Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mourning

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.

Maybe the stages aren't so bad after all.

I was the Shabbat Imma in Gan. My mom always came. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Eulogy

Dear Ma, 

What can I say to the woman who brought me into this world.  You waited for so many years. So much pain and heartache.  You suffered through so much.  But despite all of the suffering, you were still my mother. Our Ma. You were so proud of us three children.  

The person that people saw in the last few years was not the real you. Although, your personality definitely peeked through. Your stubbornness. Your spunk. Your fight. You were a survivor. You taught me what it means to live. To hold on. 

I want to share some memories of the good times. 

Remember the time that we went horseback riding and you sat on the side reading a book waiting for us as a pig tried to eat your chair. 

Remember when you got your hair cutting license in Israel. You were so proud. Little did I know I would spend my childhood with short hair and short bangs as you would practice on my hair. Everyone in the Dorset area came to you for haircuts.

Remember how you were always bickering with Aunt Naomi on the phone and whenever you got together. You always argued about the time you walked through the glass door, you only got a book about animals, and when Aunt Naomi fell out of the car, she got markers. I can’t even count how many times I had to hear that story. 

Remember how you always had to match everything. Your shoes matched your skirt, which matched you shirt and eyeshadow. Your earrings were probably heavier than you.

Remember how you made coca cola chicken. Apricot meat that would melt in your mouth. And the best Bubby Kugel. 

Remember how you bought every Jewish book that came out. Your love for Rabbi Biographies. And millions of Miriam Adahan books. You went to almost every WIT class possible. Your notes were everywhere around the house. You went to shul every Shabbos. Always sitting up front. 

Remember Tai Chi. Remember how you and Bubby would be sitting by the window in Household two waiting for one of us to come. The minute you would see Abba walking towards you, you would stand up and mimic his motions. Putting your arms up above your head and copying all the arm motions he was doing in the parking lot. 

Your love for Abba was beyond anything. 

Remember how proud you were of Chaim. He is your pride and joy. Your obvious favorite. 

Remember when you found out you were pregnant withDevora. Was probably the happiest day of your life. 

Remember how you would talk to your father every day on the phone. 

Remember how you loved Simcha and Shira. How proud you were of the families they crated. 

Remember how grateful you were to Yechiel for the dedication and care for Aunt Naomi. You finally get to be with your sister. And your mother. And Bubby. You are finally pain free.  

Your hand has always been warm. You always smiled when you saw me. I am your first. My voice is the one you always recognize. I am your original. Been there through thick and thin. Ma. Please. I'm sorry. Sorry for this life you've had. Sorry for all the pain. Sorry I haven't always been there. I'm sorry.

Ma. I love you. Mommy. I’ll miss youImma. Forever your daughter.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Stop it

Not sure why I still let you get to me. Why do you have such control over my emotions. I try to separate myself. Be independent. Make my own choices. Live a healthy lifestyle. And yet you manage to make me feel so little. Vulnerable. Needy. Sad. Like that little girl who was never cared for properly. The child who just wanted to be noticed. Fed. Hugged. Why do I let you in so much. I am still somehow trying to fill that void. And I seem to be delusional and think you can do that. That you can step in and fix all that I am. That I feel. When it is most likely your fault to begin with.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Surgery #8

They came to get me that Friday evening. Transport that is. Two women wearing nets on their heads, chatting the whole time about their lives. As they wheeled me into the elevator on the 12th floor, “bump” one of them called out to me. The pain was so overwhelming, shooting through my lower back. My back that had been cut open two days earlier to stop my leaking spinal fluid. Here I was having to come to terms with another surgery. Was I avoiding reality? In denial. Most probably. 

We get to the large pre-op room and I am placed in a little cubicle. Two men come forward. One steps close to the head of my bed and informs me that he is a graduate student and has to ask me some questions. Ok I think, here we go. And then he stupidly asks me if I have ever had any surgeries. Umm hello? Are you for real? Have you even read my file, I ask him. He steps back as if a wounded puppy and then the next guy steps forward. 

Now this guy looks more seasoned. Not his first time at the rodeo. I ignore him and watch the TV above my head as it silently plays Will & Grace. Alex is his name. He has a faint Russian accent and informs me that he is the anesthesiologist and apologized for his acquaintance. He clearly sensed my frustration. Alex is one of those doctors who emanates bedside manner. He stood there holding my hand and chatting as we waited for my operating room to be ready. He was trying to rile me up, kept telling me to curse if I felt like it. We schmoozed about his family and career and my past surgeries, good experiences and bad. I felt validated and listened to. 

Finally the time had come to head to the operating room. They asked me if I could scoot from my hospital bed onto the operating table. I find that table laughable. How is a person meant to actually lay on that tiny board without falling off? I always ask what a fat person does. The operating room staff snicker at my questions and sarcastic comments. I try to wiggle my way but cannot maneuver or bend my back without screaming in pain. Alex and the grad student grab my arms and lift me onto the table. Holding a mask over my face and reminding me to breathe deep breaths. It’s not working, I am still alert. I feel the needle puncture my hand as they search for a vein for a second IV. I wince and Alex grabs my hand tightly while gently rubbing my forehead and whispering that all will be ok and I am doing great. 

That is the last thing I remember as I drifted off into a silent reality. I woke up less than two hours later as they pulled the tube out of my throat, me vomiting everywhere. Wheeling me directly to postop, it was then that recovery would begin. The last four months would no longer dictate my life. This surgery was going to be a solution. No longer the bandaid approach.

To be continued... 


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Five Minutes

Have not been able to write in a long time. It has been many challenging months. Seems to be very difficult to get a break. 

Eight surgeries since March and my body is just not responding well anymore. I have just been discharged from the hospital on Tuesday after twelve days and two painful surgeries. 

This is not how I planned on entering another year. I was hoping to move forward. Finish school. Make something of myself. 

And instead, the hospitalizations are getting closer and closer. Constant visits to the emergency room. Spending more time with the neurosurgery residents than my actual friends. One rolling vein after another. My body can't do it anymore. My mind cannot calm down. 

All I want is to heal. To feel alert and alive. Be independent. Make my own choices. Be in control of my own body. To feel comfortable in any position. Be rid of this constant chronic pain. No more painkillers. To sleep. 

No more. I have had enough. It's gotten to a point where I cry for my mother. Who have I become. This slobbering, pathetic person. Can't get my act together. 

I whisper to myself throughout the day. Just get through the next five minutes. 

My mind is constantly running. Mostly at night. When sleep should take over. Instead, the pain and the thoughts take over. Reminding me of how awful life is. Of all the pain. The things I cannot do. 

I lay there for hours at a time dozing in and out of delirium. Imagining the worst. Dreaming and creating holocaust-like stories in my mind. Reliving memories that never happened. With people who are not here. Are not in my life. Or cannot even talk. 

I think of my mother. A lot. And I cry for the parents I wish I had. The home I wish I could go to. A cocoon where I can feel safe. Loved. Taken care of.  

I cry for my future. A future that felt so close. At the tips of my fingers. Slowly slipping away. I cry for my independence. I can't even take a shower on my own. My head is partially shaved. I am not myself. I cry for no reason at all. Being overwhelmed and exhausted should be enough of a reason. 

That's all for now. I need to lay down. 

I can make it through the next five minutes. 

That's all that matters right now. 

Five minutes. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Bruised

I have been told by many recently that I should share what I am feeling. Not hold back. Playing the martyr. Adult. The one always in control. I'm afraid. Afraid that if I share, I will never survive. I will unleash this flood of tears that is suffocated so far down in my soul that I will not be able to stop. I will drown if I open up.

The truth is that I am bruised. Inside and out. My skin is black and blue. The staples go way deeper than my skin. They puncture my heart. Each metal piece cutting deeper and deeper until I am almost see-through. Non-existent.

I'm tired. Worn out. Beyond exhausted. Too much energy needed to pick up all the pieces. Again. Put everything back together. Function. Would you be surprised if this time I just can't. That I just want to give up. To be done.

Have I not lived long enough. Gone through it all. Put in my time. Why is thirty not considered a full life. I've given it all. I've lived. I'm tired. No more.

Whatever. That's it.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Waiting Room

Scheduled for early morning. Delayed due to a rough night. One blood transfusion and nine hours later, I get a call from my father. I fly out of work. Arrive in record timing. The elevator can't move fast enough. My heart is beating through my chest. I make it to ICU just in time. 

The anesthesiologist is instructing the transport team. I ask for a minute. As I fumble to get the gown and gloves on. I hold her swollen hand and lean over to kiss her cheek. Stroke her hair. She cannot hear me. But maybe somewhere deep inside she can feel me. 

They start wheeling her out and I ask to come with. I walk slowly behind the procession of nurses and doctors. Walk behind the bed in which she is confined. I try not to think of past and future processions. Nothing good can come of those thoughts. 

In the blink of an eye, we all stop short. The nurse informs me I can go no further. I am not welcome through the double doors. She tells me it's time to say goodbye. Everyone steps back. 

I lean over the woman who carried me for eight months. The woman who I call Ma. I kiss her cheek. And I tell her I will be right here. That she should be brave. And that I will see her when she comes out. She cannot hear one word. 

And then she is gone. 

And now I sit here. And wait. I wait for the unknown. 

I wait.