For the past year I have been in mourning following the death of my father on December 21, 2009. (According to the Hebrew calendar Friday the tenth marked one year since he passed away on 4 Tevet 5770.) For this year I didn’t wear jewelry; traditionally, someone in mourning wears black, but I knew that there was no way I would be like a little Italian or Greek widow for a year (it had taken me long enough to stop wearing plain black or white as part of regaining enthusiasm for life after I exited from my marriage), but I did want to outwardly recognize my status of daughter-in-mourning. It felt good, if good can be used in this way; perhaps, appropriate as in: for me it was the appropriate thing to do to honor and commemorate my father.
One day I put on earrings in the house, just to make sure that the holes hadn’t closed up. It felt so weird—and wrong. Once I committed to a course of action, any deviation felt wrong. I noted that the holes were open, and then immediately took the earrings out.
Yesterday my younger daughter asked me if I would start wearing jewelry now; I said that I would start again after Tuesday. I didn’t realize that she had even heard me when I told her how I would be mourning her grandfather.
I’m pleased with what I did. For a moment I wondered about not wearing jewelry again, but then I realized that that would, in some way, negate what I had done and lessen what it meant for me. So next week, when Kenny and I go to San Francisco for a few days, I plan to look for a necklace (and perhaps matching earrings) to mark the end of this official mourning period (in Judaism, the child of someone who dies is supposed to be in mourning for one year) as well as to be a different kind of reminder of my father, and my life—and how life continues even when it seems so full of tears [teers] and tears [tairs].
A year ago I was in tears curled up on my bed, unable to sleep and now, now I tear up, but that is all. It is so upsetting and unsettling how we move on with our lives. Last year I couldn’t fathom how the life around me goes on as it had before—untouched—as if nothing significant had happened, and now, now I am part of that movement of life. Granted, there is a missing part of my circle, but still I am within the flow part of the ebb and flow. Even my mother seems to be moving; while I am not sure if it is forward, because what is forward, really, when talking about living your life without the love and life of your life by your side, but she has not turned into a caricature of a widow sitting for hours on end with a cold cup of tea unable to do things for herself. After all, she did give the “looks could kill” look of a true New Yorker to a neighbor who told her to get out of the street when my mother was waiting for the Super Shuttle van to pick her up—it came an hour late—at the end of her visit here last week.
But I do feel guilty in some way because my life has progressed in such a lovely way, yet my father is not here to be a part of it. I guess that is the hardest thing about losing someone—that they aren’t a part of your life any more. Yes, I know, when you think about that person it is keeping him alive, but, really, it’s you keeping them alive, it is not them being alive. And so there is a frozenness to my memories, to my life—before my father died and after.
How do you envelope mourning into your life after the intense ache of surprise and loss is over? And is it mourning or is it something else? Is it sorrow? Is there a word that covers this here and not here quality that one experiences when a loved one dies? I don’t want to check the thesaurus because this is not a word hunt—it is a feeling hunt.
Surprisingly, there is also a fullness to how I feel since there is a sense that I am living or experiencing my life for myself as well as for him—acknowledging what he might have thought or said or reacted or hoped for. There is also, though, a sense of guilt that my life has moved on, that it has changed. I know it is wrong to feel that way, but that pricking is still there, calling my attention to my here and now, as well as my then, when he was still here as a shoulder and a counsel.
It is such a complicated business this respect for self and this respect for those we mourn.
During my year of mourning a friend’s father passed away, an acquaintance’s mother-in-law passed away, and my father’s older sister was operated on for having the same kind of cancer that he had (esophageal). And my father’s younger sister was in a car accident. And my older daughter no longer speaks to her father since he insulted her and hurt her in ways I thought were only reserved for me. And a kind and loving man has entered my life so that he sits round the dining room table with me every night, and wakes up with me every morning. And I have lost weight and am finally pleased or settled with how I look and where my life is. And I have had students respect and not respect me. And my younger daughter has been sweet and bitter towards me. And I no longer talk to my brother because I got tired of always calling him and I got hurt beyond the desire to invite more hurts that he didn’t find it in himself to see me as a part of his life.
So my life is big and little, as it was before.
And the world is still on its axis, spinning and rotating and circling.
My father died last year on December 21st; it is now December 18th. The week before he died he and my mother called to say that “it’s not good,” so my younger daughter and I flew down to Florida to be with him. We were with him for three days, leaving the day before he died.
We cried in the chapel during the funeral service; and we cried in the cemetery as we shoveled and threw in fistfuls of dirt over him within his pine box coffin; and we cried during the Shiva service; and we cried in private.
You mourn the passing of a loved one by doing the rituals and by creating rituals and by receiving his presence within the forward path of your life.
You mourn someone by still loving him within the newness that comes from living.