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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.
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Comments

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*hug*
I'm so sorry, amigo--I think I may have said that before but I can't remember. It's been almost three years since my mother died (end of this month, in fact) and I still expect to talk to her on Sundays half the time. Life goes on because it must, and because they would expect nothing less of us.
I don't know if this song can offer you any comfort, but I hope so.
*hugs* Welcome back. Take it easy.
*hugs*

This is a remarkably articulate and mindful description of an experience that is canonically difficult to describe. (As well as, obviously, just difficult. "Sorry for your loss" seems such an inadequate offering, but like so many others, I am.)

I'm very glad to hear about all the support that's come your way.
::hugs::
Does shiva help? I mean, knowing that you're not EXPECTED to pretend that everything is okay? Knowing that everyone around you knows that you might to forget to eat? Acknowleging that something really earth-changing happened?

After all, you're not expected to be enough on your feet to really do anything happy for at least another two weeks.
I can't speak for anyone else, but it did help me. Also, having a place to go that's private, away from shiva, is important.
Welcome back.

You don't, I think, need to justify posting or not posting, focussing on your personal life or going to the Pluto debate - take it at your own pace, do what feels right.
I'll just say what I've said before. We're so sorry for your loss and you're in our thoughts and prayers.
Thank you for sharing what you have been through. It helps me to understand. This may be presumptuous, but it sounds to me like your mother passed rather suddenly, as opposed to succumbing to a long illness where you were fully expecting it. This is difficult for the family, but so much easier for your loved one, who hopefully did not suffer through a long illness. Either way, it's obvious that you and your mother loved each other very much. You have all of my sympathies. I have been told that it takes at least two years to mourn a parent.
[[hugs.]]]
Michael,

Your rabbi's right - finding that new normal is a process. A long one. Having lost my father 2 years ago (who was truly my best friend and mentor), I'm still going through it. But every day I learn something more about myself. I think that's a good thing. And I think its what our parents want for us.

My thoughts are with you as you start your journey.
Sorry I couldn't wind up making it; we've all been sick. My mom sends her condolences as well. She was going to go to the funeral, but she was battling walking pneumonia at the time...

Best wishes.
Thanks for sharing. Even if we're not in the same town, our thoughts are with you. All the best.
{{{HUGS}}} I'm so sorry. I can't begin to imagine what it's like, although I have watched my mother and her sisters go through the same fairly recently. My grandmother and grandfather died within 18 months of each other, so they're all going through the same adjustment to a life without parents too.

I hope to see you at Boskone, where you can either talk about this, or I can distract you with other things. It's your call.
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