As I wrote in my post about shloshim, the ritual of reciting Kaddish has been a learning experience for me, since I never went to synagogue daily and didn’t know a lot at all about what goes on in a synagogue except if it’s Shabbat or a holiday. For me, learning new things during grief feels like something that is happening in my father’s honor, despite the fact that he was not a religious man, and likely would not have thought I would say Kaddish for him for this long and perhaps might think it’s unnecessary.
In any event, I learned something else new this past weekend because of my status as a mourner. The Yizkor prayer was, in my mind, a prayer said on Yom Kippur when everyone cries and then leaves to go home after and take a nap. It’s actually recited three other times during the year. It is recited on Shemini Atzeret (the holiday adjacent to the end of Sukkot), the eighth day of Passover, and the second day of Shavuot.
Last weekend was Shavuot, and I attended my first Yizkor service as a mourner. I have been to this short service before, and I have cried for people I have loved who have passed, but the first Yizkor as a halachic (Jewish law) mourner was very powerful and very difficult. Yizkor involves a communal “El Malei Rahamim,” where we ask that our loved ones be peaceful in their eternal rest, and we also recite Psalm 23 which contains everyone’s favorite: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” You also have quiet time to think, pray, and just be among other sad people in a safe space.
I will spare you the details, since they are personal and I don’t think that everything I experience–or anything any of us experience–necessarily needs to be described in detail simply because we have a forum to do so. I try to be selective with what I share, in the hopes that it helps others because it is educational, rather than simply autobiographical.
What I will share is that a very kind woman came up to me in synagogue just before the Yizkor service (we were both in the hall near the bathrooms). She asked if I was OK. I didn’t know what she was referring to, although I tend to always sort of keep to myself and maybe she just expected me to be exuberant, since I have learned that a lot of people want their celebrities to be bubbly and perky even when they’re not on a talk show or on TV…
Anyway, I said, “I’m fine.”
She said I looked a little…well…and then she made a gesture indicating that I looked sad, weighed down.
I was startled. I sort of snapped at her, “My father died.”
She looked appropriately empathetic and said she was sorry, and I felt awkward and like maybe the earth should swallow me up rather than have to interact with people ever again, and I walked away.
I wasn’t cruel to her, but I do suppose I owe her an apology if I ever see her again for my curtness maybe. Maybe not.
I guess what I took away from this was that I hope people understand how hard grief is, but I fear not everyone does. I have been reading a lot of grief support literature, much of which is available online, thankfully. (I have found that most good psychological support is often reserved for people who can afford to pay for it, which I think should be a crime. Everyone should have access to mental health support!) What I have read indicates that there are many reactions to death, but some of the common ones are:
That’s me! Those describe me! Yay! It’s OK to be me!
I think the nice woman in synagogue on Shavuot who was simply looking to be nice may have gotten hit with a strong dose of me, don’t you agree?
Grief does not end with burial. It does not end with shloshim. It doesn’t end ever, I am told, it just shifts.
Right now, being right in the midst of it is hard on those around me–both on the people I know love me and people trying to just be nice.
We are all thrown on this planet together to sort of just figure it all out, aren’t we? In grief, it can feel like we are so far from comfort, but it’s still just one person away. I’m trying to remember that.