I’m sure I said and did some crazy things during the week of shivah. And really, there’s no normal in that case; there’s no predicting how each person will react to life-altering events.
I went through a lot of different emotions, and the people around me just tried to be there for me and for my family.
There were times when I’d be quiet and introspective, saying little and thinking a lot. There were times when someone would ask a question that would get me going on a tangent and suddenly I’d become very animated and felt a bit like I was hosting my own variety show.
My mother-in-law would cast a concerned sidelong glance in my direction and ask someone to get me some water. Or maybe CBD. Or a snack. Just make her stop talking. Please.
I remember that when I received the news about Moshe, my mind oddly went to a bunch of cakes I was supposed to make for people for that weekend. Prior to Moshe’s passing, I had started baking sourdough, and upon visiting a local flower shop for my cake decorating, I spoke about my love of baking with the florist.
She had asked if she could buy a loaf from me that Shabbos and thus began my unofficially official sourdough baker career. Number of customers: 1.
Bread is a mystical food. It’s composed of water and flour kneaded together, risen with air, and blessed with a mitzvah — an amalgam of the spiritual and the physical. Like man. G-d made Adam of the dust of the Earth and blew into him a living spirit. Avos teaches: If there’s no flour, there’s no Torah; if there’s no Torah, there’s no flour. We need food and wisdom and they need each other. We knead them together. So I baked, blessed, and shared.
This woman began messaging me every Wednesday and checking to see if I’d be baking that week.
I always laughed and stated that I would be and that I’d be happy to bake her bread as well.
But I had forgotten to tell her that I wouldn’t be able to bake on that particular week when Moshe passed. My phone rang as I sat on the low chair, the unfamiliar number lighting up my cellphone screen.
I don’t know why I did this, but I answered the phone and she was on the line, asking when she could pick up her loaf of bread. And my response was crazy: I just told her that I was sitting shivah so I couldn’t bake in the end.
I remember her shocked reaction, and I wonder why I did that. Why didn’t I just hand someone else the phone? Why didn’t I let the call go to voicemail? The only thing I could think of was that I desperately wanted to hold on to some ridiculous shred of my past life. Some normalcy, some of the predictably mundane existence I’d lived for so long.
She profusely apologized for not knowing, for calling me, for basically everything. I didn’t hear from her for months, but at some point I received a text from her again that went something like this: “Whenever you’re ready, if that time ever comes again, we’d love to order from you again. It always enhanced our Shabbos and we look forward for when you start baking again.”
I stared at the text and my immediate innermost thoughts wondered if I could do that again.
Be someone separate from a victim of circumstance.
Was that even possible? Ready? What does that mean? How do I know when I can start doing things for pleasure again? Who makes these rules? And that’s the thing with life — this stuff happens. It happens to you, to me, to friends and acquaintances.
It’s uncontrollable. The only control is your reaction. Your only power is your response to the stuff that life hands you. You can choose sadness because that might be the consensus. The obvious choice. The choice people expect.
Or you can decide that there are still things you can contribute. It can be your delicious, familiar bread on someone’s Shabbos table. It can be a custom elegant cake for a birthday or engagement party. It can be showing up and being the same person you remember being before this.
Maybe all she wanted was the bread, but I choose to believe that she was telling me that I was still valued regardless of what happened. That she didn’t think of me as a broken “nebach,” but as a talent whom she valued. That I could be creative again. I was still needed, wanted, and appreciated.
The Torah says, “Not only on bread alone does man live, but on that which comes out of G-d’s mouth does man live.” Bread is what sustains our bodies. But our souls are revived by G-d’s messages, His words that He speaks, sometimes through scripture, and other times through the simple souls who remind us that even when we’ve been through the worst, we can one day, once again, nourish others.
I just had to believe it for myself and separate my new identity as a widow from the other parts of me that I still wanted very much to remain. That simple text was what I needed to realize that I could still be happy. I could still contribute and be someone I want to be.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away at the age of 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.