By Malkie Hirsch
In my life before Moshe’s passing, when I was asked to do something different, something out of my ordinary rhythm of life, I’d always second-guess myself and my abilities and usually decline. It could be for a host of things — attending events, being on a panel for a women’s night out, etc. I simply didn’t understand what people thought I could contribute and I didn’t want to disappoint, so to preserve my vulnerability, I would play it safe instead and that seemed like a wiser option.
When Donna reached out to me last week about being on her podcast, I immediately said yes and asked all the questions after. It’s funny how I’m willing to try a lot more than I ever used to, and I’m trying to understand why that is. I think about my life experiences this past year and while I don’t necessarily understand why anyone would want to listen to our heartbreaking story, maybe the “before” is not the part that gets to them. Maybe it’s the now, the survival mode that we’ve been put in, the choices I make every day to preserve my kids’ happiness, the routine normalcy of our lives that I forced upon our day only a couple of weeks after Moshe died.
I didn’t know what I was doing as I did it. As a mother, a lot of things are instinctual and second nature. Moving forward in a life alone when you were previously part of a couple, when the feeling of safety and security has been ripped out of your daily life and you’re left to make life decisions on your own, is akin to walking into a pitch-black room where you see nothing, not even the hands in front of you, and are desperately trying to feel for the items in the room to familiarize yourself so you can navigate your way in the dark. Eventually, your eyes adjust and you know where the items are in the room, and while it’s not the same as having a bright light on, where everything is clear, you eventually get used to the darkness and are able to move through the room successfully, even shrouded in uncertainty and darkness. My life is that dark room but my eyes have adjusted and I feel my way around, eventually getting to where I need to be.
When Donna walked into my house and we stood face to face for the first time in 25 years, it was as if the time that passed was a minor detail in the bigger task of what we set out to do. Donna asked me before recording the podcast if there was anything I didn’t want to speak about. I replied that nothing was off limits and that I was an open book. We began. We covered a lot of ground, and as she asked me about the past year, and asked me to recount what had happened for listeners who didn’t know, I felt my mind go back to a place I’d rather not be but more often than not still find myself going. I spoke about the thoughts I had in my head right before the phone call while standing in a grocery store on a Wednesday, trying to find the items the store had placed in a different section for Pesach. I cling desperately to the little details I remember leading up to the news that changed my life forever because that takes me back to a time when life was way happier and simpler.
I left no details out, and as I spoke, I watched Donna take in my story and I watched her think, like others have done, about what would happen if, G-d forbid, she’d be in my position. Many times when you hear an unfortunate story of someone’s loss, it won’t permeate your life, and it doesn’t have to. It’s someone else’s story.
Until one day it becomes your reality.
I never felt the way I do now for people before our loss — the amount of empathy, the pain I feel for the pain they feel.
I was never able to write about my feelings, or really much of anything, because after this happened I felt like I was ripped apart and the cacophony of feelings, the fear, anxiety, sadness, worry, anger, and bitterness all fell out of me and onto paper. Eventually it was joined by moments of happiness, gratitude, and peace, and even moments of calm.
My feelings are open and free. They’re raw and unfiltered. I don’t hide and I don’t sugarcoat.
As I spoke to Donna for the better part of an hour, there were parts of the story that took my breath away. I remembered every detail before telling her my story, but verbally articulating it made me wonder how I was able to do what I did, how I was able to move forward when a lot of people (myself included) thought things would look differently close to a year later. I told her about the things I’ve learned, the things I’ve practiced with my family to get us all to a place where we miss Moshe every day but openly reminisce and share funny stories about great times with Tatty, and how my kids are able to go to bed and sleep soundly at night. The programs we’ve been privy to, the friends who have dedicated a lot of their time to support us however we needed support, and how truly thankful I am to still have faith in G-d and gratitude every day for life’s gifts.
Two weeks ago, I sat among many others to listen to Dovid’s friend Avi lein his parashah. Every once in a while, Avi would tilt his head to the side, in between aliyos, and look at his grandmother, mother, and sister. They’d silently cheer him on and enthusiastically give him a thumbs-up and show him how proud they were of how well he was doing. He did beautifully that day, and when Rabbi Axelrod of Young Israel of Woodmere spoke, he gave over such a beautiful analogy to describe what Avi had just accomplished. He spoke of the parashah and how when G-d told Moshe Rabbeinu that he had to get Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt, that he’d have to reason with King Pharaoh, Moshe thought it impossible. He wouldn’t be able to do it. When G-d commanded that it be done and Moshe was the one who was commanded to do so, he had to. G-d was telling Moshe was that He believed in him completely, and He knew Moshe was the right man for the job. The commandment was G-d’s way of telling Moshe that he was capable of this task, that he could do this, even when Moshe didn’t initially believe it for himself.
When Avi lost his grandfather three weeks before his bar mitzvah, the man who taught him to lein, Avi could have chosen other ways to cope. He didn’t have to lein; he could have been a 13-year-old boy and lashed out the way a child who lost a loved one would. But Avi did something difficult and way more mature. He leined the entire parashah beautifully. He did it for his grandfather and for his family members who stood there in shul that Shabbos. He did it because though it would seem like a nearly impossible task for a 13-year-old boy, G-d knows better. He knows what we’re capable of, even when we don’t.
As I sat there listening to Rabbi Axelrod give this speech, it seemed so clear to me, almost as he was speaking directly to me. This is G-d’s way of telling me that I could do the things I never anticipated, never imagined in my scariest dreams. That I was capable of not only surviving, but thriving and navigating our way through something terrifying and unfamiliar. I recall robotically repeating, “I can’t do this” over and over again after our loss was confirmed. For a while I believed I couldn’t. But there are those moments, when speaking with Donna about the year, when passing by my kids’ rooms at night and it’s quiet and peaceful, when watching a boy my son’s age achieve something way beyond something he should, that I believe I can. Maybe I can.
“You become strong for the things you need to be strong for.”
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away in March at the age of 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.