the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

A Walk Around the Block

Today was our last morning of sitting shiva.  In the Jewish tradition, at the end of the shiva, we are supposed to leave the house and walk once around the block.  None of us knew the reason for this tradition, so yesterday, we asked a few of our visitors.  We received many different "answers," including:

1)  to get some exercise after sitting all week.

2)  to show the rest of the neighborhood that you’re done sitting shiva.

3)  to take all your tsuris (Yiddish for trouble) and get rid of it by throwing it on the first neighbor you meet!
Then Sophia looked it up online and found the most convincing answer:

Walking around the block is a symbol of the beginning of a return to normalcy.  Also, there is a belief that the soul of the departed hovers around during the shiva, when everyone is talking about the person that died.  In the old country, the cemetery was located at the edge of the shtetl (a village).  At the end of sitting shiva, the bereaved would "escort the soul" to its final resting place.

So many friends and neighbors came this week and said so many beautiful things about my father.  At times, my mother and I gave each other little glances when the praise for my father went over the top.  It’s hard to think of your father or husband in "saintly" terms.  As kind a person as he was, he also had his quirks, and I’d like to remember those as well as his good deeds.  My father did plenty of things that drove me crazy.  He was a neatnik, a hoarder, an obsessive scheduler, and the slowest dresser that ever existed.   But that’s what made him my father.   I want to remember everything about him, good and bad.

I’m not much of a spiritual person, but even I felt my father’s presence as we prepared to take our post-shiva "walk around the block."  When we stepped outside, it was a little windy, so Sophia asked me to go upstairs and get her a jacket.  As I turned back, a wind blew and the front door of the apartment building flew wide-open.  I didn’t think much of it until I went upstairs and found that we had left our front door unlocked from when we were sitting shiva and the wind from the opening elevator made it fly open, too!  It was a little eerie.  But just in case it was my father’s spirit, I said hello to his photo in the living room, and then returned downstairs with a jacket for Sophia.

We took our walk around the block.  It was very emotional.  But as we took each step, things began to feel a little more normal, as we were moving from a state of bereavement back to a regular life.  As we came around the corner, we approached Shoshana, an orthodox Jewish woman who lives in my parents’ building.  Even though she was wearing an ugly skirt, I said to myself, "She has a really nice ass."  I guess I was feeling a little bit more normal.  The wind blew.  I’d like to think that it was my father, agreeing with me about Shoshana’s ass.


  1. kris

    This is beautiful evidence of the fact that his influence and presence will be with you forever. Even when you’re checking out (what I pictured to be) an older woman’s ass.

  2. Bama Girl

    I’ve been out of it for a while now, so I just read your blog. I’m so sorry to hear about your father. It must be amazing to see what he meant to so many people. I know you are thinking about all he meant to you. I pray that you will have peace and happy memories as comfort. I’m glad you are coming out of the shock and into some forms of normalcy. I’m sure your father is with you in all your fun and funny moments.

  3. Megarita

    Ahhh the sweet breeze of normalcy. It’s been fascinating to read about sitting shiva from someone going through it. I’ve only been to bits and pieces of other people’s. I think it’s a beautiful tradition, and the walk may even be the best part because it’s about you and your family instead of everyone else. Good luck with future walks, Neil.

  4. Pearl

    As I said to you in an offline note, “Your father’s neshama (soul) should have an aliya (rising up).” I guess he did get “swept up” with the wind.

    Always carry a little bit of your father in your pants pocket and a big chunk of him in your heart.

    I wish you and your family all the best…

  5. MA

    You have this way of turning a very emotional post into one that has made me laugh very loudly this morning. Thank goodness everyone else is at a meeting. Then I would have to explain. I think that you did walk with your father and that he was helping to usher you into ‘normal’ life again. Whatever normal means–right?

  6. Modigli

    Neil, you are the best! I love this blend of emotional, reflective, sensitive, and downright crass and funny all in one post! Things are certainly returning to your version of normal. I think you’re getting your mojo back! 😉

    I don’t know anything about Jewish traditions, so for me, it’s been really interesting and beautiful to learn about all the things you do during the death of a loved one. The ceremonies are all quite beautiful and meaningful. It makes me wish I was Jewish!

    And I agree – just remembering someone in the glowingest of terms makes them bland. It’s all the quirks that makes a person an individual, and makes you love them even more. It’s good to be able to laugh when you remember him.

    I keep wondering what your mom will be doing now that she is without your dad. Will she stay in the apt. alone? I’m sure she had a TON of friends there who won’t let her be lonely. But I’ve also wondered if she’d like to be closer to her ass-coveting son in LA.! Hmm?

  7. TinaPoPo

    Hi Neil, From one shivah-sitter to another, my deepest condolences. Your post was both heartfelt and humorous.

  8. Danny

    It was very moving being able to get a glimpse of your dad’s shiva through your blog. And quite heartening to see a little bit of normalcy creep back in such a classic “Citizen of the Month” way. Interesting that Kris assumed that Shoshana was older when all you said was “orthodox Jewish woman.” Does she realize how many hot young ultra-orthodox babes one can see on La Brea every Shabbat?

    When do you and Sophia return to California?

  9. jamy

    Again, thank you for sharing this story. It’s good to hear that things are getting back to normal. Sitting shiva is a great tradition and your stories make it clear why it’s so important to take the time to reflect about people we’ve just lost. Take care.

  10. amanda

    neil, i am so glad to see your personality coming through in your writing about this obviously difficult time. i think those things you termed as bad about your dad were aspects of his personality. and they make him who he was, as you point out. i am glad you seem to be doing okay. it’s hard to know what to say. but i am really enjoying your work and hearing your take on all this. best wishes.

  11. Asparagirl

    Neil, I just checked in on this blog after being busy with work for a few days. I’m so sorry about your father. Your ability to find humor even in these tough times is really an inspiration. Hang in there.

  12. JJ

    You know how saddened we all were about the loss of your father, and I really enjoyed learning more about Shiva, but I’m going to stick my neck out and ask the question everyone has been waiting to ask: now that you’re done sitting Shiva, can we start making fun of you again?

  13. Neil

    JJ — Please.

  14. boxen

    : )

  15. anne arkham

    Your recent comments plugin is showing an equal mix of sympathy on your shiva posts,and profanity-laced rants on, like, Too Skinny. Thngs must be getting back to normal.

  16. ms. sizzle

    If you can notice a nice ass, things are indeed on their way back…and your Dad will be there with you, always in spirit.

  17. Bill

    For obvious reasons there has been a more sober tone in this blog recently and so I hope I don’t embark on a tangent that might be considered inappropriate but …

    I couldn’t help but notice the “nice ass” phrase. It set me off an a series of associations and questions that simply would not be stopped or resolved!

    On my blogs, one of the search terms that keeps showing up is “best ass in Hollywood.” They find me because some years back I wrote a brief post with an even briefer mention regarding Helen Hunt’s behind.

    I don’t know why, but for some reason at that time I thought Helen Hunt had a great ass. And you know something, she probably did … and does!

    Anyway … what is it about bums that are so appealing? Let’s be honest. Other than shit, bums don’t do a heck of lot. Yet we find them so appealing!

    And why is a phrase like “great ass” not nearly as enticing or funny as “big bum”? When I was a kid I laughed myself sick whenever someone said “bum.” And if they said “big bum?” Well, forget it! I was useless for days!

    What’s the story with bums? Neil, if you feel you’re up for it, I think this is an issue worthy of investigation. Why is the human beast, male and female, so taken by the rump? Apple tight or jello jiggly, we are enamoured by the bottom. Why, why, why???

  18. sunshine

    What a beautiful reflection. You’ve really captured the surreal quality of those strange, funny, weird and sad first few days after losing a loved one. I was really moved by your words.

    The wind does have a way of suggesting things and raising questions. I remember the night my mother died, I was lying in bed for a quick nap at one point (she had cancer and my sister and I were working in shifts to look after her). I remember the window was open and the curtains were floating just over my head. As I passed out from exhaustion, I had an intense feeling that my mom’s spirit was leaving her body and washing over me — it was the feeling of the breeze on my skin. I really believed that at the moment. I still wonder about it all these years later.

    Anyway, I’m glad some semblance of normalcy is coming back into your life. You’ve been through a lot. Please know that you’re still in a lot of our thoughts and prayers out here in the blogging community.

  19. Introspectre

    Kisses, Neil.

    The wind has many things to say, as does your father.

  20. Miriam

    Neil: We sat shiva for my mother a number of years ago, but I don’t remember walking around the block. I remember how long it went on…and the people who came who had known my mother all her life and told us funny stories about her. That actually made me feel better, although for a while I thought I could not bear a world without her in it.
    The cards and letters made us feel better, too. Not that you’re not sad, but it seems that each person that comes or writes takes away a few drops of your sorrow. I’m not putting this very well.

    For a long time, I felt utterly bereft and lost. I found that by saying the Sh’ma every night, I could bear it a little bit better.

    Now, when I think of her, I am accepting of her loss. She had her faults, but was a great, courageous woman. It made me feel better that so many people whose lives she had affected wrote and called.

  21. sunnystate

    I know you are busy in Albuquerque right now but…. I just read a NYT review of Joan Didion’s new memoir, “A Year of Magical Thinking,” about the year her husband and daughter passed away suddenly. It’s very provocative and moving. If you’re interested, here’s the link:

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