I was in the midst of a messy divorce with 16 year old autistic daughter and an 8 year old. Passover, one of the biggest holidays on the Jewish calendar, was fast approaching. I was so overwhelmed, nervous and probably more than a little depressed. No matter how you look at it, Passover is expensive and I did not have a single penny.
Friends and neighbors were busy cleaning and shopping. Most were expecting family members from out of town. Others were shopping and packing and preparing to go out of town to be with family. We had no plans.
My girls would ask me what our plans were. Every day I would shake my head and say I didn’t know. This would be our first holiday without their father. I didn’t want it to be dismal and depressing. I wanted to show them that we would be just fine without him. The problem was, I didn’t know how to make that happen.
I have friends, but everyone was so busy that no one had time to remember us. I was wounded and shaky from all the “stuff” surrounding the separation and legal proceedings, I didn’t have the courage or the strength to ask for help.
Luckily, I have one “bestest” friend. We have been together for almost 30 years and there is nothing we can’t say to each other. There is nothing we wouldn’t do for each other. A thousand miles separate us, but nothing gets between us. This friend has an extra special ability. She can hear the things I can’t bring myself to say.
”You’re tired” she said. “You and the girls are coming to me. The tickets have been purchased. No excuses. You’re family, you belong with us.” I was in no position to even try and argue. I was filled with gratitude, but also filled with fear.
My family was a lot. One with special needs, one dealing with the trauma of divorce, and a mother who was like a deer in the headlights, unsure of what to do next. Scared to move and scared to stay, beaten, worn down and depleted. There was every chance that this might not work.
I worried about merging our families. I wondered what it would feel like to be a guest. I wanted to be included. I did not want to simply be a spectator. I had spent the last 26 years making my own holiday. I wanted to be useful. I needed to be useful. I wanted to be a part of it.
It’s hard to be a guest. You’re in a place that is not your own. Nothing is familiar. Rules are different. Children complicate things even more. Schedules are different. Food is different. Beds and sleeping arrangements are different. My kids are not “go with the flow” kind of kids. There was plenty to worry about.
I prepared my children, telling them we would be with many people who might do things that we don’t usually do. We would have to share space and share toys. Things would be noisy and busy and we would have to be flexible- my older daughter is autistic, flexibility is not a strong suit!
I packed with a bit of trepidation, my children did not have new clothes for the holiday. I worried they would feel self conscious amongst the other kids. I took some deep breaths and boarded the plane. I had no idea what I was heading in to.
My friend, my “bestest” friend, sometimes knows me better than I know myself. She did not just invite us, she prepared for us. We walked in the door and my 8 year old was swooped up by her “cousins.” The bedroom was beautifully decorated. Each of my daughter’s beds was full of new clothes and gifts. My friend remembered when she visited me I always gave each child a new toy that was theirs alone, this way they were not always borrowing someone else’s things. She did everything to make us feel comfortable and wanted.
There was one more hurdle. I squared my shoulders and headed for the kitchen. It was busy with all of the women cooking, cleaning, chatting and laughing. I hung back, not sure of my place and feeling that awful sinking feeling of being alone in a crowd. I started to panic, I wanted to go home. This was too hard. I felt tears prick the corners of my eyes and I swallowed hard and prayed they would stop. My amazing friend walked right over me, handed me a knife and a peeler and put me to work. By the end of the holiday my shoulders were lighter, my eyes had some life in them and my sides ached from laughing. My children cried when we said goodbye. Life had been breathed back in to all of us.
That was 6 years ago. Passover together has been become a tradition. We have added more visits throughout the year. I am Aunt Shifra, my friend is Doda Libby. The children are cousins. Together we are a family.
My friend saw our pain and made it her mission to give us what we needed, going out of her way to make us comfortable and happy. It was never about what she wanted to give, it was always about what we needed to receive. That is the best way to give, to really see the other person, to give with your heart, to put love and care in to every part of the process.
I’m a different person today than I was 6 years ago. Libby and I have been through so much together. She stuck by me every step of the way. Nothing is ever too hard. Nothing is ever too much. She’s my secret weapon, she’s my cheerleader, my critic, my voice of reason, my sister.