After Eric died, his mother Natalie and I grew closer than ever. Our relationship was already a happy story of transformation. When Eric and I married in 1980, I hadn’t yet converted to Judaism — in fact, that didn’t happen for another 20 years. Disapproving of Eric’s marriage to a non-Jewish woman, Eric’s Orthodox Jewish parents didn’t come to the wedding. They’d been unhappy about our relationship for the five years we’d been together — I was divorced (so was Eric), I wasn’t Jewish, I was a feminist who refused to convert to a “patriarchal religion” as I told the Rabbi Eric’s parents arranged for me to meet with prior to the wedding.
For years there was controversy about our attendance at Passover Seders and other family events, and arguments among the aunts and uncles and cousins about how we should be treated. But over time, and especially as Eric’s parents got to know me better and began experiencing the joy of their first grandchild, Adrienne, their attitude towards Eric and me warmed and softened and then grew close and supportive. As Adrienne and Sam grew up, visits to Eric’s family were frequent and happy occasions. When Eric died in 2006, the strong connection between Natalie and me got even stronger.
I would call her several times a week to talk about Eric. We would relay the dreams we were both having about him, talk about how much we missed him, where we thought he was now, how we could stay connected to him. Natalie told me stories about Eric as a baby, Eric as a boy, Eric as a teen-ager. I told her stories about Eric’s jobs and the wonderful sympathy cards I was getting from people who’d known Eric, how much they admired him.
Natalie was devastated and overwhelmed with grief, as I was, but she kept plugging through her daily life, as she had through so much loss. Her mother died when she was eight, her father when she was a teenager. She lost her oldest sister in her 50’s and spent close to a decade caring for Eric’s father as he became more and more disabled from MS. Ray died in 2004, and within 3 years Natalie lost another sister, a brother-in-law, Eric and three of her closest friends. Then she lost her remaining sister, her sister-in-law, her brother, and many more friends. When she talked about surviving and moving through grief, she knew what she was talking about. I called her my Loss Guru.
Now Natalie is gone. She died early Monday morning, after a year of failing health. I can’t call her and talk about grief and how to manage the groundlessness of the ever shifting world that includes both joy and pain, loss and gain. I can’t call her and cheer her up with happy news about her grandchildren and great-grandson. I can’t call her and listen to her talk about seeing and talking to Eric, because over the past year she’s been in touch with him a lot, a trick I asked her about at one point. “It’s really interesting that you talk to Eric so much, because he doesn’t exist in this dimension any more.”
“I know,” she said.
“Then how do you talk to him?”
“He calls on a special number,” she said.
Now she’s taken that number with her.