Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Grief in the Form of a Coat

Today marks 15 years of writing here. It doesn't seem possible, and yet the adult-sized Max, who I wasn't even pregnant with then, exists fully today and is going to high school in the fall. I don't write as much as I used to, but I still often think about life as I would write it. A lot has changed for that 29yo me, but the 44yo me still feels like I have a lot more to go. Here's a piece on grief and a coat. My mom passed away two years ago next week.


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As the parent of a theater kid, it’s not unusual for them to go rifling through your closet, looking for potential costume ideas. For my daughter Hannah, I think that’s been happening since she was in the sixth grade, and needed to dress as a somewhat “professional looking” character for her role in a production called “A Play Without Words.” For her latest role she was to play an everyday teenager, but for some reason her everyday puffer jacket wasn’t appropriate, according to the costume department at her high school. So she went to my closet and found a blazer that she liked, and then I suggested she look through the coat closet, because who knew what might be lurking in there.


The following morning I came downstairs around 6:45, before my son was due to leave for school, and saw her findings hanging on the back of a chair at the dining room table. There was the blazer that I had already seen, and then another coat that looks, well, a lot like the coat I wear every day: black and white checkered. Knowing that it might be the last time I saw the coat for a while, I walked over to get my gloves out of the pockets because I didn’t want to be without them for the next couple of weeks. Reaching in the pockets to retrieve the woolen gloves I expected to find, I found a wadded up ball of tissues instead. I didn’t remember having left any tissues in there - usually I’m throwing out used masks these days - but there were tissues. I reached for the other pocket only to find more tissues. That wasn’t right at all. But it wasn’t until I turned the coat around and saw the black mourner’s ribbon still attached to the front lapel that I knew I was looking at my, well, not everyday jacket.


Apparently I hadn’t worn my heavy black and white checkered, fancier jacket since my mother’s funeral in March of 2020. 


It’s been so long now that I didn’t remember I even had that jacket anymore. I’d completely forgotten about it because I hadn’t had an excuse to wear a nice jacket like that in the past two years, other than the funeral. I’ve barely left the house over these last couple of years, much less needed a nice dress jacket. Who was I going to impress, the people I was going to see driving around the carpool lane as I picked up the kids from school, or maybe going to the gym? No, I hadn’t needed that jacket.


So being confronted with it just moments into the start of a regular day? It wrecked me. I wasn’t expecting a reminder of my mother’s passing. Those days after the funeral are a blur in my mind. We rushed to Ohio for the funeral and returned late at night a few days later. I probably came home and shoved that coat into the closet and never thought about it again. Never thought about needing to remove the mourner’s ribbon because I didn’t remember getting a ribbon. I don’t remember much about standing beside my mother’s grave, because it was freezing, and there were so few of us there in those early, terrifying days of Covid. We huddled under a tent, just a handful of us, my brother’s family over FaceTime from San Francisco. And that was it. Because it was less than two weeks into the lockdown and my mother passed away so unexpectedly, nothing happened in a traditional way. No shiva, no people back to the house, no deli trays. Not even a Zoom memorial; I thought surely we’d get to something when this all ended in a month or two. But it didn’t. 


So now, two years later, why would I have had this ribbon still attached to my coat? Almost nothing about that time even seems real to me, and yet here it was, a very stark reminder that it did indeed happen. That my mother is still gone, and that it still hurts.


Of course, I let Hannah take the coat to school. I removed the ribbon, threw out the tissues, and let her take it to be judged by the costume department. They agreed, and the coat was in the show. Hannah was great, and the coat was barely on stage for a moment. Nobody would’ve known that the last time someone wore that coat, it had been worn at a funeral. But I knew.


After the production run, Hannah brought the coat home and I hung it back up in the closet. I’m due to go back to work in person soon, and it will likely still be cold enough that it might make sense to wear that coat again. But I’m not sure that I can anymore. I’m not sure that after two years, and this vast experience that I have had to navigate without my mother, I can go back and put that coat on ever again. It’s still a nice coat, and I’m going to pass it on to somebody else who could use it well, without my memories attached to it. Maybe they can make better memories when they wear it. 

Hannah wearing the coat

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Eighteen

Today, Hannah Ruth, you are turning eighteen. 

Wow. Just taking a moment to let that sink in.

I think this will be the last letter to you that I share here on the blog. I'll still write them if you like, but it's not going to be the same. Because if all goes according to plan, in a few short months you'll be off to NYU, and maybe I won't know all about the little accomplishments of your life anymore. I'm not ready for that letting go yet, but I'm trying to get there.

I've been incredibly lucky to have a daughter who shares as much of her life with me as you do. I like to think that I'm helpful in whatever I bring back to you in this journey, but I also know you could do it all on your own. You are an incessantly responsible, thoughtful and empathetic young woman. You even out-busy me, and that's how it should be at this point in both of our lives. You got your license and drive yourself everywhere now. You were a merry murderess and a swashbuckling Musketeer. You had your first internship and learned all about managing corporate email and slide decks. You had a HaZamir solo and floated on stage during a choir concert upon receiving your first college acceptance.

You are TikTok musicals and sticker-covered water bottles. You are USY events and feminism and singing alone in an empty house. You're a good friend to many, and you take that role very seriously. You love love and you cry easily (never stop). You look after Max because you just can't help yourself, because you love him so much. And yes, I accept that you might miss Shira more than you miss me next year.

These next few months are going to go so fast and have so many major moments: HaZa festival, your last South musical, prom, graduation. I know you're ready for the rollercoaster of emotions ahead. And New York City better spend some time getting ready for you. Proud isn't a big enough word. Happy birthday, my BusyBee, my Hanniebelle, my Han. I love you so very much.

(You can also see letters for ages seveneightnineteneleventwelvethirteenfourteen,  fifteensixteen and seventeen.)


Saturday, January 1, 2022

Fourteen


Today, Max Benjamin, you are turning fourteen.

A second teenage pandemic birthday. You started asking me months ago about what we could do for your birthday, almost like the countdowns you used to enjoy when you were younger. I definitely offered up taking a few friends out to dinner as an option. It's so disheartening that it's not one anymore. 

That hasn't stopped you from making the best you could out of this year. You shined on your bar mitzvah day and raised over $2000 for charity: water. You play guitar almost constantly and you've started writing your own musical arrangements to Jewish prayers, and complete songs as well -  I found myself humming along to the one about elliptical orbits while washing dishes the other day. You explored some of your analytical tendencies in a Speech club last year. You had a fabulous summer at camp on your own, and one perfect day with me and Hannah in NYC.

You prefer savory to sweet, wolfing down spicy tuna rolls and whatever my leftovers are. You are part of the library task force and the GSA, and love being a Madrich (teacher's aide) in the first grade at religious school and with the children's choir. You're now the tallest person in the family, which means you want your arms to go on top when you give me one of your famous hugs, and I'm trying to get used to that. You were a great support to Hannah during the crazy college process and I think you've grown even closer over the past year. You give me regular "pupdates" on Shira, who you still can't get enough of.

As you've gotten older, these annual letters can't actually contain all of the things that you are, and that you are to me. I love you because you're my son, but I also love you because of who you are as a person. You give me something to be proud of every day, and I'm very lucky to be your mom. Happy birthday, buddy. 

(You can also see letters for ages threefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelve and thirteen.)