Summertime Sadness

Not a blog post about Lana Del Ray, but about true sadness as summer approaches.

It’s been a long time. I think one of the reasons is that I’ve been trying to figure out why it took me so long to get back to writing. To be honest, my sister wrote something about her sadness as summer has begun, and that’s truly what helped me figure it out. It’s gotten hard again. I know grief is a rollercoaster, and a ball bouncing in a room, and the tide of the ocean — it is many metaphors. It’s an enigma. So, it took me by surprise how sad I’ve been feeling lately. It still hasn’t even been a year. I was going to qualify that, but I think it stands on its own. In the course of this struggle to write, which I love and believe helps me process, I have been resistant to the process in general. I am diving back in, and I have a lot to say.

For all those out there who need it (or maybe just me, or maybe it’s my hubris — in any case, who cares!), I’ve come up with a new metaphor for the grief I’m experiencing at this stage [Note: I have not named the stage. For me, it started around Passover. More on that later.] This phase is my PMS Grief. Let me explain. PMS, or pre-menstrual syndrome, for those of you who are unawares, is a period of somewhere between 3–7 days before a person gets their period, when they experience all kind of unpleasant symptoms. For me, it’s irritation, frustration, bouts of overwhelming sadness, anxiety, plus bloating, acne, and constipation (If that’s TMI, then byyeeeeee). I start to feel like that, and I think to myself, “Self, perhaps you are depressed. Perhaps you should be immediately seek some kind of professional help.” Then, voila — I get my period, and realize that it’s sudden onset extreme mental illness, but rather my uterus and hormones trying to get me to buy more overpriced tampons. Back to the point: my grief these days is a lot like that. I start to feel all kinds of anxiety, frustration, tears at the edge of my eyes seemingly for no reason, or for an immature reason. And at the end of a long day, or a week, or some kind of triggering event (more on this later) — I realize it was Grief the whole time.

This, of course, sets off a whole other series of unpleasant, unnecessary feelings, and I am eternally grateful for the people (Shout out to my Bay-area cousins who have graciously hosted me like a third roommate for nearly two weeks) who have talked it through with me. I start to feel guilty that I didn’t realize it was my mom on the back of my mind, which is fairly common for mourners but creeps in no matter how much therapy you use to prevent it. I start to feel mad at myself for not being mindful, for not taking my life lessons from this cosmic shit-storm that has occurred, and being more grateful and less frustrated by daily occurrences and annoyances. This is ironic, of course, because then I spend more time being upset, when — as my cousin Rebecca wisely put it — I could just redirect that energy to be more mindful moving forward from the spot I’m in. And I’ve learned from cousins Ben and Adriana, who I admire to no end, that I can even practice gratitude for those things that annoy me — it means I’m alive, and well. It has made me look back a bit to think about what has happened these past few months, and — to use another metaphor — scrape away the plaque build up of grief that I may have not properly addressed, and want to understand and incorporate moving forward.

Me and Ima, Passover 2016

I believe it started with Passover, which was my mom’s favorite holiday. Even though it stressed her out to no end. She loved to host people, to cook delicious exorbitant amounts of food, and to share her home and her table with family and friends. As a a rabbinical student, Passover has always been my spring break (because who doesn’t want a spring break where they can’t have pizza or beer), so I have almost always been home with my family for basically the whole holiday. They say smell is the most powerful trigger of memory, and Passover is full of recognizable smells, particularly of food, full of moments with Ima. I am so thankful that I learned to make her chicken soup, so I could recreate it for my family, and we now have a master turkey-and-brisket chef in the fam as well, but some things I had to learn on my own. I never thought, until this year, that I would cry making matzah brie (essentially fried matzah omelettes — which sounds gross but they’re delicious). Ima made matzah brie every morning, and I would wake up to the smell of it frying, and come down to the table with the plastic flowery tablecloth, pre-set like we were having some kind of fancy brunch, and eat way too much matzah dipped in way too much sugar. This year, I decided to learn from memory, from watching her all those years, and recreate her magic. As I stood up to make it for the first time, I picked up my phone to call her and get a refresher on the ingredients and directions. Let’s let that soak in a bit (like the matzah soaking up water before you make matzah brie): I literally picked up the phone to call her — even unlocked it and went to my phone app before realizing.

the whole fam, full of matzah and love

I could go on and on, and fill in the gaps of all the blog posts, poetry, and reflections I should have made since March, but I know that life after a death, in all its sadness and intensity, is about moving forward. What I mean is that I want to keep carrying my mom’s memory with me, having her presence be felt in my life as much as possible, even when it’s painful, and remembering her as powerfully as I can. It’s not the same, of course, as having her here. It will always feel a little off, like when one shoe wears out faster than the other. Or when my matzah brie tastes *almost* like hers. This Saturday would have been her 60th birthday — and as my sister so aptly reminded me, we would have been in the midst of throwing her a giant dance party. I will be teaching a class that day, about how pop culture informs the way I read Jewish texts, and I will be dedicating it to her. Not because she knew anything about pop culture — she mostly knew how to hum off-key to the radio, and watch rom-coms starring Hugh Grant, Sandra Bullock, or Julia Roberts. Because she inspired me to set a goal that my 60th birthday will be a giant dance party with all my family and friends, a recreation of my bat-mitzvah if you will, to live life full of unabashed love for the things that make me happy. And so I will. I will live a life full of her.

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