Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Death, A Shiva, and a Mitzvah FOR POSTERITY

On Sunday, Dec 27, 2015 my sister called me. The sister I haven't spoken to in 5 years. Liz said she sent Dennis and his family a box of See's candies for Christmas. Dennis's wife called her 2 days after Christmas to tell her that Dennis is dead. Dennis has been dead since January 23, 2015. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in December 2013 and then died in January 2015.

I thanked my sister for the information about the death of our father. The father I haven't seen or heard from in almost 30 years.

I felt nothing.

Well, not nothing. I felt bad for poor Liz being handed the horrid task of calling her sisters to inform them. I sent her a text saying that.

I called a couple of friends and told them. When they expressed remorse I said "It's no big deal. An old man that I didn't know died almost a year ago. Whatever."

I had a couple of cocktails and went to sleep.

Still getting over my annual Christmas cold, I woke up coughing in the middle of the night. I glugged some Delsym right from the bottle so my poor husband could get some rest. I awoke a 5am. I felt... weird. Agitated. Weepy. Weird.

I waited for DH to awake and shower and go to work so I could have a good cry alone. He finally did. I apologized for keeping him up with my coughing.

After he left I played the Dixie Chicks song "Loving Arms" and I sang along and cried. That song has always made me think of Dennis. My physical body was feeling very weird. Very weird. Disassociated. Numb lips. Jumpy thoughts. High. Is this what it's like to be high?

I called Kathy. Kathy has lots of meds. Maybe I need some meds. She didn't answer because it was only 7:20 in the morning. I called DH at his desk. I said some weird stuff and then practically hyperventilated into the phone. Loud, retching, gasping noises. He said he'd be home in 20 minutes.

I needed help but didn't know what I needed. The phone rang. It was Kathy's DH Dave. I told him my father died. I made stupid jokes, and cried, and yelled, and railed against my conflicted feelings about the death of this horrible person who was my father.

Jamie came home. He noticed that the cough syrup bottle was empty. "How much of this did you take?" <Sigh> "Don't take any more of anything, ok?" Ok.

He planted himself on the bed and listened to my babbling. I babbled about the library book that needed to be returned. I babbled about how there's no protocol for when asshole stepmothers tell you that your asshole father died a year ago. And how I needed to return the iPhone I'd bought him for Christmas so he could get the model he wanted. I babbled about nothing. I babbled about everything.

"I should take a shower."
"Yes. Take a shower."

Warm water and soapy hair. I want to sit Shiva. I want to be sad in my house and have people come over and stare at me. I want to cover the mirrors and light a candle and have people come over to my house. I want to sit Shiva like in all those Judy Blume books. 

I got out of the shower and told Jamie what I wanted. I think maybe he tried to talk me out of it. But I was now a woman with a mission. I googled Shiva. Turns out there are prayers to say. The Mourner's Kaddish and the Payer of Mercy. So I did what any good shiksa would do. I called Rabbi.

I've been teaching preschool one day a week at the local temple. It satisfied many things in me, not least of which was my desire to know more about Judaism. And this temple is so cool. A woman Rabbi who likes and trusts me. 

So I called her. She answered the phone and was very obviously loading her dishwasher and eating leftovers from the plates of her family. I told her what happened to me. I gave her the 90-second history of me and my father. I could feel her brain moving and then she told me that she would be at my home at 6pm to lead evening prayers. I'm feeling a little better.

Now sanctioned by Rabbi to co-opt a ritual and tradition not of my heritage I felt a renewed sense of purpose. We have to clean this house. Jamie flew into action and began dusting. I vacuumed and got all the muddy doggie paw prints from the wood floors. I ran next door a zillion times to tell my neighbors to come over at six. I barked at them to get me cheese and cracker trays and I absconded with a full-size coffee pot as Jamie and I long ago switched to the single-cup Keurig. I texted and called all my local people and told them to show up. "Bring your kids, being your pets, bring your out of town family. I want mayhem." They all responded kindly to the crazy woman whirling like a dervish. At one point Jamie asked me to slow down. I tried not to ignore him.

The realization hit me about 2:30pm. I need a program. I sat at the computer and opened Publisher. I wanted... I didn't know what I wanted it to say. And then my phone binged. My daily reminder to meditate. The new app on my phone was helping me get into the habit. So I went into any empty room and began a guided meditation. Seven minutes later I dashed back to the computer with the full knowledge of what I wanted. I created a program. Aaaah. That feels better.

At 5:30pm it began. The arrivals. First Laurie. My true Jew friend from down the street. She brought a copy of Judaism for Dummies and read aloud. We covered the mirror in the guest bath together as I had already done the others in the house. She brought round cookies. She said in a Shiva house you're supposed to eat round foods. Ok. Then the flow of people. A nice woman named Star who said Rabbi sent her. Some random Jew from the temple shows up at my home to help me in my grief and be supportive of a fellow human being. Woo.

I had set out all the programs on the dining table so people could grab one as they came in. There were also a dozen little candles and a box of wooden matches. Catholics are coming. Catholics like to light candles. I also set out a couple of menorahs that friends had given me when I began working at the temple and shared my interest in Judaism with them. People hugged me. I thanked them for coming. I cried when I felt overwhelmed.

Rabbi arrived a little late. She needed to nurse her son before driving more than 30 minutes to come to my home. The home of a woman she had known barely 6 months. She brought a bag full of Jewish. Prayer books, kippahs, a Shiva candle, and a kriah. A small pin with a black ribbon extending from it. She took my into a private corner and took my hands in hers and said soothing things. She made a tiny cut in the ribbon and instructed me to tear it and attach it to my clothing. She had me light the Shiva candle. She walked me back into the main room where 27 people were gathered. Some of them had put a kippah on their head. I sat on a low ottoman to Rabbi's right. Rabbi stood and began the service. Thirty minutes of prayer in English and Hebrew. Sometimes we all stood and faced east. The Jews sometimes bowed their bodies over towards the east. I listened. And I said the written words aloud when my eyes weren't blurred with tears and when I could follow along in the backwards-bound book. It lasted a long time. It was over in an instant.

It broke up quickly. But before she left Rabbi made sure to tell me which of the gourmet cupcakes she had brought was the best one. The Oreo one. Duh. It's always the Oreo. 

                                                              * * *

I woke the next morning rested and hungry. The memory of his death is now replaced with the memory and feelings brought on by the love and support of 27 people. I am overwhelmed. I am fed. I am free.