Archive | December, 2008

Happy Chrismahanukkah!

24 Dec

As the good inter-faith child that I am, I have the menorah lit with four candles as it is the fourth night of Hanukkah and playing in the background I have Christmas music. I called my parents and my grandma Morris to wish them a Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas eve.

As I kid I always loved when Christmas and Hanukkah coincided. It was the one time I felt the two religions could be celebrated at once. I was raised Jewish with a Christian father.

My love for Christmas is about the traditions that my dad’s parents had. It was having Christmas dinner, exchanging gifts, turning down the lights and watching the tree dance in the dark and going to midnight mass. Most of all what I loved about it was being with family. Presents were ALWAYS opened on Christmas eve. I am still pissed that I never had the experience of the thrill of opening up presents Christmas morning because of Santa.

Now that I am married to someone who is Jewish, I am loving the traditions that his family have established, especially around Hanukkah. Every year E’s mom, Eli and my BIL and SIL and now ME host a Hanukkah party. Latkes, lighting the menorah, gift exchange with a ton of our friends. Jews and non-Jews. Once again it is all about being around family and friends who are just like family.

I realized tonight as I home alone and my hubby is flying people home to celebrate Christmas or maybe Hanukkah or whatever else this holiday season, that the most important thing this time of year is that we take stock in our lives. Cherish our family, friends and be present. Celebrate the religious and celebrate the time with family and friends. Embrace the traditions! There is something to be said about traditions. Traditions are the root of the memories and the love we have for the season.

I am hoping to head to my parents’ tomorrow. As long as the airline industry works with us non-rev folks. As much as I am hoping that I can get home to see my family. I am okay if I don’t because I have such wonderful friends who have opened their home to help them celebrate. Again, it just proves that no matter what your religion is there is something about this season and there is a “reason for the season.”

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The Highest Honor

9 Dec

My life lately seems to be running in parallel to last year at this time. On Friday, E and I took the red eye back home to Des Moines to be with my grandpa. Like last year, we made it to be my grandpa’s side as he spent his final days at home surrounded by his wife of 60 years, his 4 kids and his grandchildren.

This time though, my grandpa was still lucid enough to know he was surrounded by his loved ones. I had the blessing to see his blue eyes looking back at my blue eyes as I told him how much I loved him and how much cherished our times together. He held on until Sunday morning. In Orthodox Judaism there are many customs that surround death and dying. Some of those customs I knew and many I learned this weekend. One of which I learned is to stay with the person as he or she passes on from this world and onto the next. My grandpa from Friday to Sunday had someone by his side at all times. Sunday morning, my grandpa’s breathing began to become very shallow and we knew he did not have much longer. Orthodox Judaism states that when the loved one is close to passing on that a window should be open so that the soul can return to G-d.

We opened the window and gathered around the bed and recited the Shema. I learned later that the Shema is a prayer that many generations of jews have chosen it as their final utterance. This central prayer of Judaism proclaims God’s oneness: “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echod.” Listen oh Israel, the Lord, Our God is One.

God is acknowledged as the source of all, the Source before whom we are all equal.

It is no coincidence that as we were reciting this prayer was when my grandpa took his last and final breath.

Another custom I learned this weekend is Chevra Kaddisha. This is a silent group of volunteers to bathe and cleanse the body for burial. We found out that my grandpa’s nephew belongs to this silent group. I can’t imagine how David must have felt when he was providing this mitzvah (Hebrew word for good deed) for his uncle. Prior to the Chevra Kaddisha, my family needed someone to stay with grandpa. Eli and I volunteered to stay with my grandpa. This person or persons is called a Shomer. (guard or watcher).

This part of burial ritual, I was not aware of. I am still wrapping my head around this. Eli and I arrived at the funeral home about an hour or so later after my grandpa arrived. We were led downstairs to the basement. Yes, this was VERY CREEPY! There were two old wooden chairs set up next to the cooler, which housed my grandpa. Did I mention this was creepy?!?! However, after the immediate shock of it all, the creepiness subsided and we hung out. We stayed there for four hours with my grandpa until my dad arrived to take over. He stayed for three more hours and then the Chevra Kaddisha took place. My uncle and aunt traded during the late night shifts and my mom took the early morning (430am-930am) shift. What I learned later that night when I returned to my grandma’s house is that the mitzvah I performed was the highest honor one can perform. I had no idea and still can’t really comprehend it.

Monday morning was the funeral. Traditional Jewish funerals are very simple and usually brief. There isn’t a wake. Before the funeral, the immediate relatives of the deceased – siblings, parents, children, spouse – tear their garments to symbolize their loss. My grandma ripped a ribbon and wore it over her heart and my mom and her sisters and brother wore the ripped ribbon on their chest on the left side.

A common practice in Judaism is that jews bury their own. When my grandpa’s coffin was lowered into the ground. Those that wanted to, were able to shovel dirt onto the coffin 3 times. The first shovel is done upside down to show your reluctance in doing this deed. This was the first time in my life that I have participated in this ritual. It comes across as very harsh and it is really hard to do. I held it together but kept repeating “i love you” with each toss of the dirt from the shovel.
Once everyone had their turn that wanted to, the dirt dozer came in and to fill up the rest of the grave. Again, this is really harsh to observe but then it again it helps with closure.

Right now, the remaining family that is still in Des Moines is sitting Shiva. Shiva usually lasts seven days and it is a period of mourning which is usually done at a close family members home. All the mirrors are covered. Visitors come by, usually bringing food (yum!) and to pay respect to the family.

Tomorrow I return to work and reality. My heart still is heavy. I am proud that I was able to be apart of my grandpa’s last days and participate in the customs and rituals of my faith. I not only feel that much closer to G-d but to my grandpa as well.

Way Overdue

2 Dec

It’s been so long, way to long. I am still working on my vacation post–there is so much to cover that it’s been a bit time consuming. I promise, it is on it’s way. If we are connected on facebook, feel free to check out the pictures. They are amazing–if I do say so myself.

Thanksgiving was wonderful! Eli ended up making it home. He was scheduled on reserve and as luck would have it, he didn’t get called. So he flew home. Made it just in time for us to arrive together at his mom’s. His mom hosted 16 people! Most were friends of the family. It was terrific. Growing up, my family would just spend it with the 4 of us. It was lovely but I do believe there is something wonderful about opening your home to others outside of your immediate family and sharing the spirit of Thanksgiving. Plus a whole lotta wine that is shared by EVERYONE, kicks up the fun notch as well.

The rest of the weekend was just as wonderful too. We mostly ate and drank ourselves silly. That is my kind of weekend! We opened up a 1000 piece beer puzzle that we some how aquired. It sucked us in on Saturday and Sunday and it is still not finished.

While the weekend was so good, it also was not so good. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I received a call from my mom about my grandpa (her dad). He ended up in the hospital with a tooth infection that had gone bad. So bad that it caused a blood infection. After numerous efforts to give him a fighting chance on Thursday and the remainder of the weekend, it looked like he was going to pull through. He was out of the ICU and in a private room. Eating food and breathing through an oxygen tube through his nose. I called my mom this morning to check in on when he would be discharged. The light-hearted call I had originally intended to have with my mom did not happen. My grandpa was back in the ICU and his kidney’s were failing. Mom, her sisters and brother decided this afternoon that all life sustaining support would cease to continue. As far as I know now, they’ve pulled the feeding tube. My mom’s younger sister is flying in tomorrow. I am not sure when the rest of it will be pulled. I am sure it will only be a matter of days or day.

As I am writing this, I feel a pinch of denial. Denial that this is really happening. It was year ago to this week that we were in a similar situation with my dad’s dad. He passed away on December 7th. My dad and I’ve decided that we are starting a petition with the rest of the family members on not dying during the month of December. I really don’t think that this is too much to ask for.

This is just way to hard to stomach–I am not sure that my heart has healed enough from last year to say goodbye again.

Give yourself a big hug from me, dear internet.