Shiva Is…

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Shiva is…
That egg salad has been out all day, time to throw it out.  Oh, this woman brought a tray of rugeleh, make room for it on the table.  We’ve been making too much coffee, we need to cut down on that.  It’s the end of the day, wrap those cold cuts, put this soup in the freezer.
People bring food endlessly during Shiva, a glorious generosity always on display, but the food requires management and most days it feels like managing a small catering company.  There’s always cleaning up, putting away, nibbling, stashing the most delicious food for the Meyers that we think they’d like (because they’re not eating well), wiping off, wrapping up.
I miss meals, strangely enough.  My day consists of grazing off the endless buffet.  I miss having a time to sit down with friends, a time clearly delineated as “this is when we feast and talk,” and instead it’s catch-as-catch-can.
But boy, do some of these people know how to cook.
Shiva is…
Endlessly discussing the tragedy.  Strict Shiva tradition would have you believe that you take your cue from the mourners, and if they are silent then you are too, but it is the most human of responses to see a friend in pain and ask, “How are you?”  So we are endlessly poked, endlessly prodded with love, endlessly requested to recreate at least some portion of the horror that has happened.
Shiva is…
Endlessly supporting the guests in their time of grief.  I thought Shiva would be about us, and maybe it’s that I’m too compassionate, but about two-thirds of the conversations that start with someone asking me “So how are you doing?” end up with me asking, “So how are you doing?” and helping someone in some small way unpack their upset about this.
No one really believes this has happened.  All of us hope, each morning, that we will wake from this bad dream; none of us can understand in any real sense that a child as vibrant and clever as Rebecca has gone.  And so they talk to me about how they feel, and I feel like I am doing a mitzvah in listening, and yet I wonder when I signed up to be the on-call therapist.
Yet Rebecca is, was, wonderful, a comet inscribing a fiery trail across the sky, now vanished into a cold and empty constellation beyond our reach.  Some days I sag, I think I cannot talk to one more person, and then I remember that each confession of grief to me is a memorial to a wonderful child, and I grab another glass of Sierra Mist and I listen again.
If they were not in pain, then Rebecca would not have mattered.
Rebecca mattered.
I listen.
Shiva is….
Having a wonderful conversation about something that is not Rebecca, on movies or on programming or on someone’s ill-advised mishap, and laughing loudly – and then the hush as I feel guilty that I shouldn’t be having a good time here, any good time, and yet wouldn’t Rebecca have laughed?  Wouldn’t she want jokes?
Then I think of all the silly stories I never got to tell her, and how thoroughly she would have appreciated a wicked sense of humor that would never have been appropriate to unleash upon a six-year-old, and this is the strangest party.  It’s not a party.  Yet all my friends are here, we are all eating and chatting, the kids are playing in the back yard, and I don’t know what to think of this.
Shiva is…
Hope.  People are doing poorly.  They have had the heart stolen from them.  They do not speak to us, or speak in whispers, often commands of things that must be done to console them.  We gossip endlessly, exchanging data on what someone ate or someone else said, trying to assemble data points to see if they’re improving or declining, and it’s not a good habit and we know that yet we are wreathed in worry.
And I wonder: Am I helping?  Should I be here? 
And I think of every spring, when my Seasonal Affective Disorder kicks in, when the chemical depression makes me want to cut holes in my flesh, when Gini holds me tight and comforts me.  Every year, she wonders whether she does any good.  And this won’t be good.  The depression will never be good.
But oh, Gini, how much worse this would be without you.
So we stay.  And pray.  And hope that we aren’t getting in the way.
Shiva is…
Designed by extroverts to exhaust introverts.  We steal a few precious hours of solitude, and then the guests arrive, and then they stay late, and then we clean up, and then I must edit.  There is always someone to talk to.  Always something that needs to be communicated.  The scant times I can just stare at my screen and type things like this are treasures, to a man like me.
I do not grieve for Rebecca.  I cannot.  All my emotional energy is spent in support.  I have had one moment of genuine grief, immediately after the funeral, when I sat alone in the car for twenty minutes and it all hit me.  And then the grief was like a blow; I stumbled inside for Kaddish prayers, then sat in the basement and stared at a wall for half an hour.  People worried I might be having another heart attack.  Kat even came over and took my pulse.  And eventually someone led me up to Rebecca’s room, which has become sort of a temple of solace for me, and we talked, and an hour later I emerged.
But since then?  No grief.  No time.  I look at the pictures of Rebecca on the wall and I miss her, but it has been six days of Shiva and I am wrung.  Grief is a luxury, and there is hummus to be put away.  Perhaps that is the point.  Perhaps we are expected to be exhausted, or perhaps this is the unique chemistry of the Meyers, a family so wonderful that parades of people come through the door every night to express sorrow and solidarity, and we the silent army that helps to enable these guests.
I miss you, Rebecca.  But Shiva has not enabled my mourning.  It has been a distraction from it, and I know some day I will be alone in my house and I will break down and be extravagant in ripping my clothes, covering the mirrors, rending my heart as my universe has been rent.
But today, at three o’clock, the guests arrive.  And I have a price-rounding module to complete for work, and the floor must be Swiffered, and all the food unwrapped from the refrigerator and laid out for noshing.  You would do us a mitzvah if you ate, you really would.  Our freezers are packed like Tetris games.
Come.
Eat.
Grieve.
And some day, God willing, I will too.

10 Comments

  1. Trevi8
    Jun 17, 2014

    This isn’t a piece of writing, this is a piece of your soul you’ve shared. I feel honored to have read it. Peace to you brother.

    • Sara Harvey
      Jun 18, 2014

      Exactly. I feel the same.
      Love and strength to you and yours, Ferrett.

  2. Rachel
    Jun 17, 2014

    Beautiful. I completely agree with all of it.

  3. kid_lit_fan
    Jun 17, 2014

    Thank you for articulating these thoughts. I hoped writing it down helped.

  4. Laurel Burman
    Jun 17, 2014

    My father died 8 months ago. At his funeral the Rabbi explained that during Shiva there are mourners and comforters. It really clicked for me. Comforters should be cleaning and swiffering and putting out the food so that you, the mourners have time and space to grieve. I hope you will have some of that in the days to come.

  5. Jax
    Jun 18, 2014

    *love*

  6. Shari
    Jun 18, 2014

    Thank you for writing this. I have been wondering and wanting to help create the very space you write about. Thank you.

  7. Vikki
    Jun 19, 2014

    I found your writing because of this horrible of all horribles. In spite of the occasion, this made me laugh. We humans do things so unthinkingly in our genuine attempts to make sense of death. And we understand it so little really. It’s so nice to be able to read such honest words.
    Your grief will come when you least expect, because who wants to plan such a thing…take care that you put some things in place to help you get to the other side in one piece. We would not want to have to read on Eric’s twitter that a dear friend of the family went to skip around with Rebecca, as tempting as that might be.

  8. Twilytgardnfaery
    Jun 19, 2014

    *hugs, if you’ll have them*
    Thank you for sharing this with us, Ferrett. Moving, beautiful reflection.

  9. Michelle
    Feb 6, 2016

    So I just lost my Dad last month. He was 76 and had been battling cancer for years, blah blah blah….. None of those details make it any easier.
    I’ve been looking for descriptions of Shiva that matched how I felt, still feel, and nothing has fit that feeling until this. Granted, members of my family of choice showed up daily, did the swiffering and the putting away of hummus & rugelach.. but the overwhelming circus still swirled all around me.
    The real grief didn’t hit me until just about a week ago. I’m commenting to thank you, for writing something so relatable. It’s made me a feel a bit less alone, a bit less like my experience was ‘normal.’ So, thank you.

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