Uncelebrating

Some posts you write for them.
Some you write for you.

There’s a chill in the early morning air; it’s May, not June, and I’ve got on a good Republican wool coat that my Mom gave me a few months before my father passed away. We were on the way to the hospital, talking about how we both needed coats for the winter, and I complained that Uncle Sam takes so much of my take-home that it’s a luxury I don’t usually afford myself, buying a coat.

“I have one that will fit you,” she says. She’s a fraction of her former self. She can’t wear it anymore.

So it feels good, this black wool coat that is no longer in style, for the shoulders are huge, even without the shoulder pads. I ripped those out, gave it a hard winter, the coat, by spring have ruined the pockets. Decimated them in record time. She might have said something about that once, not anymore.

I’m walking to shul (Yiddish, rhymes with pull, depending upon your dialect, means synagogue) for Saturday morning services, am going to the early service, the one that starts at 7:30, am a fashionable half-hour late. FD always attends this one, but I don’t because most of my friends, if they attend at all, go to a later service, and I like to see them, catch up on the news. But I’m not in the mood to talk today, not even with friends.

Do you ever feel that way? Like you just don’t want to talk to anyone? Your mouth feels stuck. You get to know the inside of your lips. You notice things about them you never noticed before.

The kids came over for dinner Friday night, always the ray of sunshine, goodness. Empath Two, the almost psychologist, is planning a small celebration for my son, her partner-by-legal-contract. He’s now a lawyer. We talk menu and reflect upon the graduation. Although it was wonderful, the graduation precipitated the worst negative interpersonal interaction (code for marital fight) that FD and I have had in years.

FD doesn’t like getting anywhere early, hates wasting time, and he had three hospital “emergencies.” I’m supposed to pick him up at 1:03 for the graduation. I wait until 1:20 and am about to leave without him when he finally exists the hospital, opens the car door. I say nothing, think, we’ll make it.

But I’m driving like a maniac, because doors will close at 2:15, and my mother-in-law is in the back seat, and traffic is murder this Sunday afternoon and parking will take time. FD is on my right, trying to coach me on how to drive, always appreciated. I’m seething, he’s nervous, too, and contrite, I can tell. I’m trying to get a traffic report, like this will matter at this point, and the well-intentioned announcer warns,

“You don’t want to miss. . .”

I shut it off.

“My son’s graduation from law school!”

I shout this at the radio. It’s tense, not funny, my tone of voice. Still, we laugh, all of us, to shake off the tension, at least I hope my mother-in-law is laughing.

But the kid, the kid, we’re so proud of him. The books on his desk intimidate me, and all of us are very proud of that, feeling intimidated by a kid in his mid-twenties. Our kid. We’re proud of all of our kids and their accomplishments. Awed.

But today, six days later, I feel so useless.

As a mourner I can’t make him a party, my new lawyer. Not only that, I don’t feel like making him a party. It all works out well in the end because Empath Two not only feels like making a party, but is doing all of the work. I’m not even making the potato salad, although to be fair, I offered.

It’s a small party, a few friends, some family. I can miss it.

They say that the way Jews mourn is elevated, absolutely brilliant. Those who study mourning rituals for their sociology or psychology classes agree that the week after the death of a first degree relative, the shiva, that full week dedicated to nothing but receiving visitors, grieving, is inspired. There’s no leaving the house for work, or shopping, no cooking, no cleaning, no bathing, either, although some make exceptions.

Cultures within cultures vary, and some make it into one long party, this first week of mourning, but you’re really not supposed to. You’re supposed to sit, preferably on a lower chair, like a patio chair, and chill. You face your visitors who are also sitting, sometimes in rows, for there are often many sober visitors lending dignity to the occasion. Their presence, just sitting, honors the dead.

You can talk about the deceased, if you’re a visitor, but otherwise you wouldn’t open the discussion. The mourner leads and if the mourner wants to talk about baseball or the economy, then that’s what you talk about. But nobody’s flipping on the radio. There is no rock and roll, and in the evening before bed, no movies, no teev for the mourner. I didn’t want to watch anything, not even Glee that week, and muted the Academy Awards the week after.

In fact, for a year, if it is a parent that you are grieving, a Jewish mourner doesn’t go to parties, doesn’t listen to any music at all! Can you imagine? FD is a musician! Should he not play in his own home because I am a mourner and will hear it, unless of course, I’m in the shower? Honey, would you mind taking a shower?

For the first two months following my father’s death, he didn’t play, but he plays a little now.

Occasionally, while listening, the it’s not what we do raises it’s head, that cognitive dissonance. My brain can’t absorb it, the conflict. It doesn’t feel right, doing what we dont do, listening to music.

Hey, he’s not playing the Goyescas.

But I’m not turning on Miley or ColdPlay. I just can’t. Not listening to music on the radio has been a challenge, that’s for sure, but it is what it is. And listening to the news is getting very old, because the news is really depressing, the same newscasts over and over again. Shoot me. (No disrespect to those of you who are sensitive to the thought).

I have a best friend who is marrying off her daughter in a few weeks. Ordinarily I’d take part in that celebration, or would try to participate. But I won’t even be going to the wedding, and I won’t be making a shower or a party the week after the wedding for the family, either.

We never quit with these after-the-wedding-dinners-for-the-children-of-our-friends, our relatives, the Polish, the Greeks have nothing on us. We basically wine and dine and bless a bride and groom for a whole week. We try to get the new couple off to a good start. Their whole first year, in fact, is a special year. The groom would never go off to the army in his first year of marriage if they lived in Israel. The bride wouldn’t either, I suppose, since women serve in the army there.

You don’t make the connection between the seven days of mourning following the death of a first degree relative and the seven days of feasting following a marriage, or the customs of the following year, not until you’ve lost a first degree relative. Sevens everywhere, and ones.

Such conflict! Any rabbi would say, Go ahead, you can go to the wedding, especially if she’s like family, the bride, like a niece. Go to the graduation party. But because in our family we don’t do this, in my head it’s an impossibility. And my friend certainly understands, as do the kids. They wouldn’t come to one of my parties either, were the situation reversed, G-d forbid.

So I’m walking to the synagogue wearing a winter coat in the springtime, but feeling good about it, if a little quiet, and I flash on last night’s dream.

There I am, at a party. It feels perfectly natural, too, being around people celebrating, and the music is good. There’s definitely music. It occurs to me that I’m not supposed to be there, not supposed to listen to music, to celebrate.

I wake up in a panic, relieved. It’s just a dream. It’s like an eating on Yom Kippor dream (rhymes with dome-keep-poor– refers to the Day of Atonement), eating on the holiest day of the year, a day of contrition, a 25 hour fast, no food, no water, nothing by mouth, no leather shoes, no anointing.

Hysterical, that so many of us have this dream on Yom Kippor, the eating dream. You wonder, why it’s so common, and then, if you’re me, you realize that both psychological drives for dreams are at work, wishes and fears. Eating on Yom Kippor? A Jewish person who is fasting on the holiday (a happy holiday, ironically) either wishes it or fears it, or both!

Jews, we could safely say, make themselves a little crazy, this is no chiddish (rhymes with kid-ish, hard ch, means newsflash).

And yet, it seems everyone has their neuroses and solutions. Whenever I’m talking to someone who works a program– and I talk to so many people who work 12-Step programs, and more people who should be working programs –maybe for gambling or over-eating, abusing alcohol and drugs, or abusing themselves with sex, or compulsive spending, or they’re working an Anon program, a program to cope with someone else’s issues, now their issue by proxy, or a program for co-dependency– sometimes when I’m with a program person I’ll say,

“It works, if it does, I think, because many of us need structure, some kind of program, a credo of do’s and don’ts that make sense, a way to make our lives and our behavior meaningful. Religions are basically program. There’s small comfort in knowing what you’re supposed to do.”

And that’s what we’re looking for, right, even in therapy? At least some of the time.

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