It’s April 15, 2014 and it is snowing. The bunny who frequents our yard in the spring must be confused. I see him/her cowering beneath some overhung branches that are quickly being slicked down by snow. Whereas the first snow in early winter is usually greeted by oohs and aha and isn’t it pretty?, this winter has been so topsy-turvy, so brutal, that everyone had been gasping for spring, and now, here we are back to winter.
And these Passover seders will be the first without our mothers: Howard’s because of her increasing dementia, and mine because of her actual passing. Last night at Howard’s sister’s, the mood was quiet although his family recalled a childhood memory of the boiled meatballs and potatoes, a childhood Passover lunch that heralded the end of eating bread . They all decried how horrible the meal was, reliving the feeling of wanting to retch and their mother’s insistence on maintaining a tradition from her own childhood: one that did finally disappear, thankfully for the children. The last years with his mother at the seder have been trying as she usually demanded to be taken home, angry about some comment meant as a joke, not an attack. Still it felt very different not to have her physically there.
Tonight at my sister’s, I wonder if she will set a place for our mother, usually at the head of the table in the corner. My eldest daughter would sit beside her, chat and interact with her, my mother enjoying the full attention of her eldest grandchild, Ariel, kind and solicitous, making my mother laugh occasionally, a sparkle rekindled.
I heard that my son has told CJ, the 5 year old, that Baba has died and he wants to visit the grave marker. My son said he would approach it in terms of seasons, but he had the feeling that at school, there have all ready been discussions of such serious and scary talk. CJ is such a funny “dude” as his father calls him. At my mother’s 90th birthday celebration, CJ rose, looked around, found the party too boisterous and to the crowded room intoned, “ Everybody settle down”. To which a startled group responded. My mother would always recall that. It is a better memory than CJ’s brother who upon seeing her,an aged woman, would turn away and full- lunged, scream at the top of his lungs .
I remember the first Passover without my father, 19 years ago, the hubbub reduced, his place empty, absent, my mother strangely subdued, not popping up and down to gather plates, a guest, not a server or arranger of the night’s events. I think we all experienced the ghostly absence of the man who had been the pivotal hallmark of our lives, silently and painfully missing him. Jordan, a mere boy, pointing to his legs and muttering, “I miss him”, his eyes stanching tears. An emotional supper: the focus not on the coming of freedom from slavery, but the bondage that comes when a parent dies and the emotions that tie you up and entangle your heart with the pain of loss.
The night after the seder
As at my sister-in-law’s, a certain quiet although the grandkids render it wild and as always, too many people jumping up to serve food, offer bowls for hand- washing. CJ quite interested in the traditions, anxious to try the bitter herbs, the charoset ( mock brick mortar of apples, walnuts and wine), says his part in The Four Questions. He asks for the translation of the list of wine droplets we dribble on our plates: locus, darkness, vermin… and he announces, “Those are not good drops” . I hope he does not store these afflictions in his mind and later ponder them. The stories are not happy ones although his mother adds, “We don’t have to worry about them now”. I can almost hear her add “tsk, tsk”.
Chaos at the table: numerous kugels, turkey, brisket, salads and deserts. The actual reading, responsive in both Hebrew and English has whizzed by for me. The youngest grandchild, referred to as A.B (Abie?) by his mom, is watching Arcade Fire concert where the audience jumps around wearing masks. To a two year old, the flash and glitter albeit with no sound to disturb the religious liturgy at the table, is mesmerizing. I notice he punctuates it with an animation clip that involves Santa Claus. Talk about your pair of ducks.
Sadly my daughter #2 is prevented going to a seder because a huge tree has fallen across their driveway in Philadelphia. At least no one is hurt.
On the way home, darkness falls as lights and power are cut and we drive through darkened streets.
Feelings of sadness, confusion. I feel as if my body parts have been severed and I am flung about in a variety of dimensions, stretching to pull myself back into one piece. I am not a flexible person so this stretching business is difficult: maybe a prelude to visiting Frances Bacon’s paintings: they seem to mirror how I feel, viscera exploding.Maybe it is an attempt to feel my mother’s arms around me, to hold my girls close and and cuddle my grandkids who pay us no attention last night. I want to be a big ball of warmth, something that holds them all together. I don’t know how to gather everything up and make me all whole. It is a conundrum.