Hello lovely people! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? And I know I gave you all fair warning, I really thought that my first post-new-job post would finally be the one about Nyiradony. Don’t worry, that one is still chugging along.
As the excerpt may have hinted, I recently got back from a short trip to Chicago. The jet lag has worn off and I’ve returned to something resembling normalcy (for me, anyway).
To recap: I started a new job three weeks ago. While I knew that it would take time to adjust to the new schedule, I figured that after a couple weeks I would be able to get back into blogging – not to mention cooking, cleaning, and laundry.
Two weeks ago, I got a phone call about 30 minutes before it was quitting time. It was my mom, telling me that my grandmother had died.
Now, Nana was 93 and had not been doing that great. But, still. Death always comes as a surprise.
Let’s just reiterate here: it was my second official week on the job; my direct supervisor was on vacation; I had enough work in front of me to keep me busy with limited checking-up-on by other employees; and, I was too new to be myself.
Let’s adjust, shall we?
I told HR that I needed to leave slightly earlier than planned that day and immediately called Dodax and LAK. We had something resembling a conference call, where we were trying to decide if we should fly in and for how long and how insane that would be, especially because we wouldn’t actually make it for the funeral. Dodax and I were in agreement that we should all go or all not go, like a Three Musketeers kind of deal.
It was about this time, that we realized LAK wasn’t really talking that much. It turns out, she was on her way to the airport. Yes, while we were talking about how we wouldn’t actually make it for the funeral and all we could do was get there for part of the shiva, and we should all decide together what we should do, she was heading for her very last-minute, all-of-a-sudden, flight to Chicago.
With our decision made for us, we planned our own trips and proceeded to
drive everyone and anyone in our immediate vicinity crazy inform everyone of said impending trips.
The rest of the week passed in a blur. The news slowly made the rounds at work; everyone was very sympathetic and kind of gave me a wide berth, which was nice but really not necessary. I informed Nooshkin that I would be going away, and she legit didn’t care. And the next thing I knew, it was Thursday night/Friday morning and I was on my way to the airport to spend a few days of shiva with my family.
Brief Pause for Explanations:
The way it works in Judaism is there are three stages of mourning: the first week, called shiva (Hebrew for 7); the first month, called shloshim (Hebrew for 30); and the first year, called nothing because that’s why. The names refer to the number of days that each stage lasts from the date of the funeral; so shiva is for a week, and shloshim is for a month.
Each stage is also different as far as the type of mourning that occurs. During shiva the mourners devote themselves completely to mourning the deceased. During this week they are not allowed to be in public; they sit in a designated location for the entire week and accept visitors (hence the term “sit shiva“). They do not bathe, or exercise, or check email. They are completely immersed in the act of bereavement, and visitors help them through it by telling stories, or simply just being there.
Once shiva ends, the mourners return to their day-to-day lives, but with limited social engagements, for the rest of the shloshim period. Once that period ends, the mourning restrictions lessen even more, and they can interact more with society, until the first year is over.
HOWEVER, as with many aspects of Judaism, there are loopholes with shiva. One of them is that mourners do not sit shiva on Shabbat. So I and all my siblings were together as a family for Shabbat in Chicago for the first time since Other Brother got married.
Except one of the In-Laws was there, so she ruined it. But the other In-Laws spent quality time together in Israel, which caused my mom to dub it the Outlaw Shabbat, thus forcing me to edit the Cast of Characters to reflect her momentary moment of creative inspiration.
Thank you, thank you…
The weekend itself was a blur, and although I spent the entire time in a state of zombified caffeinated blarg, a few moments do stand out:
Because this was so last-minute we did not have a chance to tell our many Chicago friends that we were coming. Which led to several excited reunions, one of which almost resulted in me getting steamrolled by our neighbor as he ran to give Dodax a bear hug.
Additionally, because we didn’t tell people we were coming, people who knew us did not actually believe that we were who we said we were. Many hilarious double-takes ensued.
I got to have mint-chocolate-chip ice cream. And delicious Chicago deli. But not at the same time, because kosher.
I managed to squeeze in a 30-minute trip to Target, whereby I did my best impression of a Whirling Dervish.
We found my grandfather’s drivers license, which expired in 1989. And Other Brother’s child proceeded to use it as a teething toy.
On the flight to Chicago I was bumped to Business Class, and on the flight back to Israel I had an entire row to myself.
Yummy, 20-year-old dusty plastic. Hom nom nom.
Come for the service, stay for the legroom.
I also heard about the last few days Nana was with us, because I spent basically all my time with family.
Several times during moments of lucidity she would look around and comment “Wow. I’m still here. You just can’t get rid of me.”
And apparently, at one point she held out her hand to my grandfather, who has been dead for 20 years.
Left: Taken at their wedding, about 70 years ago.
Right: Taken 2 years after the picture on the left.
There was also a moment involving my 6-year-old cousin, who asked why everyone was so happy. She was confused, because she thought that a shiva house was supposed to be sad. After all, someone had just died – wouldn’t the family be upset?
And there is some logic to that, because we are sad that she died. But, I think we were more sad about the fact that she couldn’t be there to remember her life with us.
Mostly because nearly every time someone came in, my aunt or my dad would get really excited and say “Oh, let me get Nana and tell her you’re here.”
She had been around for so long, we hadn’t gotten used to the idea that she just wasn’t there anymore. I half expected her to come out from her room and start yelling at us; “Why didn’t you tell me there were so many people here? I would have made you all pancakes!”
So many people commented about fun, and funny, and happy, and lively she was. She had numerous friends, and even more admirers. Most people expressed genuine wishes to go like she did – at the end of a very long, fruitful, successful life.
She was the daughter of a Rabbi, and witnessed the significance of Judaism first-hand. Her family moved to the US from Russia while she was a teenager. She lost her father at the age of 20. She took care of her widowed mother and young son during WWII while her husband served in the Navy. She pioneered Judaism in Chicago before it was a “thing”, by supporting numerous schools, camps, and organizations (that we all ended up attending, because connections).
She could spend actual hours on the phone talking to people. She was genuinely interested in what you were up to. She never ceased to dispense advice.
She had four children, 16 grandchildren, and almost 40 great-grandchildren. She loved her family “forever and a day”, and we were the center of her universe.
She was feisty. She was lively. She was sarcastic. She was a social butterfly. She loved to surround herself with friends and family, she loved being the center of attention, and she loved being in charge.
There is quite a bit of Nana in me. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.