Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mayim and Mourning- Sharing an experience

If you are a regular Kveller reader you may have noticed that Mayim Baylik's father passed away recently.  Maybe you read it on People or some other site.  I haven't written too much about the Jewish laws of mourning here on the site. Certainly I've mentioned my mom, and if I'm honest, I have a sad and scared post about Mother's Day that I haven't posted.

Nothing in life prepares you for mourning the loss of a parent. The idea that the person who gave you life is no longer in the world is incomprehensible. It is an existential divide between the “regular” world and the one occupied by mourners.
Becoming a mourner and living without a mother is an uncharted emotional territory.

For me this is a bit of my happy place- a space that lets me just be okay.  Sometimes, even though this is an anonymous blog in a lot of ways, it's also a very public place. People who know me and love me read this, and sometimes my thoughts make them worried.

But Mayims post about saying kaddish for her father really moved me.  For those of you who don't know Kaddish is the prayer a mourner says for a specific period of time to note the passing of a loved one.  Jewish law states a certain relationship of person you are allowed to mourn for.  That sounds harsher than it is, but with this I've honestly found it helpful.  I say 'allowed' because Judaism believes that your relationship to the person is deeply important.  We mourn deeply for mothers, fathers, spouses, sisters, brothers, and children.  It acknowledges the deep and profound connection we have with these individuals- those who have been in our lives for almost all of it.  That special relationship.  Anyone can sit shiva, but technically, only those who fit in these categories are required to sit shiva.  Neither myself nor Judaism is saying that we don't mourn other people who die in our lives.

But back to Mayim and saying the Kaddish....

We didn't sit a traditional shiva for my mom.  I'm saddend and disappointed by this decision, which was dicated more by my father and practicalities of work, etc, rather than for our need to mourn.  Judaism gives us these clear guidelines, and if you embrace them, I believe they will help you through.  Even now I wish that I had spent more time living and feeling that deep depression that comes when you loose a parent.

Kaddish is the daily prayer you say to acknowledge your mourning.  In an odd way it's not a sad prayer about loss, but rather an affirming prayer about your believe in G-d. 

Exalted and hallowed be G-d's great name
in the world which G-d created, according to plan.
May G-d's majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime
and the life of all Israel -- speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen.

Blessed be G-d's great name to all eternity.
Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded
be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing,
praise, and comfort. To which we say Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel,
to which we say Amen.

May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel.
To which we say Amen
It's said every day for the first 30 days for anyone who is required to sit Shiva, then for eleven months in the case of parents.  It's said for eleven months because it's believed that you can honor your parent and help raise them up in the eyes of G-d for this time after death.  It's thought that G-d sits in judgement for a year over the wicked, and that by saying the Kaddish for eleven months we acknowledge that our parents couldn't be wicked.
Once a parent dies, you enter into a new realm of mourning and loss. Just as the mourner assumes a central position within the prayer community, Kaddish assumes center stage for the mourner. It provides a meaningful, repetitive and concrete activity that focuses the mourner on his or her loss, providing an anchor that grounds the mourning process. 

This is sort of what Mayim was saying. That saying Kaddish represents a moment in time that can be a focus for a mourner.  Having a moment to remember, be sad, feel grief, and be enveloped by those feelings.  It's hard to move forward in life, and sometimes you feel like you are being untrue to the death of a loved one by moving forward.  And it's overwhelming.  Then you get thrown under the waves of grief- saying Kaddish can allow you to sit in the waves for a moment, and just be okay with the loss and the sadness and the movement of the words can become like a foothold to moving forward.
I admire her going into an Orthodox temple to say Kaddish.  I've found it to uncomfortable, since this same community believes that I don't 'count' when I say Kaddish anyways...

Someone once told me that there would come a day when I would pick up the phone having forgotten that my mother wasn't going to pick it up when I called her.  And Kaddish helps make sure that doesn't happen.  It gives a moment for me, for all of us mourners, to learn to live with them, without them.

 Me, and my children. My sister and her children, we are the living embodiment of my mother in the world.  And I can only hope that we are doing her justice by carrying on, living her values and teaching them her legacy in this world.

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