By Malkie Hirsch
The week of shivah is a brutal one.
I do understand the meaning behind it, and I’ve come to appreciate that much-needed transitional week where people who knew and loved Moshe and our family basically moved into my living room. Every hour or so, someone from our group of friends would place another cup of coffee in front of me, to accompany the several other untouched coffees, go back into the kitchen to go through the tremendous amounts of uneaten platters of food coming from G-d knows where, clean the fridge and freezer, tend to my children’s needs, make sure kids from school were being menachem avel, coming to hang out with them, pull me out of the room every few hours to catch a breather upstairs, and arrange a cake and plates for the two birthdays (Yosef’s 8th and Gavi’s 5th) we were supposed to celebrate that week and really didn’t.
My friend Leah has always been so serious about the mitzvah of being menachem avel and I joined her a few times. It was easier to go with someone else to the particularly hard shivah houses when the death was sudden, or it was a child, or it was simply someone we both knew and wanted to be there for them but not go alone.
During that week, I realized with a shudder that we were now joining the ranks of many other shivah houses that no one really wants to visit.
The ones that are so sad, where the death was so sudden and unexpected, that you can’t know if you yourself, a mere visitor to the shivah house, will be able to hold it together and not burst into tears as you watch your neighbor/friend/class mother try to process the nightmare happening around her.
So I’d watch people come in, the expression on their faces one of shock, sadness, and pity, and sometimes I’d speak aloud and say, “Do you know how lucky you are that you get to leave this house in an hour? This isn’t your life and your house and you get to carry on with your life after you leave. I want my past life back. I don’t want this new life. I want things to go back to how they were. Please.”
There were times where my words would flow for hours on end. Someone would ask how Moshe and I met, and I’d smile and it would take me back to that happy time.
Because Moshe’s death was so sudden, every morning upon waking up, I wouldn’t immediately realize what happened. My eyes would open and I’d be silent and still, hoping that it was a bad dream and that I wouldn’t go downstairs and see the men preparing for Shacharis, hear those young, sweet voices of my 10- and 11-year-old sons reciting Kaddish.
There were times that I’d go on strike while sitting there, too. I’d decide I didn’t want to say anything; I’d stare back at the group looking at me with different expressions on their faces. I’m sure it made being there way more difficult, but I just wanted to stand up and announce that this whole thing was a big mistake, b’H Moshe’s fine, and we’re going to go back to regularly scheduled programming at the Hirsch house. I’d actually picture the scene in front of me — Moshe walking in and apologizing and me falling to my knees from shock and relief. Because everyone loves a good story with a happy ending.
But this story didn’t have that.
So I sat. My kids wandered, Rosie was irritable from her sleep schedule being compromised, and I just wanted to go to my room and wonder how on earth I would pull this off.
I was sitting when I saw her walk in and make her way to the front seat, directly in front of me. Immediately, my mind took me back to the third grade in Shulamith elementary school, when Morah Deutsch asked which girls wanted to volunteer to be menachem avel.
My arm shot up, mainly because I wanted out of class, but also because I was friends with Batya and wanted to see how she was doing. Her father’s death was sudden and unexpected, and he left a wife and seven children behind.
Three girls, including me, were chosen. We got a ride with a teacher to the shivah house and hung out with our friend. I remember the house being quiet while people shuffled in and out, but we went to play in a separate room. Batya seemed OK and not the way I expected at all, but then again in my 9-year-old mind, I’d imagined a different scene unfolding in a shivah house.
My mind jumped to a few years later, when visiting Batya in her home, the same one where we had been menachem avel. A girl I didn’t recognize appeared in her bedroom doorway to ask Batya something. When she left, I asked Batya who she was.
“That’s Miriam, my sister.”
“Batya, you don’t have a sister named Miriam.”
“Oh, yeah? Watch this. Miriam!”
Miriam reappeared and Batya asked her a few questions in front of me and then explained to me that her mother had married Miriam’s father that past summer.
Miriam piped up, “Mommy!”
I heard Batya’s mother respond and my face must’ve had such an expression of shock that both girls laughed.
But that’s what it was — a melding of families that both suffered unimaginable loss but discovered a new version of happiness. Batya and her sisters and then Miriam and her sister Nechama joined them in camp for summers, and they all eventually moved to another area. But when Batya appeared in front of me on that day of shivah, when she sat in front of me, before she even said a thing, her face, the history we shared, her life experience, spoke volumes. She didn’t need to say a word and she said so much by just sitting there and being an example of what could be.
What we could have.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away in March at the age of 40. Over the past few months, Malkie 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.