Connecting the Dots & Trying to See the Picture

When my father was finally admitted into hospice, I called my then Rabbi and stood outside my classroom, cord stretched through the almost but not quite closed door.  I didn’t know what to do but I did know that this was a call that I was supposed to make.  Hearing my stilted speech, she quickly figured out what was happening and said, “One thing we Jews do well is death.”  I don’t remember much else from that conversation, but I remember that calm, measured sentence and I remember feeling that this was a safety net I could step into without question.  While my reaction is definitely credited to the gentle, firm comfort from my Rabbi, I also know that she was right.  Jews do know how to do death extremely well.  

In Judaism, there is a lot of ritual surrounding the minutes, hours, days and weeks following a death.  There are prayers to be said, acts to be carried out; the mechanics of mourning are firmly written in stone, allowing the bereaved to focus on their grief.  When a parent dies, there is a daily prayer, the kaddish, that adult children recite, every day, surrounded by at least nine other adult Jews.  In the days, weeks and months following my father’s death, I welcomed the sacred time every day when I could mourn, when I could gather with other mourners and say the kaddish.  And then it stopped.

At exactly eleven months from his death (according to the Jewish, lunar, calendar), I stopped the daily ritual of kaddish.  This, too, was part of the process. It was important to have one month in the year when the mourner reentered the “normal” world and stopped mourning.  It was intended to be a clear demarcation and for me it was a stark moment.  What should have felt like an arbitrary and manufactured cessation to grief, was perfectly timed; I was ready.  I needed to be free of the daily obligation of kaddish to allow space for life to fill in, settling into the small spaces that I was holding from my father’s death. 

Today is March 11th.  It has been one year since the pandemic was officially declared.  Every day after today will be an anniversary.  The end of sports.  The end of school.  The end of (fill in the blank).  For some of us, we will mark anniversaries of death, hospitalization, recovery and more.  The personal moments will be reflected in the shared humanity that comes with a global pandemic.  So much shared pain.  So much shared grief.  (Just like mourners gathering together to say kaddish, there is connection in shared grief.) I worry that the waves of reminders will begin and never stop.  Wave after wave of sadness and loss revisiting us, knocking us down just when we thought we had found our footing.  I wish that we could have found a way to stop, just stop, after eleven months. 

I don’t know what the connection is to saying kaddish for my father and circling around the calendar back to this date, but I do know that there is one. As we inched closer and closer to today, I couldn’t shake the sense that this year didn’t get to have a month of normal, didn’t have a time without mourning. We’ve moved through so much loss, it is amazing we are not completely empty.


8 thoughts on “Connecting the Dots & Trying to See the Picture

  1. I write this over and over – You have a wonderful way with words. The connections that you make to events in your life are amazing. They certainly put things into perspective (even for the reader:). THANK YOU for sharing.

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  2. “There are prayers to be said, acts to be carried out; the mechanics of mourning are firmly written in stone, allowing the bereaved to focus on their grief.” Not only is this beautifully written, I also find it so interesting to learn about the religious and cultural traditions that shape the experiences of others. The imagery of waves of reminders will have me thinking of this piece for days.

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  3. An amazing piece. You’ve brought to life the importance of a ritual for dealing with grief. I think I have recognized the grief for other people during this year, but I don’t think I have fully grasped the loss of friendships, extended family relationships, and the changes in working condiditions. It will take a lot of time time to unwind these losses as we were pushed so hard to move forward and try to keep things normal. There is not time to grieve.

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  4. This is a post I will think about for a long time–how can we invite in the rituals of mourning so we can help ourselves be ready to move on? Maybe the problem is that we’re still in the denial stage of grief? We haven’t given ourselves over to the rituals of saying goodbye to our past, but keep hoping that our past is coming back… just around the corner. …so much to think about. I love, love your last paragraph. And the one before it, too. I love the thoughtfulness you bring to marking the anniversary of the pandemic.

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  5. Wow. Because this ‘end of the year’ picture is so huge, I believe that it will take a while to see the BIG picture to understand (if it is possible) and connect our own dots for 2020. Like a ball of yarn , you are in this ball always searching to help your students, friends, family as well as those you meet in difficult and different situations. Just know that you have done and still are doing a fabulous job getting through this ‘big ball’ of intertwined connections. I, as your mom, am totally proud of what you have accomplished. Time to sit back and just gloat a bit over the positives. Xxxooo mom

    Sent from my iPhone


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