The Jewish mourning process is supposedly set up to help people mourn in stages. Five stages from what I've read in all those miserable books. Filled with rules and laws that no real human can follow. Maybe guidelines or traditions. Who knows.
The first stage is called ANINUT (or aninus for the Ashkenazic Americans). One who is in this in-between stage is called an ONEN. This person is free of all positive commandments. The law was established with the knowledge that all focus should be on the immediate death. I was in ONEN status for six hours.
It's not easy to get that call. And I have gotten it a few times over the years. The "you need to come now" call. And every time, I fly to the nursing home or hospital. Wherever we are spending our lives during those days. Driving like a maniac. Wondering is this it. Do I turn off the music. Do I run home and cut my nails. And, yeah, sometimes it was pretty scary. Walking into a hospital room. My family surrounding a large bed. With a very small person. My mother gasping for air.
But she has always made it through.
Except this time.
This was it. The final call. The call you think you have been preparing for your whole life. But when it comes. Total shock. Denial. Flying down the streets one last time. Maybe it is a false alarm. Maybe you misheard. Doubting your own ears. Your own comprehension. But you did hear it clearly. "Come now. Come now. Your mother is not doing well. You need to come now." And then within a few seconds, "she's very cold. She's dead." How can one deny such definitive words.
I entered the room and my mother was no longer. She was cold and grey. Her trach was disconnected. A gaping hole by her neck. Her eyes were slightly open. Limbs no longer stiff. Machines still beeping in the room. Feeding tubes and IV’s reaching to the floor. No longer attached. My father sitting by her side. Holding her hand. Crying silently.
My usual composure shattered. My cries uncontained. Sobbing. My mother died. My mother is dead. She lays before me but she is not there. I am motherless. I am an orphan. Have I willed this. This is what I always wanted. Freedom. From pain. For her. For me. Freedom from responsibility. So then why wasn't I ready. Why the intense shock. The overwhelming pain. How could I feel so alone. When she hasn't really been here for a long time. Maybe never.
Rabbi comes in and says we need to cover her. It's time. I scream and yell how I am not ready. I touch her feet. Something that she has always hated. Earlier years complaining. Recent years a grimace on her face. I stroke her face. Kiss her cheeks. There is no soul inside this hollow body. My mother died. My mother is dead.
We plan the funeral for later the same day. Allowing just enough time for family to come in from New York. The funeral home comes to wheel my mother's body out. All the doors are closed. We follow in sorrow. The tears just won't stop. At home, I shower and cut my nails. Not knowing when I will do them next. I sit on my bed to write my eulogy. Still regretting not speaking at Bubby's funeral. I will speak no matter how hard. No matter how painful.
At the funeral home, my siblings and family finally arrive. Thirty minutes after the service was supposed to begin. We all follow the casket. Of my dead mother. We enter a room filled with people. No seats left. People standing in every space available. No spare room to be found. In a box. In the front of the room. A large box. Way too big. My mother is dead. Inside this casket. A golden star of David on a blue cloth. Inside is my mother. My mother died. My mother is dead.
At the cemetery. We must rush. Have to beat the clock. Make it before the day becomes tomorrow. Lots of Rabbinic advisement. A rush job. Get the box in the ground. Cover it as fast as possible. So many people surrounding. All happening so fast. And then my brother says Kadish. For the first time. Something that he will have to say three times a day for the next year. Mourning publicly in front of a gathering of ten men. A minyan. Never to be missed. The mourners are ushered through two lines of people. One for the men and one for the women. And then we sit on the ground. Take off our shoes. We are officially in stage two.
The second stage includes the first three days of SHIVA, which immediately follow the burial. In an uncommon way. We started our Shiva at the cemetery. So as not to miss a minute. Delaying would cost us to sit Shiva another day. As we approach my father's house. Formerly my parents’ house, people are already on the porch. Waiting to comfort us. The mourners.
The point of this second stage is to allow mourners to experience their grief. Humans need time to be angry. To feel their feelings. Whatever they are. With no one to dictate how to behave. Mirrors are covered. Low chairs around the house. Hands to be washed. Washing away impurity. An egg to be eaten with bread. Symbolizing the circle of life. Perhaps. And in our case, due to the upcoming holiday, Shiva will only be during those three days. People will come in droves throughout the day. To comfort. Some to listen. Many to speak about themselves and their own pain or loss.
From early morning until late at night. I sat in that low chair. And I felt nothing. Empty. I laughed with some. But I could not remember any good memories to share. The disappointment in the picture painted of my mother. The careless things people said. The constant "well meaners." And yes. There were some who made a difference. But mostly numb. Until the night. When the house emptied out. When we laid in our beds. And we cried. I cried into my pillow. I sobbed. My mother died. My mother is dead. I will never see her again. I wasn't there enough. Who am I now. Without her.
The third stage is the reminder of the SHIVA. Literally translated as "seven." Referring to the seven days. This was more of a quiet stage for us. Unimaginable if we had to sit for an actual seven days.
The fourth stage of mourning is called the SHLOSHIM. Literally translated as "thirty". This stage refers to the thirty days from the burial on. Including both the second and third stage. I am now in Shloshim. The laws are not as strict as Shiva but they are still existent. Less joy. Less of everything. This numb feeling still overtaking.
And then she finally leaves. I am finally alone. After two intense weeks filled with people. I am back in my own place. My own bed. All I want to do is feel. So I open the link. And I watch the funeral. I cry out as if it is all fresh and new. It is fresh. I have not had a minute to feel anything. My mother died. My mother is dead. And now I am lost. I lay in my bed and I don't know what to do.
The fifth and supposed final stage is the year of mourning. It will be a long year ahead. Decisions to me made. Life to adjust to. New reality. New existence. Potential. Freedom.