30 Days

I'm not one for religious practices, but I do like ritual, perhaps embedded from growing up with a mother who felt that certain rituals mattered. While I was forced to go to Hebrew school and be bat mitzvahed, I never felt drawn to practice much Judaism beyond the gastronomic customs associated with particular holidays. During years of attending synagogue when young and for various religious holidays, I always noted the mourner's kaddish, how those honoring a deceased would rise and recite. Over the past few years, with my parents aging and their health deteriorating, I often said to myself I should finally learn the prayer beyond the first line. Yet, I did not, and when it came time for me to recite kaddish standing beside my mother's grave, I read the transliteration, reciting as best as possible in that moment.

Since I didn't fully understand the rituals associated with honoring the death of a parent, I did a bit of light research. I knew about sitting shiva, having watched my parents sit on hard boxes to mourn their parents, and knew that my mother wished for her children to sit shiva. Fortunately, she didn't have particulars she wanted us to follow, only that the three of us were together to talk about our memories as a type of celebration of my mom. In my research, besides fully understanding purposes of shiva, such as taking time away from the business of life to allow for grieving, I discovered Sheloshim, a 30 day mourning period that begins counting from the day of burial. Even though I wasn't interested in some of its strict practices, such as refraining from listening to music which is always a comfort to me, I did want to mark the 30 days in honor of my mom.

And so today marks those 30 days, and I have been thinking about this day for the last week, considering how I wanted to spend it. I knew it would involve immersing myself in remembrance, sitting with my mother, feeling a range of emotions from deep sadness to a profound gratitude, basically the range I've been experiencing for these last 30 days. My life allows me the privilege to have plenty of time and solitude to sit with how I am feeling, to avoid idle chit chat that doesn't nurture me, to not have to stuff any of my grief away. And today has been that. 

I spent the morning finishing the transfer of some video I shot years ago when we embarked on The Great Shlep in 2009, a pilgrimage me, Nan, my brother, and my parents took to visit most of the places they and their parents lived in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. Rather than remembering the kvetching on the very hot August day, I looked at the joy of my mom revisiting the past, telling us stories of her youth, marveling at her ease in being out in the world, talking to strangers. When we visited where she grew up on Essex Street, she chatted with a woman who was currently living there, telling her all about how all of her family used to occupy the upstairs and downstairs, joyous in seeing where she grew up.

I rewatched bits of videos I made years ago, interviewing both of my parents about their past, their parents, and their reflections on life. When my mom talked about how classical music was important to her because her parents exposed her to it, it helped me remember the times I felt dragged to Leonard Bernstein's "Young People's Concerts," sometimes spending a part of the concert on a bench outside the concert hall because I didn't want to be there. Yet, my mother's impetus to expose us to something she loved (she confessed that her motivation was to go see Bernstein) so that we might remember and take a liking similar to her experience as a child, holds true for me since I did develop a fondness for classical music, and Bernstein, and since her death, have had classical music playing almost daily. 

Watching the bits of my interviews with her brought back memories of her phone's ringtone (Mozart's Symphony No. 40 opening), her off-key singing when she sang me a small portion of her favorite yiddish song "Oyfn Pripetshik", and a sense of how she looked at death. She wished she lived into her 90s, like her father, and although she died at 90, those were full years. One of the things she said, that lingers with me today, is "I can't believe that I'm not going to be somewhere." 

Today she is very much here with me. Later, I will make one of her favorite foods, lamb, and think of her as I eat, taking slow bites recalling how much she enjoyed a good meal. Family mattered so much to her, and that was so evident as I went through a scrapbook she put together for me for my 40th birthday, filled with keepsakes like birth announcements and petulant cards I wrote my parents from camp saying nothing more than "They made me write." 

These memories are always precious, but today, that much more. The depth of love I feel for her as I look at photos and see a life lived full is what I hold on to today. As my mom said in one of the interviews, "Yenta was here, now she is there."


  1. Amy this is so beautiful….a beautiful reflection of you and of her. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Amy
    Thanks so much for sharing the beautiful memories of your Mom.


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