mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)
mabfan

Reflections

It's been two weeks now since I got the news that Mom died, and slowly I've been integrating myself back into a normal life. I don't really want to write about what things have been like for me the past few weeks, but I can't just go back into blogging without acknowledging the changes that have taken place in my life, not to mention the changes that have yet to come. Ignoring my personal life completely to post another commentary on writing or science fiction seems slightly perverse to me.

So this will be something of a self-indulgent post, a way of easing myself back into fuller participation on LiveJournal, just as I have to ease myself back into all other aspects of my life. You can decide for yourself how much you want to read of it.



Life takes on a surreal quality when a parent dies. At least it did for me both in 1990, when my father died, and two weeks ago. I felt like I was navigating my way through an alternate universe, a world that I was not quite ready to accept or believe in.

After we got the news, we spent the day at home making phone calls and forgetting to eat. When Dad died, Mom took care of many of the details; this time, it was left to her sons. In a manner that seemed almost instinctual, my brothers and I began to divide up the immediate tasks that lay before us. Jon and Josh deferred the planning of the funeral to me, while steeling themselves to take care of the immediate estate issues that would follow. Amidst the emotional difficulties we were all having, it was hard to see that we really were splitting things fairly, but in retrospect, one can see that we each played to our strengths, taking on the tasks we were best suited for.

Of course, it wasn't just us planning all these details, but our wives as well. When I say that "I" planned the funeral, I really mean that I passed the phone to Nomi most of the time while I dealt with answering the questions she passed along. The house I grew up in, the house Mom was living in when she died, is only about three blocks away from a funeral home. We got in touch with them and began the whole process of planning the funeral and authorizing them to take custody of Mom's body. We called the New York Times and placed a death notice, to run on Friday and Sunday. And we posted on LiveJournal and various electronic mailing lists, to spread the news as quickly as possible.

In the afternoon, we ran necessary errands; I fought back tears as we drove around the neighborhood. We had two visitors that day, a friend from Town Meeting and farwing, who organized a small group of our local friends to finish the cleanup of our living room on the day of the funeral, so our place would be ready for me to sit shiva. Nomi has already thanked those folks publicly, but I will do so again here; we owe you major thanks and plan to take you all out to dinner at some point.

On Friday we got a train to New York and went straight to the apartment of chaos_wrangler and spouse of chaos_wrangler, who were friends before but have now become even closer friends through their generosity and kindness. They let us stay with them so my younger brother and his family could use the house. They hosted us for shabbat. They watched the house during the funeral and kept the place running through the Sunday shiva. And they're continuing to help us throughout the next few months in ways that will make our lives so much easier I can't begin to express my gratitude.

But on that Friday, after they fed us, Nomi and I headed over to the funeral home to make final arrangements for my mother and to pay for everything. We finished up just before shabbat and returned to our friends' place for dinner. That night and the next day we split between my Mom's house, where my family was gathering, and our friends' place, which was a refuge from all the chaos.

The funeral was Sunday, and forgive me for not mentioning all the details. We eulogized my mother; I said some things that I'm very proud of saying. Many of our family and friends showed up, and quite a few of them impressed me with their love for us. Right after the funeral, we headed to the cemetery to bury my mother right next to my father. Afterwards, we returned to my Mom's house – now the Burstein house – for one afternoon of sitting shiva in New York.

On Monday, I sat shiva, and my brothers and I began dealing with necessary estate issues that needed to be handled while we were all together. Nomi and I headed back to Boston that evening, and vettecat picked us up at the train station and provided us with dinner.

For the rest of last week, I sat shiva. Many people – too many for me to list – came over to pay their respects and bring us food. We had a Shachris minyan every morning so I could recite the Mourner's Kaddish, and I headed out for afternoon and evening prayers at Kadimah. I had dispensation to go to an eye doctor appointment I couldn't reschedule, but other than that, everything was the shiva. Nomi took care of many details during that week; I can't thank her enough for her help.

Shabbat morning I got up from shiva and went to Kadimah, and we got an invitation to lunch from sethg_prime and lucretia_borgia that was very much appreciated.

Sunday was The Great Pluto Debate, which perhaps I'll discuss in more detail at a later time. Suffice it to say that there is something amusing about my first foray into the world again being my participation on an astronomy panel in front of an audience of 200 people.

And on Monday, I returned to work. My boss has been wonderful, insisting that I ease myself into everything, but I have to admit that I've been eager to dive back into my work as deeply as possible. It's a good anodyne. In the meantime, throughout the days and nights there continue to be phone calls and emails devoted to estate issues. We probably won't have everything settled for about a year.



The hardest part will be finding that new "normal" that Rabbi Shmuel Feld mentioned at Mom's funeral. Almost every day of my adult life, Mom left me messages on my answering machine to let me know she was fine, and I always called her to check in as well. The day before she died, we exchanged similar messages, and it feels so weird playing that message from her now. I listen to her voice telling me that everything is fine, even though I know that the next day, it all ended. I so desperately want to talk to her one last time, but I can't. Instead, I come home to an empty answering machine, and I have no one to call anymore who needs me to check in.
Tags: mom, personal
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