself, it’s just that it is difficult to return to any semblance of normalcy when all day people are not letting you forget and move on. I don’t mean to brush anyone off, and please forgive me if I do, it’s just that I have to go back to living normally now — although a thought I have had is that maybe people keep coming up to me because I am not supposed to just go back to normal life, that I do need to remember and think about my mother.

It was most definitely a bracha that we had time, that we knew enough to make the most of the last bit of time together that we could. However, it was hard to have that intense awareness that the end *was* coming, and there was no longer anything that could be done to stop it. It is like standing there knowing that an anvil is dangling over your head, about to drop. Believe me, even you would close your eyes and try to pretend it wasn’t there sometimes. Now, the anvil is the simple knowledge that the gift of time has ended and any day now, I will wake up from this dream state I have been in and realize that the person who gave birth to me, raised me and taught me so much about life, is gone. Your love has helped keep it away, and I think it’s okay if I don’t want to open my eyes just yet. It still isn’t real to me, so if I walk around looking okay, let me.

Rosh Hashannah is almost upon us, and I know that I will have in mind what I told my daughter, who asked why her tefillot (prayers) didn’t save Grandma and make her better. I said that the doctors thought she would only live until last summer, and boy were they surprised when she lasted a whole additional year. Maybe, I whispered, it was your tefillot that gave her another year. So I will be praying for time, to be with my loved ones and my whole extended family, and to live life to the fullest as my mother would have if only she knew how little time she ended up having. She loved us and let us know, but she didn’t take the time to do all the things she wanted to do. Live deeply and don’t regret, and remember that even G-d allows for us to be a little selfish at times.

I hope and pray for all of us, for a new year filled with happiness, blessings, less bad and more good news, and that we should all know no more sorrows.

Láliyat neshamat Rachel Devora bat Yitzchak

About the Author
Mori Sokal is a FIFTEEN year veteran of Aliyah, mother of three wonderful children (with her wonderful husband) and is an English teacher in both elementary and high school in the Gush Etzion-Jerusalem area. She has a Masters’ degree in teaching, is a copy editor, and has published articles in Building Blocks, the Jewish Press magazine.
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