A few weeks ago marked the yarzeit of my dearly departed mother in law. A yarzeit is the date on the Jewish lunar calendar on which someone died. American culture, and most others, uses the solar calendar. Since the Jewish calendar system follows the cycles of the moon, the Hebrew date remains the same but will have a different coordinating English date each year. I have always found it interesting when we will use terminology to turn “die” into more of a gentle euphemism, for example saying “pass away” or “leave us”. Everything we say and do somehow serves our survival, so we will instinctively change our wording to soften the blow of someone dying, which is obviously the single most unavoidable worst truth out there. News of someone dying is the swift, unforgiving release of the guillotine. We can’t stop it or plead with it to slow down, regardless of which words we use. “Pass away” always felt a bit like a form of denial to me. It’s admitting it but it feels softer, sounds less crude. Death is indeed crude though. It’s the most difficult fact of our human lives, and we rail against it though it’s the most expected part of nature. Everything dies, from flowers to people.
I once heard a Lubavitcher rabbi say that originally we were never supposed to die, which is why we have such a hard time with the concept of death today. This always made sense to me, given how we humans will do literally anything to stave off death. Very few of us accept it, and the ones that do are always more at peace. True yogis have an easier time with the idea of death, since the notion of the body is so temporary. The peace and calm that the practice of yoga brings in general, is a practice of eliminating fear based on connection and trust, so the trust that God has chosen to put your spirit elsewhere into the world is less scary. It’s just time to become something else.
Both Judaism and yoga have always instilled in me a strong belief in the afterlife. I have never doubted this idea, and I do believe it makes life much easier to think this way. I once said to a friend who had trouble believing after her father died, “Of course there’s no direct proof. But for the same price we might as well believe”. She liked this and found it helpful. Finding comfort in a blue jay that lands in front of you unexpectedly, or a star that you think is shining as a message just for you, can be a real source of soothing. It’s just kinder to ourselves to lean in to that, to allow for the comforting. Being so tapped into nature, and absolutely believing in reincarnation and the transformation of the spirit, I love feeling these genuine bursts of connection to my mother in law. It’s how I know she’s with me. How I know that the incredibly strong and unwavering channel of love she provided for me and my children hasn’t disappeared. Aside from me and their father, she was it as far as the deepest well of love for our kids. Not to detract from anyone else who lost her, but our six person family unit was unique in that sense. She was the only other relative we were that intensely close to.
Now you know I’m divorced, so to some, the fact that I still refer to her as “my mother in law” might seem odd. That’s silly, though. I never defined family in the traditional, four walled sense. My connection to her was always about Her and I, and that shouldn’t have to change because her son and I are no longer married. Divorce shifts the family dynamic, but it doesn’t have to eradicate it. That’s one of the best parts about divorce; choice. You can choose who you want to remain in your life and release those who you don’t. It’s really that simple. Anyone still in my life is entirely according to my design. Those who I always enjoyed and who enhanced my life, are still very much a part of my heart. The fact that my ex and I choose to sit down to Shabbat dinner and take the kids to synagogue together feels good, because it’s a conscious choice to maintain unity. There’s no resentment or hostility in having to do things together because it isn’t forced. I am confused how most don’t seem to understand this, but that’s not my problem if they don’t get it. I still refer to certain family members by their former titles ( as in father in law or sister in law or cousin) , and some I don’t. There are no rules here, that’s silly and limiting (as rules often are). Which is why my closeness to my mother in law remains very much a huge piece to the puzzle of my heart. She’s always on my mind, and when someone is on our minds to that extent, we want them in all areas of our life. It’s too painful to have love for another exist only in our heads; we want them every and any which way. So yes, I infuse her into me via the sun, the trees, a butterfly, or a blind sensation. Thank you, Nature, for giving her to me in other ways.
I actually met my mother in law without my ex. He and I were dating seriously, and it just so happened that my in laws had taken my sister in law for a college interview. I attended this college, so I met them by the main office and we went to lunch at a nearby deli (Mendy’s, anyone??). I was sooooo nervous to meet them; I really wanted them to like me and approve. The first time I saw her, she wore a light blue suit, very blonde hair, and a huge smile. I don’t remember many details after that, and I’m a huge detail person. I remember everything (thank you, God, for this memory and ability to absorb). But I think a lot of the specific details about that meeting didn’t stick because they weren’t important. Feeling and energy had taken over the instinct to cling to remembering everyone’s lunch order (though I imagine thick soup was involved). What I remember was immediately feeling a closeness and acceptance from this woman. We were clearly very similar in certain ways; bubbly, friendly, talkative, affectionate. Both she and I could/can talk to a wall. We both felt a social responsibility to fill silence with warm chatter, and we were/are great at it. It’s a nice quality to put a room at ease with genuine conversation. She was particularly skilled at this, and was known for it. She liked being liked, and it came naturally to her to provide that for herself. I also remember feeling a sense of recognition upon meeting her. As in, “oh, there you are”. We just clicked and I’d be an idiot to not hold onto that for myself to this day. And since I’m not an idiot, especially in the emotional sense, I went alone to visit her on her yarzeit. I needed to see her on my own terms, and not get lost in a ceremony that holds no meaning for me. I wanted to communicate freely to her in a way I know how, with raw openness. At this point in my life, I have no idea how not to do that.
I have always wondered if she’s angry with me for all of this. I don’t think she would have understood this divorce, from either my perspective or her son’s. She was from a different generation and mindset, one I completely understand and am familiar with. Those of us who believe that the spirits are watching us, well, what are they seeing and not? Does she see me in situations I wouldn’t want her to see me in? Does she know my thoughts? Does she see me pee in the shower? Does she see me at my worst? They can’t be selectively watching us, and I have no answer to this. But I have always wondered if she’s upset with me. I have asked her this when I light a candle for her on Friday night, which I do weekly. The concept of a shifted, newly defined family unit was too modern for her. This would have hurt her. While talking this out with a friend (thanks for listening, D), I realized that she’s not angry with me. Anger is a human emotion and she’s no longer human. She is greater than that. Nature has no ego, no preconceived notions of how things must be, and she has become dispersed into nature. Mother Nature indeed. Spirits aren’t limited in any way, having been freed from all the heavy, messy shackles that weigh us down. Death is a liberator. It frees the soul from a diseased body that can no longer perform, and from the dark, shapeless, mental and emotional ink blots that stain our state of being. Our minds bring us down, Man. All the time. So without a mind we are expansive, uncontrolled love in its most perfect state. We are just Beings. We just Are. She just Is.
I carried this concern around for years, and it just evaporated with this one conversation I had. It was clearly time to let that worry go. I was ready without knowing it. Once I realized this, my fears sailed away, like a balloon floating up to the sky. A balloon a parent would give a child to send up to a dead grandparent on their birthday. What I said to her that day in the cemetery was a meditation I often use to calm myself down and reinstate my greater trust in the Universe. “You are the earth that supports me. You are the sky that watches over me. You are the air that surrounds me. You are the water that heals me. You are the air that surrounds me. You are the light that fills me.”
I need the elements, I need her, and now they are one in the same. I have them both. The human version of her would have thought this was crazy:). After repeating this a number of times, I told her that our connection was always about just us, and how that won’t change. Connection and love don’t expire. They are dateless, and can’t be contained in a box on a calendar. Life shouldn’t be defined by dates, and neither should death...
You and Me, Mom. You always taught me so much about love.