Last Shabbos, my friend Leah brought a friend of hers (also Leah, “the organized Aussie”) to visit in the afternoon.
As her friend walked over to a cabinet of mine to get a cup for water, she mentioned in passing how much she enjoys organizing closets and cabinets. It makes her feel good to put things in order, almost like she could put her life back in order, and it gives her a sense of calm and productivity that results in clean, orderly closets to boot, so it’s a win-win.
And then she opened my cabinet.
She turned around and in her lovely Australian accent softly said, “Malkie, this won’t do. This isn’t OK.”
See, my method of organization differs slightly from Leah’s. What I do is stuff contents into a cabinet and then pray that things don’t spill out. It’s worked pretty well until now, as long as you don’t open the cabinet too often and you make sure to tape it back up after you’re done getting a cup or plate.
Also, as a member of the tribe of short Orthodox women worldwide, and owner of cabinets set so high that they can’t be reached without the aid of a step-stool or ladder, I usually just throw things into high cabinets and will gravity to work in my favor. You can call me an organizer’s worst nightmare.
But the one redeeming quality I do have is that I’m not in the least bit sentimental. I’m the mom who sneakily throws preschool projects in the garbage as soon as the kids go to school the next day. I was known to give clothes away at a frenzied pace in high school and seminary. I recall my mother asking me where a particular jacket I had taken to Israel was, and I remember replying, “I think it’s with Chani in Minnesota …”
I gave away and continue giving away Moshe’s clothes and earthly belongings because, to me, it makes more sense for someone to make good use out of them.
I remember a few months after Moshe passed my parents had come for Shabbos and my father had forgotten his tie. I suggested that he take a few of Moshe’s nicer ones. When my mother gave me a horrified look, I said, “What? It’s a tie … Moshe won’t mind. He’ll like it.”
I haven’t kept his office as a shrine. Any money found in pockets was spent. Any change went to the meters. The memories I have of our time together don’t need to be confined to the stuff he left behind. I derive way more pleasure working on new memories instead. The ones we have are safe in our hearts forever. Keeping his stuff won’t make a helpful difference in our lives.
Another occupational hazard of widowhood is your body going into temporary shock. It’s actually a blessing and your body’s protective response. But I noticed things going slightly awry on the top of my head.
My hair was growing in differently. The texture had changed, and when speaking to my new besties (a k a my friends’ mothers/fellow widows) I discovered that it’s a common issue. When bringing it up to Ayelet’s mother, she parted her hair on the opposite side and pointed out a patch of hair that was sparse. “See?” She said. “You’re not alone.”
For a while, I wore the scraggly hair on my head as a badge of remembrance, to recall the time when life as we knew it ended and this new reality began. But like the stuff that Leah gingerly placed in front of me to trash as she organized, and like the stuff of Moshe’s that I decided to donate, the unhealthy hair on my head needed to go.
So I sat in a chair at a local salon and told the stylist to cut off all the dead ends. She grabbed around three inches of hair and I nodded my head. As she cut and it fell to the floor, I felt a sense of closure.
We know that hair follicles naturally grow out and fade into “split ends,” and that in order for the healthy hair to grow, those ends need to be trimmed. Splitting the strand makes it lose its vitality.
The Hebrew word for trimming foliage is “lizmor,” which is also the root of the word “meaningful song,” as in mizmor or zemirot. Zmorot are branches, useful parts cut from trees, their source. The pruning promotes healthier growth.
In Shacharis, we say Pesukei D’Zimra, verses of song/pruning, citations from Tehillim, trimmed and pasted into the Siddur, to prepare our minds and hearts for the Amidah prayer.
Growth in life is an ongoing, intentional process. Trimming away the split ends of confusion and residual “stuff” and directing the fruitful, flowering branches helps us write meaningful music along the way, as we prepare to meet our Creator.
I’ll always feel the pain of my loss and for a while I might have even held on to the hurt for selfish reasons. But with closure comes the opportunity of growth and renewal. Of pruning the pain and preserving the sweet memories, a mizmor, an ode, to the life we had together. Of starting a new chapter and seeing myself finally as others see me — as someone stronger than she once thought. Someone who speaks freely and honestly, someone who’d rather laugh than cry, someone who’d rather pass things along and discover a beautiful new order in life, and someone who’s letting the new crop of healthy hair on her head and the green, budding branches on our family tree grow in healthy and vibrant, always connected to their roots.
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.