Moshe and Malkie Hirsch

I had wanted to write something about Chanukah, like I write about the other yomim tovim, because the pain of knowing yet another holiday will come and go without Moshe is what prompts me to write about the feelings, instead of just flailing in them. It allows me to lean into the discomfort and face it, acknowledge it, and come to terms with it.

It is like taking a fine-tooth comb and unknotting a ball of emotions, thus being able to identify all of the feelings of sadness, worry, and even relief.

Elements of the grief associated with his loss will likely haunt me for the remainder of my life, so I’d prefer to become comfortable with the discomfort instead of dreading it.

At this point, it’s starting to feel like putting on a well-worn cap or pair of gloves. Something that knows your imprint, because you’ve worn it for so long. When your hand meets the fabric and is encased in it, it’s a comfortable familiarity.

The same type of thing happens now that we’re into our second year celebrating the holidays without my husband and my children’s father. The shock has worn, and reality has set in.

The feelings are something like this:

  1. Recognition (Ah, we’ve been here before.)
  2. Discomfort (I don’t want to remember being here before.)
  3. Remembrance (I want to recall the feelings and thoughts before this happened.)

There’s a certain comfort in knowing what to expect, not having to anticipate that acute sadness associated with the void. Because, unfortunately, as more time passes, the things we used to do on Chanukah with Moshe fade into the further recesses of our memory, too. The way he sang out the berachos in the tune different from that of my childhood (and which, sadly, I have forgotten since). The way he’d grab the hands of his boys and dance in a circle with them, acting very un-Moshe-like, to get a laugh from his children. I know these snapshots will fade as more time passes.

I feel dueling emotions about reminding the kids of the way things were “before.” Before we knew how precious those years would be, before my father stepped in as surrogate father. And as I watched in the background tonight, as my father sang the tunes the way I remember them from my own childhood, from before I knew Moshe, I decided that I wouldn’t make it a point to remind them of what they once had. The difference is here, whether they notice or not, and so is the sadness, but we each feel it differently, and there’s no need to activate it right now.

Because we’re here, trying to celebrate, and he’s gone. And while there are some memories worth reminding them about, and details they’ll hear about the greatness of their father, I prefer, when I can, to choose the moments they can savor or learn from. I don’t want to compound their grief with mine.

It’s been a while since I’ve received a gift from Moshe. I understand that it’s probably difficult these days to make that happen, but tonight, for the first time in almost two years, I received a clear sign from him and it was so beautiful.

Earlier in the day, during Rosie’s PT conference over the phone, I had discussed making a doughnut run as I spoke to her physical therapist, who, like so many of the other professionals in our lives, has become a friend, too.

She had asked me for a few of the jelly variety and stopped by to pick them up, just as we were lighting the menorah on that first night of Chanukah. As I ran outside to meet her, I noticed that she had her phone out, and she told me that she had just captured the most beautiful picture of my family in the window, from the outside.

And that’s where I froze. Because she couldn’t have known that two years ago, on the last night of Chanukah, the feeling of gratitude and love I had for my family compelled me to run outside and take the same picture of the boys with Moshe, and Rosie as a baby, all lighting and singing and happy and together.

I had snapped pictures happily, marveled at my family, and reveled in how happy I was in that moment. How content and grateful. It was one of the pictures I’d look at regularly after Moshe died, because it had seemed so ordinary then, but meant way more now that he was gone. Like hundreds of other thumbnail images from the past.

I turned to her, and asked her if she knew about our picture from two years ago. Maybe she had seen it in the house or on my social media somewhere, but she hadn’t. The picture seemed identical in so many ways, except that Moshe was missing, my parents and Alana in lieu of him, and my kids were noticeably older.

On the one hand, I want to hold all the memories tight and keep them vivid and center-stage — for myself, for the kids, and for Moshe. On the other hand, when we have a day, or, more realistically, an hour or moment, when we can just “be” in the here and now without the pain, without constantly remembering, that feels important, too. Photos allow for both. The camera saves and holds the vision, clear, detailed, and documented for posterity, so we don’t need to store them in the fragile files of our conscious minds, but we can revisit them when we want to.

In last week’s parashah, Yaakov thinks Yosef was killed, and it says he “refused to be comforted.” This doesn’t sound holy or resilient; it sounds depressing. But Rashi explains that normally when a loved one dies, there’s natural “forgetting” that helps the family heal and move forward. But because Yosef wasn’t actually dead, but sold away, that “forgetting” never happened, and so the grief never abated — it couldn’t.

She shook her head that she hadn’t known about the original picture, but she said, as her voice shook, “I’m going to come back on the last night of Chanukah to take another picture for you, because this is your chance to make new memories.”

Maybe it’s my hypersensitivity, my need to look at the mundane and search for deeper meaning, or maybe it’s my longing for signs from Moshe, but to me, this felt like a clear message. The more I thought about it, the less likely it seemed that the series of events that led up to my daughter’s physical therapist coming to pick up doughnuts during candle lighting would have resulted in her capturing the same picture taken two years ago.

Also in last week’s parashah, it says that the wine butler “did not remember Yosef, and he forgot him.” The redundancy is discussed at length. But maybe “not remembering” isn’t the same as “forgetting.” Maybe the Torah is hinting that it’s not only OK but healthy to “not remember” all the time, and that doesn’t mean that Moshe is forgotten.

In the first picture, I’m missing because I was outside, taking it in. In this new photo, Moshe’s missing, maybe on the outside looking in, telling me that he’s still here with us, sees us, and wants us to continue making new memories. The old memories are safe and beautiful, and will always be treasured. But he’s teaching us that there has to be space for newness, light, and hope through the window of a brighter future. Even for one where he’s missing from the picture.

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.


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