French Toast Sundays shows the week of mourning through the eyes of a child. Kids Talk Grief is a series of interviews and guest blog posts from children or young people all of whom have had to deal with the loss of someone close to them. ( Some of the names and personal details have been changed to protect their privacy .)
Ella is a 24 year old public health researcher at Harvard. She was 15 when her mother died of brain cancer.
On the first day of shiva, I remember all I wanted was a piece of chocolate cake. I walked downstairs and gazed over the dozens of pastries covering our living and dining rooms, and I finally found the only comfort I needed. I cut myself a generous slice and took a big bite, knowing that this dessert would bring me the comfort I needed. When the sweet and bitter taste hit my tongue and I realized it was not chocolate, but carob flavored cake, the tears came in heavy.
My mom, the funkiest, incredibly loving, and most unique person I will ever know, passed away in 2008 when I was 15 years old. It's unbelievable difficult to lose anyone close to you at any point in life, and as a young teenager still learning how to understand myself and my world, losing my mom was especially hard. I don't remember much of the time right after her death; I think some defense mechanisms kicked in to guide my grieving. Yet some of my shiva and grieving experiences are quite vivid memories.
Judaism provides extensively detailed instructions for how to sit shiva and mourn a loss, and some were very helpful to me, while others really weren't. When you're sitting shiva, you aren't supposed to go outside your home. You are supposed to sit in your sadness with be comforted by those around you. While this was super helpful at times, most of the time I needed to get the heck out of the house. On one night of Shiva, I woke up to little pebbles hitting my window. A few of my friends had come by, and they got me out of the house and took me for a walk through our neighborhood. This was one of the most helpful and caring experiences in the days following my mom's death. My good friends were able to distract me from my sadness for a little while and remind me that I was still an awkward, funny, wild teenager.
It turned out that a lot of my comfort in the initial months after my mom's death came in the form of food. My sister Anna was in high school with me at the time, and just about once a week we would realize that we couldn't be at school anymore. We'd leave usually after third period, get in the car, and go to Wendy's for French fries and milkshakes. We would make it back to school eventually, but something about those excursions (the extra salt on the fries? the much needed time to ourselves? missing our least favorite classes?) really helped me through that first year.
As I get older and figure out how to navigate life, I always try to remind myself to sit with my feelings and be true to them. If I need to sneak out of the house and go for a late night walk with my friends, that's just what I'll do. If I need to miss a day of work because it is one of those rough days, I let myself do that. And each year, on my mom's Yahrzeit (anniversary of death), I follow the Jewish traditions of saying Kaddish, and then add my own tradition of baking her incredibly tasty banana bread recipe.