Winnie’s Yahrzeit

When we arrived for the kid’s Spring Break in Florida, Adam asked me if I was going to visit my mother’s grave. I normally do this every time I visit. I suggested Sunday, since there was less chance Adam’s work would get in the way and he could watch the kids. Adam suggested Tuesday.

“Why Tuesday?” I asked.

He replied, “Because Tuesday is the anniversary of your mother’s passing.”

How does he remember this stuff? After the initial shock, I felt incredibly lucky that the one week my children had off school and we decided to go to Florida was the same week of my mother’s passing.

When I was growing up, my mother often took me to her mother’s gravesite to visit. We would check the flowers then stand and speak to her silently for a few minutes. Because of this ritual, I understand this is how my mother would want to be remembered.

Matching Flowers for Winnie and her Mother Alice

It’s hard to believe a year has passed already.

My mother’s passing was the first time anyone close to me left this world. It was my first encounter with intense grief.

Grief is a funny thing. It’s a word that lets everyone know that something bad has happened to you, but does not describe in any way how that bad thing has effected you. Kind of like cancer. Cancer is always a bad thing, but you don’t know if you’ll emerge from it wounded yet triumphant or devastated completely.

In the past year I’ll spent a lot of time observing or thinking back to people I know who have been through grief. I marveled at my stoic friend and father, who had the emotional strength to stand up and speak at his son’s funeral. Twice I’ve seen my girlfriend’s husbands completely break down upon the death of a parent, leading to divorce shortly after. More times than I can count I’ve heard stories of people living with regret that the relationship they had with a relative was not resolved to their satisfaction before they passed. Some are able to make peace with it eventually. Others are bewildered at the dichotomy of missing someone so much that made their lives so difficult.

A lot of people start thinking of their own mortality as a result. My sister and I were talking on the anniversary or our mother’s death and she quoted James 4:14 to me, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring–what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes.”

Which I took to mean that our time on earth is but a blip, a glorious but short gift. How should we spend that time?

None of these situations describes the grief I’m experiencing for my mother. Most days when something good, bad or ugly happens to me one of my first thoughts is, I should call Mom and tell her about this. But then I remember with a jolt that I can’t do that anymore. Or maybe I remember that I can’t call her first and then think, Mom would have loved to have heard about this.

Winnie was the kind of Mom that wanted to hear every little thing about our lives and relished in all the details. If Adam took me to a fancy dinner she would want to know exactly what we ate and what I wore. If one of the kids accomplished anything she would want every detail of how it occurred and what the kids reactions were to the accomplishment. I knew she would be especially happy if our family were traveling anywhere. Every single day would be dissected and Mom would give her worldly travel advice about the best way to go about having an amazing trip.

When Mom was alive, all those wonderful moments of life that she took so much pleasure in hearing about were amplified by her approval. After she passed, those moments turned bittersweet.

Coming to Florida has many perks, but one of the reasons I love being there is that I get to be in my childhood home. It’s the closest I can get to her presence. Every bit of her house is a reminder of her interests, her quirky tastes, and the memories we spent a lifetime building together.

The Jewish people call the anniversary of a loved ones death Yahrzeit. In memory of a loved one, you normally light a candle or lamp to remember them by. We didn’t light any candles, but it felt right that we kept the lights burning bright in her house on the anniversary of her passing.

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