By Malkie Hirsch
I totally wasn’t expecting the reaction I had upon hearing her voice note last week. She was wondering if I sometimes expected my late husband to do more from his place in the next world.
We sometimes struggled to get all the things done that a former two-parent household barely got done, but now, with just the single parent being me, she wanted to know if I ever felt anger or animosity. If I ever had conversations with him pleading for assistance in life matters.
I guess the question posed by anyone besides someone else who’s suffered the loss of a young husband would be out of place and downright odd. Because only someone who experiences that jarring reality can think up such a query: Was I frustrated and upset at times that he wasn’t pulling his weight from wherever he is, and did I truly feel alone?
In a word—absolutely.
I pride myself on being an open person by nature, more so since Moshe’s death.
I just don’t see the point of not being candid and honest about our struggles.
It also does so much good—opens the lines of communication, clarifies how I feel, and gives me the chance to acknowledge and understand the feelings, which are then no longer racing around my mind, begging for release. Sharing is therapeutic.
It reminds me of the time when one of my younger boys started therapy. The therapist explained his method of inviting the child to open up and trust him. He’d ask some indirect questions that didn’t necessarily have to do with loss, but when the first session started, he could tell by my son’s responses that he was ready to open up—he needed that relief.
His heart needed that safe space to exhale, to unload onto someone who could help him sort out all the dueling emotions swirling inside of him. We all need that, I suppose, but sometimes there are so many distractions and layers in life, we can forget about ourselves and tend to the other matters at hand.
The question really is, though, is there anything more important than sound mental and emotional health?
In a word—no. But during the course of a busy day in a busy life, often the last thing we take time to think about is how we feel.
I guess that’s what truly resonated with me as this woman asked me questions that she couldn’t ask most people. I felt that I owed her the most honest response and as I sat in my office (a.k.a. my messy minivan in the driveway). I told her my truth.
As I answered her question, I, too, recalled the questions I had asked others during the earlier stages of our loss.
The reminder of that pain caused the tears to start falling, as I told her that the things she’s thinking and feeling are so completely normal and, in fact, it’s healthy that she’s able to identify these feelings and ask me about them.
I told her how in time, the grief will take new shape and not occupy every corner of her life the way it currently does. It might always be there in some capacity, but it’ll be more controlled than it is now.
As I messaged her, I took a moment to reflect on the time that’s passed for us. This is the third Pesach without him here, and it was three weeks after his loss when I somehow found myself at a Pesach program, in a hotel on Long Island with my parents and siblings, my kids, and a baby nurse, and a bunch of luggage I’m still not sure who packed and unpacked.
I remember the dreamlike state I was in and how I still was in the state of shock, masquerading as a regular guest at this festive program.
I remember the brave people who would sit with me despite the great discomfort they must’ve felt, not knowing the right things to say, but sitting with me nevertheless.
I remember how I’d forget from time to time what had actually happened and how at times during that Pesach, I’d expect him to walk into the room or how I’d instinctively look for him at a Kiddush.
I remember not understanding how my kids were able to survive this pain, and how I had to keep excusing myself to go cry. I remembered this all as I sat in my messy car and now, incredibly, the only emotion I feel is gratitude for holding on as long as we have.
Because it gets easier and better than expected. Or maybe not easier, but we get better at handling it, so it feels less consuming. Because there’s hidden beauty in even the darkest depths of pain but you’re only privy to recognizing that once you see flickers of light once again.
Because only when some things go so wrong in life do you finally understand how much actually goes right pretty regularly and how much time was wasted focusing on the bad instead of the good.
And that both the good and the bad are gifts. They both serve a purpose, even if you don’t understand it quite yet.
As proud members of the Jewish nation, we commemorate holidays by practicing the traditions our fathers and grandfathers did, going back thousands of years. We don’t gloss over the pain; we re-experience it in order to appreciate redemption.
We place ourselves back in the times when we actually had to live through the hardships. We eat the bitter marror and dip in salt water, as well as enjoy the delicacies.
It’s a mesorah of traditional life values, lessons in how to get through tough times and hold on to your faith in G-d despite things not necessarily going the way you planned.
Even Moshe Rabbeinu struggled with this question, challenging G-d, “Why have you made it so bad for the nation?”
He was given vague answers:
“I will be what I will be.”
“I am with them in their pain.”
No explanation, just affirmation. I am here. I feel with them.
I feel now more than ever like I understand the ideas behind doing the things our people have done because it puts us in the same place as they were, and although we can’t feel the same way they felt, we get a taste of what life in limbo must have felt like for the people of Israel.
We don’t just read the Haggadah story; we engage all our senses for a more experiential, emotionally authentic enactment.
“Everyone must see [or present] himself as though he himself left Mitzrayim.” How would we know what that’s like?
Maybe Egyptian slavery is an inherited national memory. But moving from suffering to salvation, from despair to hope, is a universal, relatable human experience.
It’s why whenever I’m called on by someone who’s suffering as I have in the past, I step forward, sit with them, and help, however I can.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away at the age of just 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are now privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.