Mourning in Judaism

Ostara and the Moon of Mourning

Thursday gratefuls: Kate canning. Kate and I drinking coffee and eating croissants at the Hotel Internationale in Rome. Kate on the steps of Chief Hosa lodge hugging Gabe and Ruth. Joe on his way. Rich Levine’s call. Renee’s meatloaf. Kep and Rigel. Seoah. Grieving and its wild power.

Sparks of Joy: Hawai’i. Family.

Kate at Running Aces, 2013

Been wondering about the purpose of grieving. It’s so wild, even violent. When I miss Kate hard, it sends my soul away, fills me instead with loss. Then, I return, cried out and tired. Not so much of this now, but it still lurks.

Kate’s death. How to be without her in my life physically? How to be in a changed family? Grief is a wrenching reorientation of self, a letting go of what was, a turning to face what is now.

Her Judaism was a huge blessing for me after her death. We became members of Congregation Beth Evergreen and I’ve been welcomed into the tribe in the most powerful way possible, through acceptance, not conversion. They have allowed me to mourn Kate in the Jewish way, watching her body until its cremation, holding a minyan for her memorial service and for shiva, and honoring my grief.

CBE continues to bring food, meatloaf and mashed potatoes and peas last night. Midwestern comfort food.  Alan Rubin has taken me out to breakfast and is taking Joe, Seoah, and me out to breakfast on Saturday. Marilyn and Irv had Seoah and I over for breakfast on Sunday. Food is love.

Rabbi Jamie has called me several times. Rich Levine, the lawyer who drew up our Colorado estate plan and is a friend, came to the hospital, to the memorial service, and called yesterday to talk me through those things that need to happen legally, how he can help. Members of CBE have sent cards and e-mails.

There are stages in the Jewish process of mourning. I’ve been through two of them. The first is aninut and occurs as soon as the death is known. I remember telling Rabbi Jamie that I was lost in the loss, my head spinning, disoriented, numb. I was me, but only because I remained in my body, the rest was in a tornado sweeping across and through my soul. This stage is over in a day or two, by burial or cremation in a usual situation.

Sitting shiva is the second stage and is the seven days after cremation or burial. The traditional way is to remain at home, not showering, covering the mirrors, and having a minyan each night so kaddish, the Jewish mourner’s prayer, can be said. People visit, bring food, sit with the bereaved.

At CBE the norm is to have a memorial service and one night of shiva with a minyan, ten members of the congregation. That was Sunday night.

The memorial service last Wednesday had a minyan, too. That was a healing moment for me, a moment when grief went from an individual, isolated loss (though Ruth and Kate’s sisters were with me) to a communal, shared loss. That change altered my inner world, made it more spacious, gave me room to see Kate, dead and alive.

Since then, I’ve experienced fewer paroxysms of tears and loss. I’ve been able to turn more toward memories, recalling them, all of them, allowing our life lived together to be as present to me as her death. I have no goal.

The next stage is shloshim, a period of 30 days after burial or cremation in which the mourner says the kaddish prayer every day. Life begins to return to normal, but only begins. This is the stage I’m in right now and will be until just before I leave for Hawai’i.

After shloshim is the year anniversary, the yahrzeit. That ritual occurs during the kabbalah shabbat service closest to the date of her death, her yahrzeit. Synagogues have yahrzeit walls where the name and day of death, in both Gregorian and Jewish calendars, shows on a small plaque.

Next to the plaque is a light. In any one Jewish month all those whose yahrzeits fall in that month are lit. Kate’s yahrzeit falls on the 30th of Nisan.

Gotta go get my blood drawn for my quarterly PSA. Big fun.


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