Aunt Barbara and break-fast tradition


Four months ago our family suffered a tremendous blow with the passing of my wife’s aunt, Barbara Berdon, who died suddenly at 74. I wrote about the tragedy here.

Aunt Barbara was one of my favorites—warm, giving, family-centered. Even though she wasn’t, technically, my aunt, she felt like my aunt. That’s one of the perks of marrying into a big family with lots of huge-hearted people. As soon as the words “I do!” are uttered and  the glass breaks, you’re a part of it all.The lines vanish, the barriers crumble.

Anyhow, Barbara was family, and every Yom Kippur she would use her house to throw the all-time gangsta break-fast. That’s no exaggeration—the thing was Tupac-level gangsta awesome. We’re talking every imaginable genre of bagel; whitefish salad, lox, deviled eggs, pickles, herring, chopped liver, noodle kugel, peanut noodles, challah, three different types of cream cheese, olives, chocolate-coated sunflower seeds, a shitload of desserts. It was the best of the best of the best, and Barbara relied on a librarian-level system of notes and recipes and paperwork to make sure, come October, the break-fast would go off without a hitch. Which it always did.

I digress.

Today was Yom Kippur, and while we live in California, our emotions were in New York. Sharon and Allison, Barbara’s two daughters, committed themselves to throwing the break-fast just as their mother always had. So they entered her home, searched for the details, the platters, the hints, the tips, the keys. There were specific instructions, written down, almost as if Barbara were merely away on vacation, telling them what to do from afar. Don’t buy too many bagels. Put the whitefish in a certain bowl, the lox on a certain plate.


We made sure to check in via FaceTime, and it was almost as if nothing had changed. The food looked amazing, the relatives and friends quite happy. We talked with Allison and Sharon and Todd and Jordan and Isaiah and Billy—same people, same food. Just one enormous presence, forever missing.

And I thought for a long spell about this one. We all, inevitably, see important people die. And we all, inevitably, move past those deaths. That doesn’t mean we forget, or completely shed the pain. It’s simply how we humans survive. We mourn and cry and wail and hurt, and—eventually—we rise and walk and step forward. We come to realize that just because a person is gone doesn’t meant a legacy is gone, too. We come to see that the best way to honor a loved one is to, well, honor a loved one.

We tell stories.

We show videos.

We serve whitefish on a platter.

Just as Aunt Barbara would have.