Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Jew goes to church

I went to church today. Yes, you remember correctly: I'm Jewish. But my Italian neighborhood is flooded with the most beautiful churches, and ever since moving here, I've found their architecture and open doors alluring. But I've never gone in, afraid of being "outed" as Jew, even though I know the church is open to everyone.

Today, I passed my favorite church: a massive structure that looks like it's lived there forever. "Open prayer and meditation, 2-4PM," the sign outside said. I passed by, again chickening out.

But it's been a tough week. Yesterday was the anniversary of when Sally died, and today is the anniversary of the funeral. My heart is heavy. Not even a block later, I turned around and walked back to the church.

Empty except for a woman tidying pamphlets with downcast eyes, the church was dark and dusty with small bits of afternoon sunlight streaming through the stained glass. I chose an aisle seat in the middle section of pews, self-conscious when the wood creaked as I sat down.

I looked around, in awe of this church I had always longed to visit. But only a minute later, I realized my eyes were closed, and I was crying.

When I opened my eyes again, I noticed two curious things. First, a small sign on the back of the first section of pews that read 22 with an arrow pointing to the bottom right. 22 is the number I associate with my mom, who was born on 2/22, and I notice it often in the time (2:22), address numbers (22, 222), and other places. It always comforts me. Second thing I noticed: a book in front of every seat, "Hymnal 1982," the same year I was born, the year Sally gave birth to her little girl.

I heard Sally tell me, "See, I am here if you look for me. But if you don't look for me, I can't be here." I understood: It is up to me to keep her alive. That is my responsibility. Look and you shall receive.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Oh the anniversary

Oh the anniversary. It comes every year and fills me with dread. As early as August 1st I sense it, and then wait until the 19th can finally come and go.

My mom always told me the loss of her parents got easier once she met my dad and had kids. I guess I thought being engaged would make me at peace with Mother's Day and the anniversary. And then I feel disappointed--in life, in myself--that those days are still so tough.

I also get stubborn. Nine years later it is hard to truly believe the common sayings: she's with you, she knows, talk to her. BULLSHIT I want to scream (but I am a lady and keep that to myself, thankyouverymuch). I don't think I've felt angry about her death until I got engaged. And now I feel so jipped, so belatedly.

I tried today. When my watch, which was her watch, scraped the silver subway grate beside my seat not once, not twice, but three times on my morning commute, I wondered if Sally was there. When my coworker announced she got engaged, and as we celebrated over champagne toasts, it might have been Sally showing me that goodness and joy still exist and make life worthwhile. And when thunder rocked the sky as I ran down the street leaving work, I thought of Sally, who was as forceful and fearless and "phenomenal" (my cousin Julia's description) as that thunder.

It might not be the Hollywood version, where the person appears to you in a beautiful moonlit river, or sits perched high atop a billboard, and answers all your unanswered questions and is so alive that it's scary and familiar all at once. But maybe it's my version, and I have to take it for what it is.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Here comes the bride, all dressed in...?

In case you're wondering how wedding dress shopping went... well, as I find with most things related to grief, the anticipation is the worst part. So, after a week or so of nerves for my first excursion, the actual day was an assortment of feelings:

Excitement: My friends' enthusiasm cheered me throughout the day. They oohed, they ahhed, they welled up, they scrunched their noses at the ones we all knew were hideous. And even though our tastes are all different from one another, they kept in mind what I like and what will reflect my personality. I really appreciated that.

Confusion: The more dresses you try on, the more confused you get! Chiffon, lace, strapless, sweetheart, halter, a-line, ballgown... and those are only the terms I can remember. While I did find some good options, I don't know that I've found "the dress," so there will be more shopping ahead. Which leads me to...

Blame it on a week of pre-dress anxiety, the art of speed-waking the streets of Manhattan to race to the next appointment, the physicality of stepping in and out of dress after dress, or the momentary feelings of loss, but all those things combined left me one tired lady. Phew.

Grief: While I didn't consciously think of my mom while trying on dresses, I'm beginning to think that inside every bride is a little girl who can't believe that's really her in the mirror. And in some ways, she needs her mother to verify that she's all grown up and ready for this big adventure--basically, to kick her out of the nest. I guess without her, I've been out of the nest for a while, but the sudden shift from child to adult can still be alarming at times. Especially when wearing a white gown.

So, next month will bring another round of shopping... any tips?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Say Stress to the Dress

I'm going wedding dress shopping for the first time tomorrow. Most girls seem to live for this moment, having dreamed of it since they were little. And even I have found myself glued to episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress" and worshiping the holy books: bridal magazines. But tonight, I feel nervous.

Yes, I will have my two companions with me tomorrow. Girls who've known me since I was 13, who've been there through the best and worst times, and who even attended the last party that celebrated me in a white dress: my bat-mitzvah.

But every other girl I know has tried on bridal gowns in front of her mother, has emerged twirling from dressing rooms to oohs and ahhs from the one woman on this planet who thinks her daughter simply can't look bad in anything she tries on. If things were different, I know I would have gone with Sally.

At 29, nine years after she passed, shouldn't I be accustomed to this way of life? Or will I always cry the night before big milestones like these?