This is the conversation I had with my sister, exactly 1 year and 11 hours ago, probably verbatim:
Sister: Mom’s dead
Sister: We’ll call in the morning to tell you when the funeral is
Sister: Dad and I are going to identify the body at the hospice
Me: OK. Bye.
Just as a bit of background, this conversation took place the night/early morning between March 2 and March 3 last year. In December the doctors said there was nothing else to do and that it was a matter of days to weeks until she would die. In January we put her in a hospice. By the end of the January, she didn’t recognize us anymore, didn’t understand what was going around her, and basically only opened and closed her mouth and eyes.
By the time this conversation happened, we were just waiting for it to end. We were no longer under any type of illusions that my mom would suddenly wake up and be OK. If, in December, my mom was suddenly able to say one of our names or momentarily remembered how to use the TV remote, we hadn’t had any type of hope in weeks at this point.
I know it sounds harsh, but when you know it’s going to happen, and all hope is already gone, you just want it over. You want to finish the pre-grieving and stress, and move on to the grieving and sadness.
Dealing with sadness is so much easier than dealing with stress and anger. Before my mom died, I would go almost every morning to the hospice before work, to make sure she would eat, and to spend some time with her. But every day was more and more difficult. I swear I can close my eyes now and smell the halls at the hospice and see my mom’s terrified (and then immobile) face, and it totally keeps me up at night.
Don’t say it’s been a year, get over it (yes, I have heard that from more than one person). The images in my head weren’t placed there in 1 year, and can’t be expected to leave in that short of a time, either.
I have long since stopped crying to my friends (and The Boy) when I am feeling very down because I feel this incredible pressure of “get over it.” It’s not coming from my friends or The Boy in any way. If anything, The One Who Calls Me Balls Balls, told me I shouldn’t expect to be OK after a year.
Yet, Judaism has its own form of grieving, which I have heard many say is great and special. And it is, in a way: You spend 7 days at the home of the deceased and people visit with you. There are certain things you aren’t supposed to do during that time so you can concentrate on your grief, both during the shiva (the 7-day mourning period),and the year following the death of your loved one.
For example, you’re not supposed to attend a wedding in the first year after they died. You aren’t supposed to go to concerts, either, and you aren’t allowed to get married during that year (unless you were engaged before the death, in which case you are not allowed to put it off – Judaism is very strict about not postponing a simcha – a happy event – because of a death in the family.
I personally didn’t follow any of these rules (except the not getting married part, not out of religious conviction, but because it was not relevant during this year). I went to a Madonna concert in Barcelona, and I attended a couple of weddings. My mother’s death made me miss on so many things; It’s ludicrous to believe I need to miss a friend’s wedding, or a concert I want to attend, because of religious writings.
I’d like to point out, however, that I have the utmost respect for anyone who does follow these rules. I don’t because I don’t personally feel like I need to miss a friend’s wedding to remember my mom died; I remember that every day. Every time I dry my hands finger by finger I remember my dad telling me that my mom did it that way. Every time I see my niece and nephew I am reminded that my children will never know her. Every time I break a nail I remember she used to bite her fingernails.
Every time I manually write, I see her handwriting, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in English or in Hebrew. I have even taken to changing my capital K and my gimmel (Hebrew letter) because hers were distinct – and mine are the same distinct. When I got my first watch, I put it on my right wrist because my mom did, so now I can’t wear a watch because it makes me think of her.
Even when I start crying and I cover my face so The Boy won’t see me (in the rare times when I let him drive), I am reminded of her because I have her mannerisms.
So you see, I don’t need religion dictating what I can or can’t do while in mourning. But for some inexplicable reason, I let it dictate how public my mourning can now be.