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What Stories Could One Dress Tell?

I bought this dress more than 10 years ago, but I don't remember where. And it's the perfect one piece dress, which looks like two pieces, and looks like it's belted, structured enough for a formal occasion, but lightweight enough to be comfortable. It's stretchy enough that despite my sizes fluctuating through 10 years and three pregnancies, it always seems to fit. I love the geometric ivory and white pattern of the "jacket" and the 3/4 sleeves. I usually pair it with black tights and black boots because it's just a little shorter than I usually like, and I think the black legs and shoes balance that out.

I don't think I bought it for any particular occasion, but I can remember at least three important times I wore it:

  • In 2013, I wore this dress while performing the first of three performances of my senior cantorial recital, in my home synagogue in Caldwell, New Jersey.

  • In 2015, I wore the dress to see Die Fledermaus at the Metropolitan Opera with my dad, and with Bob, while 5 months pregnant with my twins.

  • And in early October 2019, I wore it to Ronen's funeral.

There are no pictures of me the day of Ronen's funeral (at least, there are none that I know of) but I remember it like it was yesterday. And I remember deciding what to wear that day, and wondering what the impact of that sartorial choice would be. I remember wondering what D and J, age 3, should wear to their brother's funeral. These outfits I don't remember, except that maybe we dress them in the clothes we had purchased the day before Ronen was born for his bris (that never happened) but they wore to his naming.

The dress has been sitting in my closet ever since, but I haven't worn it. I always look at it, sometimes I have even taken it out of the closet on the hanger, but I have always put it back. I have at points considered giving it away, but I always wondered if I would ever wear it again.

Until today.

Today I am headed to the cemetery for a reason that has nothing to do with me personally. Just that it's my job. But we are in the liminal time of year between Ronen's yahrzeit and the Jewish calendar, and the English date, September 29, on which he died on the Gregorian calendar.

And so, as I opened my closet to find something to wear that would go well with my black cemetery boots (I have a pair that are fancy enough, comfortable to stand in for an hour, and easy to clean because I know I'm going to be trekking through mud.... #femmeclergy you know), I once again pulled out this dress from the closet. And for the first time in four years, instead of hanging it right back up, I put it on. Seemingly impossibly, it still fits.

I spent a lot of time that day with downcast eyes, so the striking pattern of the jacket of the dress evokes memories of when it was visible in my peripheral vision. I remember sitting on the couch in my office in the moment Cantor Brian Mayer, who had traveled from Providence to officiate, walked in. That moment the loss became real and I wept. I remember standing at the doors at the back of the Main Sanctuary's center aisle, doors I had walked through many times, and balking when they opened, unable to cross the threshold, telling Bob "I can't, I don't want to," as I realized the pews were full. I remember the first time I saw the tiny, tiny coffin, less than 2 feet long on an ornate brass cart, bare in pine because the pall would have dwarfed it.

So many memories that get triggered with this pattern in the corner of my eye. "Triggered" is a funny thing, though. When we are most in the heat of our grief, we want to avoid being triggered. But when we are ready to remember, and the fact that these moments let memories out of the lockbox in which we have compartmentalized them can be a source of comfort. No, I don't want to be reliving these memories every moment of every day, but I am grateful that I can visit them when I am ready.

As I put on the dress this morning, I realized that I am ready, and I am open. Which is not to say that it isn't hard, I feel the low buzz of adrenaline that is my ever present flashback. I can't just ignore the fact that I'm wearing this today. But I am rewarded by the closeness I feel to Ronen when I put it on, like the scarf I tore at his funeral that I still in a box with his things, to wear on days when I need him nearby.

There are times of year, in the celestial rotation, when the Earth and the sun draw closer. It always seems to me that near yahrzeits, our loved ones' memories also draw closer to us. Am I chutzpadik enough to say that their souls draw closer to the world? Maybe. A part of me strongly wants to believe that it goes both ways. Wherever Ronen's soul ended up, I believe that he is still with me, and I remain his Ima.

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