The ride to Jerusalem was in silent, stunned grief. Never had
the landscape seemed so beautiful...
After finishing the purification rites behind a closed door,
the tahara women came out to ask if the deceased had
any children, and called Meir inside to identify his mother.
He followed the woman in a daze and did whatever he was told.
He looked at his mother, threw earth in her eyes and repeated
after the woman the words, "From earth hast thou come; to
earth now return."
All color was drained from his face. He was limp, and
swaying, reached out not to fall.
The men told him to say Kaddish. He looked at them in mute
confusion. Everyone was waiting, but my husband didn't
understand what they wanted from him.
"Kaddish, Kaddish," someone reminded him gently, but all he
did was blink. It was as though he'd just been woken from a
long, deep sleep. Some people, misunderstanding his silence,
began to suspect that perhaps he didn't know the prayer.
"Kaddish, Kaddish," they prompted him kindly, until finally,
with a shudder, he covered his face with his hand and forced
out the words:
"Yisgadal veyiskadash shemei rabba."
He swallowed long and hard between each syllable. He was
choking on the awesome words. Someone tried to hurry him
along, but was restrained by the others.
He was retching out the words, determined to make it to the
There was a hurried trek up the mountain. Pa, unable to keep
up with the Chevra Kadisha, called out to them not to go so
fast; pleaded with them, "Wait, I have to tell her something.
There's something very important that I have to tell her."
Ma's body was lowered, the pit was filled with earth. A
marker with the name, Zina bas Yitzchok, was pressed into the
mound of little stones on top of her grave, located two rows
away from her sister.
I lit my mother-in-law's Shabbos candles and gazed at the
flames a long time. I had never felt so close to her
Back home, I was filled with Ma's presence, was calm and at
peace, content, and full of patience. I rocked back and forth
as I prayed in her siddur just as she had always done,
and had the strangest feeling that she lived on inside me. I
was both startled and frightened with the thought. I tried to
remember the stories about gilgulim that I'd heard as
Like an uninvolved observer, I watched myself reacting to
situations just as Ma might have: gently, with patience, with
But as the children got more lively, with the numbness of the
day's grief slowly wearing off, my nerves began to jar at
each spat and fight, the teasing and yelping, arguments,
complaints. Finally, I said: "Ma, you already had enough of
this world; go in peace to heaven. That's the place where you
Pa said the Kiddush, each word full of grief. Faster and
faster, he went, to escape the despair that threatened to
engulf him. His voice was turning from stacatto to falsetto
to disguise the tears and sobs that were forbidden on
Shabbos. At last he was finished, splashing the wine down his
throat, afterwards, saying, "Ya, ya," in broken
Returning after Shabbos to Ma's room, I was overwhelmed with
"Ma, how can we ever remain a family without you?" I asked
her in tears. "You tied us all together in our love of you.
Now we're each just loose ends, wavering, tottering all
Pa moved as in a dream, a nightmare, really, sitting on the
low shiva stool, not daring to look across to Ma's
side of the room because it would be too painful for him not
to find her there, saying her prayers, mending his clothing,
reading and rereading the children's letters...
I touched her things. They made her still alive. they made
her real. Without the dresses and kerchiefs, she might never
have been. I talked to her all the time:
"See," I said gently, "you were so worried about Pesach. But
just see how we took care of everything for you." I'd already
gathered together all the chometz in the room and
stored it away in the new cereal cabinet that I'd bought and
that she'd been so delighted with. "And now I'll take out the
dress for you to wear and you won't have anything else to
worry about. Remember how upset you were that you'd have to
sleep away on the Seder night? Now, that problem's also
solved. Now your sleep is eternal in the resting place of the
I could see her nodding her head. I could hear her saying
with a smile, "Yes, my worries are all over." And she was
happy and content.
Sometimes, during the shiva, I couldn't even remember
how Ma had looked, and I got panicky. Or I'd pass a store and
think, "Now, that's a pretty dress for Ma," or a white lace
apron that she'd enjoy on Shabbos. And then, I'd suddenly
remember that she had no use for such things anymore.
"You are alive," I would say to her. "I will you to be alive!
Zina bas Yitzchok, please be alive, for if it's true that you
died, then so much of me has also died with you!"
It was only afterwards, when I saw the birds on her porch,
searching and not finding the crumbs that she scattered for
them each day, that I finally understood that Ma had really
left us, not to return (until techiyas hameisim).