Friday, October 23, 2009

Leaving it behind

A month ago today, my father died.

It's still surreal, still raw and still beyond painful. I still don't know what to say around people, still feel awkward when I drop my kids off at school, still don't want to be among large groups (or even small ones), still wonder when I'll start to feel more like myself, still wish I could fix this for everyone around me, still rail against the reality that dictates I can't.

I know there will never be a "normal", of course, so I bristle when well-meaning friends tell me time will heal me. It won't, and it's a scar I suppose I'll wear for the rest of my own life. I also know that this is the way life is supposed to work. But that doesn't make it any easier to internalize. I guess I suck at this whole adaptation thing.

Thankfully for bad-copers like me, there are countless traditions in Judaism that give mourners a sense of structure in the days, months and years following loss. Shiva - Hebrew word for seven - involves sitting on small, hard chairs while friends visit and provide comfort. Shloshim - Hebrew word for thirty - outlines behaviors that are and are not permitted in the first month.*

In our case, both shiva and shloshim were cut short by the Jewish calendar. So seven days became barely three, and thirty days became a smidge over a week. It's easy to feel shortchanged when these abbreviated periods end and you find yourself wondering what to do with yourself. And I'll admit I could have used more time.

One of the dictates of shloshim is you don't shave (others include no entertainment, music, etc.) Since I do televised interviews on occasion, and since I have always done so with a shaven face, I discussed this with my rabbi. He said I could indeed shave if my work dictated it. So, technically, I could have shaved anytime I wanted to over these past few weeks. But I haven't. I couldn't. Because every time I look in the mirror or touch my face, I want to feel it, that something's changed, that something, indeed someone, is missing.

Of course, I don't need to self-flagellate, and I haven't done this to beat myself up in some way. Keeping my razor tucked away has helped extend this period for me, convince me that I've got a bit more time to live in this bubble. Somehow I equated the act of shaving with the act of leaving shloshim behind. And I didn't want to. And I still don't.

So when I got called to do my first interview afterward, I went on-air with a fuzzy face. And I got called to come back, so I guess my old assumption that facial hair would harm me was a bit misplaced. And I guess I'll keep looking into the mirror, and at some point I'll realize that it's what's behind the hair that's truly changed, and someday I'm going to have to come to terms with it.

Just not today.

*I realize I've grossly oversimplified this. Entire books have been written on these traditions. I recognize my limits in trying to explain them in a mere blog post.


Beverly said...

I'm glad you wrote this post. I so respect your traditions. Time will make things a little easier, but you never get over it. You will find the smallest things will bring your father to your mind. I thanks G-d for memories, and you will too.

AStronomer said...

Carmi, there's a traditional Yiddish phrase, roughly translated, that says

"all things grow with time, except grief".

These words lend some comfort to me when things seem darkest following a loss of a loved one. It's a simple phrase, but with much wisdom in it's seven words.

colleen said...

I hadn't practiced Catholicism in many years but was so glad it was in place when my brothers and my dad died.

I understand that feeling so changed inside with no changes visible on the outside, is hard and I appreciated learning about some of the Jewish traditions surrounding loss that I hadn't known.

I struggle with death because my heart tends to believe in an afterlife but my mind tends not to believe it.

I wish you peace.

bARE-eYED sUN said...

there's not much that can be said that will make this time easier, these things never get easier to bear.

the loss of a parent is a heckuva whack, all of a sudden we're orphaned and its truly a horrible mess.

perspective comes with time and we turn to our remaining loved ones, and so we move on, this is a promise: we don't forget, but we do manage it better.

our deep sympathy, friend. :-0


Cloudia said...

We are edified by your heartfelt sharing. It's a mitzva, Carmi

Shabbat Shalom & Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

lissa said...

There is comfort in the traditions that keep us remembering why we are hurting. After shiva, people go home, visitors stop coming, the food gets packed away, the table gets cleared, the chairs taken away and the room put back the way it was. But things have changed, nothing's the way it was.

I like the little reminders that keep us in touch with that part of us that feels the loss. It isn't for the pain, which will dissipate - though never disappear. It's for the honor one shows the loved one who is gone. And your keeping the tradition is an honor to your dad, just like all the other reminders you have kept alive.

Sharing this way is a definite catharsis. We are honored by your candor.

Love and light.

swile67 said...

I have been out of blogland for a while so did not know about your father. Please accept my sympathies. Thank you for sharing about your Jewish traditions. This may sound strange but I love how they give some sort of direction in the midst of the grieving. I don't suppose we ever fully "get over" the death of our parents. We are part of them so part of us goes with them. I hope you take all the time you need to grieve. Thoughts and prayers are sent your way to you and your family. Karyne

Sarah said...

Not quite sure why, but you have been on my mind lately... wondered how you were doing. Like my mom said, "you will find the smallest things will bring your father to your mind" - it is so very true. I wish I could have had more adult years with my dad than I did. I was 25 when he died. Be sure you kiss your kids with a scruffy face... they will remember it later in life. I remember my dad's whiskers. Be thankful for the memories you have. Grieve how you will... everyone is different - but do allow yourself to cry. Hugs.

fredamans said...

I feel with you. I too lost my Father.

Know he is with you always.


MB said...

Faith is something that sees us through the hard times.

I was told the tradition of avoiding mirrors when mourning is because we shouldn't be concerned with our appearance but I think it helps if we don't have to see the pain of our raw, grief stricken eyes.

Time will only take away the rawness and then we have to learn to cope and live with the grief which gets a little easier over time.

Your father is part of you and lives on in your heart and memories. Keep the faith.

Jen said...

You're a bad-coper? I think not. Carmi, you express yourself so beautifully and even in your grief I see grace and gentleness.

I see grief as a personal journey, tailored for the individual, without hard and fast rules.

I found no comfort in platitudes (time heals all wounds, you'll get over it, God will never give you more than you can handle, ad nauseum). In fact, I found myself angry at those who said such things. But I had a lot of unresolved anger, and they were just trying to help.

I pray that as you travel this road, the memories of your father will bring tears of joy and love instead of the sting of loss. This was my prayer when I lost my daughter, and thankfully, it has happened.

Praying peace and comfort over you and your precious family.

kenju said...

Carmi, time won't heal it, but time will help it to be easier to live with. I don't think we ever get over the loss of a parent (or a child).

carli said...

My grandmother died sometime around Sukkot in 1999, and my mother was directed by her rabbi that there would be no Shiva at all. My mother looked at this in two ways: My grandmother never wanted a fuss made over her, so perhaps this was how she would want to be mourned. And she also looked at it as not knowing how to work through her grief. I'll admit I'm not very religious, but I love how our culture gives us traditions and rituals to help guide us through life.
You'll shave when you're ready. It's still early.

theMuddledMarketPlace said...

......i have always thought it feels a bit like having a couple of layers of skin removed.
...we're raw and tender for quite a while
...and need time for the new skin to grow.

certainly nothing 'normal' seems to be so.. for ages after a life-lurching event like this.

Mojo said...

Being the proud owner of many many scars, I can tell you a thing or two about them. And the best thing about them is that no matter how painful or frightening the injury was that brought the scar into being, the scar itself does not hurt. This I know. I have one on my knee that's been there since I split it open on a rock when I was 8 years old and all these years later it still doesn't hurt. Even though at the time I was sure I was dying. (After all, who could bleed that much and live?)

But the other thing about that scar is that when I see or touch it, I still remember that late-spring afternoon just before the end of my third grade year. The house across the street with the gravel driveway, the gnarled root of the pecan tree that jumped up and tripped me like some cruel practical joker. The stabbing pain of a sharp piece of gravel piercing the skin on my kneecap. The blood in the dust... so much of it (to my kid-eyes at least, and no doubt to my mother's). The neighbor who loaded me into mom's station wagon for the trip to the doctor. The big white bandage I wore like a badge of courage for the rest of the school year. And all this from a guy who can't remember yesterday's headlines.

That scar brings that longer-ago-than-I'm-saying time roaring back in sharp relief, as clearly as if it happened yesterday. I can picture it in perfect clarity, and marvel at all the things that went right when one thing went disastrously wrong. The scar on my knee does this for me.

But it doesn't hurt. Not one bit.

Shelli said...

I'm so very sorry. I'm also sorry that it took me a month to learn of your father's death. Please know that I understand. My blog began because of the grief I felt over losing my father. I understand. It's not something you "get over". I'm so sorry that you are now a member of this club.

God bless.


Klaatu said...

While mourning the loss of your father, take joy in your mourning.
You had someone that loved you and you miss.
When my father died, I was indifferent. I felt no sorrow,no loss.I wasn't even glad.
If you had a father you miss, be glad you had a father worth missing.

Gallow said...

Thank you for sharing the traditions.

Michael Manning said...

Carmi: My deepest condolences to you. I have been through the loss of my father and I will tell you one thing. You may never get over it, but you will work through it. That said, I was struck by the interesting parallel with the traditions you mentioned and the ones I grew up with in an Eastern European household. There was a lot of visiting with others always, and especially during times of loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you, my friend.

Mimi Lenox said...

" Because every time I look in the mirror or touch my face, I want to feel it, that something's changed, that something, indeed someone, is missing."

It stops me in my tracks at times. Give yourself lots of time for quiet moments if you can. It will take you a long time to process, but that is the way it's supposed to be. He didn't make an imprint on your heart and life in an instant and his memory won't leave in an instant - but it will morph into something beautifully akin to what he was when he was with you and you alone - and how that felt will never leave you.