Some thoughts abut Shiva
Shiva ended this morning.
I would like to make sure to thank my friend Sue who dropped everything to help me untangle my messy thoughts over mounds of sushi so I could give a decent eulogy.
I was completely blown away by who came and how many people came to give comfort. Our dear friend traveled over two hours each way by train from Philadelphia so he could visit me for 40 minutes.
I have had as little as possible to do with the day school I attended for elementary school and high school since I graduated, and yet three of my classmates came to either the funeral or to the Shiva.
One college room mate came to the Boston Shiva and another to the Shiva at my apartment. The girl who sat behind me on RoshHaShannah for most of my childhood showed up yesterday. It did take me a minute to place her face, but we soon settled into an intense conversation about our past together.
I was touched that people who I had been close to when our kids were in pre school in the way that one is with the other moms in pre school and hadn’t stayed close to, made sure to show up.
I have been living here in New York since 1982. There are complicated webs of relationships that form with people over time. Many of us have been through the joy and celebrations that come with communal living as well as supporting one another through difficult times.
When my father died I felt incredibly close to the people I thought of as being in my “Kaddish class”. We saw one another every day through each of our year of mourning. There is a way that even without much exchange of words you become close with the other members of your “ Kaddish class”. Several of those dear Kaddish buddies came to give me comfort.
At times the number of people and the number of conversations felt like a jumbled tangle of yarn. I wish that I could pull out each strand of conversation and somehow preserve it.
Some of our visitors had never met my mother. Some just knew her a little bit and others had long, long relationships with my mother.
I loved hearing about my mother’s boyfriends before my father. I loved hearing about what my mother was like as a young woman.
And there was food. Mountains of food. I had once read an essay about providing food in a house of mourning. The author, ( Forgive me I can’t remember where I read the essay, it was a Jewish journal that is slightly scholarly and beyond that I can’t tell you much about it) wrote about how the food provided to mourners during the week of Shiva is a physical manifestation of consolation, sort of an edible sympathy card. When you eat that food the expression of comfort becomes part of your body.
This is a refrigerator full of love.
My friend from Halifax brought me the food traditionally served in Shiva houses in Halifax. She brought me a beautiful array of tea sandwiches. The crust less sandwiches made on soft white or wheat bread rolled flat are so easy to eat. They are soft and require little effort from the eater. They are however a food that looks simple but takes lots of careful steps to make. The cucumbers are sliced paper thin and de seeded. The spreads need to be spread precisely or the sandwiches are just less pleasurable to eat. Each variety of sandwich contains an array of textures and flavors. The variety of sandwiches together form a composition like the musical lines in a piece of music. So much thought and time and skill went into tea sandwiches that went down like baby food. My mother is dead, but I am still loved is the message I got with each and every bite.
Tonight we ate a meal made by another friend. It was flanken cooked to a soft, soft stage and served over rice. I took one bite. The meat tasted like something you would give to s sick child to encourage them to eat. Tonight’s dinner tasted like love itself.
I may not have to do very much cooking until it is time to change the house for Passover. We have many messages of comfort packed into single servings in our freezer. We will be filling our bellies with all of that comfort in the weeks ahead, one serving of love at a time.