Going Back for Family Events

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I've lived outside of the frum community for over 30 years and these life cycle events, especially deaths in the family, continue to challenge me. When my mother died I sat shiva in Boro Park with my father and siblings. I remember one encounter: A friend of my sister's came into the room. I recognized her as a lively camp counselor that I had admired when I was young. She was the counselor in charge of sports who always had us singing and cheering. I spontaneously greeted her with a big smile and said, "It's so nice to see you!" She just stared me down and said "Mir tur nisht." I remembered just how stifling it was for me as a young person in the community where rules were more important than feelings and relationships. I find it so hard to say "hamakom yenachem eschem" when I go to a shiva. It's such a formula.

The week that my mother was on her deathbed I had to run to the department store to shop for a knee-length skirt to prepare myself for her funeral. Even today I think about what I will do if I have to attend funerals/shivas for my siblings who are much older than me (a morbid thought, but also a practical one). Will I throw something on my head for the funeral? I don't know. Will I sit shiva with their families? Probably for one or two days. I feel like I need to be prepared.

My family members live in Brooklyn, Lakewood, Monsey and Bnei Brak. I have cordial, sometimes caring relations with them, but I see them infrequently. They have no way of understanding my life. Their kids get married and mine go away to college--something they cannot relate to. They dance at weddings and so do I, but very different kinds of dancing. At family events they make speeches about the greatness of our family and our ancestors who kept us on the derech in Eastern Europe and in America. I struggle with invitations to weddings of my great-nieces and great-nephews. Sometimes I go and sometimes I don't. I enjoy seeing some family members and family friends who I was very fond of as a child. It's a bittersweet experience, though it gets easier with time. At this point I have a family of my own and a life I love, so dealing with my family and questions of "where do I belong" doesn't bother me as much as when I was younger. Then I felt like I was up against an army of people looking down on me, and it was easy to feel intimidated. As they say, it definitely gets besser.