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Jewish World ReviewOct. 10, 2002 / 4 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Sometimes death
opens up the door | For about 14 years, my mom and dad lived in an apartment building and said "Hello" to their neighbors in the elevator. Everyone was cordial, but it never went much beyond that.

Then my dad died 11 days ago, and the bell started ringing. In they came: a stream of women my mom's age, some with cookies, some with nuts, but all with the same unstated message:

Now that you're alone, you are not alone.

"Come in, yes!" said my mom politely, even as they were striding past her toward the dining room table. They plopped themselves down, expressed brief condolences and immediately launched into lively, sometimes intimate, chatter as my mom sat there, slightly stunned. Half the time she didn't even know their names. I'm sure she'd never been in their apartments. So what was this?

This, my friends, was class. Sisterhood at its most powerful. Women reaching out to my mom when she would never have even considered reaching out to them.

Some of the women were gossipy, and some were more reserved. Some played cards, some ran big volunteer organizations. A few still had husbands, but most of them did not. It was like being introduced to the secret society of survivors - and being invited to join.

So now I must admit with embarrassment that until last week, I would never have considered doing what those ladies did. Barge in on a grieving family member? That seemed about as appropriate as barging in on a bath. I thought mourning was something private, maybe even a little embarrassing.

Sure, there are wakes to comfort some families, and seven days of visits known as shiva for bereaved Jewish families, like ours. But these apartment building ladies were coming in at all hours of the day, not just the time we had set aside for visitors. Moreover, they were dropping by casually, like friends. Which, I guess, was the point.

As much as they buoyed my mom, they absolutely inspired me. How many times have I not picked up the phone to comfort a less-than-best buddy, simply because it seemed too awkward? I didn't want to pretend I was closer than I was. I didn't want to seem smarmy or death-obsessed.

I didn't know anything.

It took my own loss for me to realize how great it is to be embraced by the world when sorrow hits: The world that knows me, the world that knew my dad and the world that can only say, "Well, kid, we've been there, too. It's hard, but life goes on."

The night before the funeral, the rabbi came by. Don't worry about your father being alone, he said soothingly. "His parents, brother and sister will be acting as his angelic guides, ushering him into the world to come."

I am equally grateful for my mom's guides right here on Earth. Bearing cookies and nuts, they, too, are ushering her into the world of life after death.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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