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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

A Chapter a Day in Ten Words

What can you say about a person in ten words? Every morning at minyan we spend a few precious moments remembering, reflecting on the people for whom we say kaddish.

We have been involved with this "practice" now for about two months. Sometimes people say something about their loved one and sometimes they do not. For those of us who do say something, either every day or every few days, I wonder how we come to the decision of what to say about our loved one to a group of relative strangers? How do we find the 12 second elevator speech to share something that mattered? Is what I am saying too personal? Is it ok to say something funny? What memories are fit for others to hear? Am I forming a narrative that is reflects positively on her life? Each morning I struggle to think of what those ten words will be. I don't want to repeat the same thing day in and day out and now that we are on day 60 something, I want that picture to remain vital and interesting to others. They are my audience, a witness to mom's life.

Over the past few months these are the things that I have said about my mother. This is the oral history that I spoon out each morning, approximately ten words at a time. These are some of the things I've chosen to say to paint a portrait of her to those who knew her not. I hope that I continue to do her memory justice.

My mother dressed well.

She looked good in hats

She made lockshen (noodles) for my brothers

She made a mean meatloaf

She grew up in Revere

She grew up in a house with no religion

She had a questionable relationship with pets

She loved to do the dishes

She was an exceedingly slow eater

She played MahJong

She loved Filene's Basement

She played Scrabble well

She loved to walk

She loved to read books

She greeted people in Russian sometimes. (Yatcha bel L'blue?)

She was happy on the outside but less happy on the inside.

She loved Cape Cod

She was a great ironer

She was neat

She and I did a photography project together

She had dementia

How we speak about the dead matters. Sometimes, when I reflect back, perhaps I am too flippant about expressing those memories. Respecting the dead and how they lived their lives matter. In a day and age where sensationalist biographies exist to shame people for things they have done in their lives that later bring them shame and dishonor is not what I want my mother's biography to be about. I want her memory, the way that others hear her story and form a picture of who she was, to be the best possible reflection of her life. It's not the mistakes that she made that I want to highlight, because we all make mistakes; sometimes small ones and sometimes humdingers (a word my mom would have used), but when we are gone, we want to be remembered for the good that we did, for the impact we had, for the positive, the lovely, the unforgettable.

After two months of this, my composite sketch of mom, my 10 words per day sketch, reveals a woman who had spunk, a variety of interests and always kept her hands and mind active and busy. Not a bad image for a zesty, feisty woman.

There is a part 2 to this post, where I will write what I have learned about the other beloved souls we remember each day in that Zoom Room. I'll post about this next, but for today I will leave this post with ten more words about my mom, Irma G.

She tried her best to do what was best.

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