November 25, 2014

Arise Mourner

Isaiah's wise words: Chapter 60, verse 20.
Arise mourner. Arise. Arise. 

The rabbi said this three times--and still it was not enough.  I felt glued to my chair, paralyzed, afraid. And then, as if a puppeteer pulled a string, I rose from my chair and braced myself to face the world: a new, hardened reality; a world without my mother.

My father, brother and I had been sitting shiva for seven days. The house was filled with people who came in from the outside, bringing forth warm memories and stories of my mother. The photo albums came out and family history was shared. There were hugs, many consoling words and lots of nurturing food. We hibernated inside the house sitting low on our chairs. Family and friends came and left, then others arrived, some reconnecting with us after decades.

Uplifting. Tiring. Meaningful. Distracting. Necessary. I was an emotional chameleon.

When my mom passed away, our hearts were pried open like shy clams whose precious pearl had been wrenched out and stolen. And after the levaya, our hearts closed tight, leaving us broken, robbed, left alone with a deep, gaping hole inside.  These days of shiva helped to fill our shell, revealing glimmers of the pearl that was lost.  We could see who cared and who was touched by my mother; and we were reminded how she made a difference to people’s lives, be it a small act or a friendship from many years ago.

Arise mourner.

He was telling us to get up and walk outside, completing a symbolic return to the world after having lost a close relative. The rabbi then quoted this beautiful passage from the Book of Isaiah:

“Your sun shall set no more, your moon no more withdraw; for the Lord shall be a light to you forever, and your days of mourning shall be ended.”

My legs felt weak as I headed to the front door. The world outside was so big and so cold.

As I took my first shaky steps outside, I gasped for air, drowning in tears as if a dam wall broke inside me. I held onto my father’s arm as we made our way in silence. This was a walk into a new harsh reality where the players in my small family were further diminished. This was now a world of my brother, my father and I.

As soon as we came inside, there was no more time for reflection or tears. Life began with a flurry of packing suitcases, driving to appointments and catching my flight back to Israel. I would be leaving this shiva house, once my childhood home, saying goodbye to my father and my brother and having a final cry at the graveside of my mother. The wind howled, the snow stung and my tears flowed as I recited Tehillim at her grave, kicking the frozen, unresponsive mud that was filled in just a week ago.

I am now in in transit. Literally and emotionally. Sitting here in the Heathrow airport lounge, I feel a gash grow inside. I have moments when I want to go up to a stranger, a woman the same age of my mom and say, “ My mom is gone. Can you give me a hug?”  Yet, when walking in crowds of people dragging suitcases, I feel as if I have entered a new phase of humanity. It is a club of sorrow. How many of these people here in this airport have lost a loved one? Are some rushing to visit someone ill in the hospital? We all carry sorrows, and the older we grow, the more wounds we will carry.

I watch the El Al plane taxi to the gate. This plane with the Star of David on the tail will carry me home. I cry with the understanding that I am headed to our Jewish homeland.

Arise, mourner. I brace my new reality as I come home to my life in Israel.

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