Friday, June 1, 2012

The First Year of Mourning

Yesterday marked the end of eleven months of mourning, traditionally the time to conclude the daily recitation of Kaddish.  Every day since the death and burial that altered the life of my family, my sons have recited that prayer in the presence of a congregation.

After repeating Kaddish like a second heart-beat for eleven months, I imagine not doing so must leave them with an eerie silence.  For the next month, we'll all be in a heightened state of awareness.  In a strange kind of count-down, we're each recounting what we were doing last year at this time when he was still with us, until the anniversary of his death, when he was not.

The Jewish mourning prayer of Kaddish glorifies the name of the ONE rather than that of the departed.    In the absence of the person who was once so physically here and then so unalterably disappeared,  trying to grasp the emptiness can feel as unstable as the ground beneath rupturing into a deep chasm. 

Acknowledging the Ultimate in a ritualized prayer can be an externalized way to maintain balance - not falling into the abyss because the communal safety net keeps one standing.  As the first year starts coming round, instead of continuing to observe the absence of the departed one in the world 'out there,' a shift begins.  Although longing may still exist - at times acutely so, being aware of the sacred Ultimate can offer an internal resting place for the one no longer in this world.

According to tradition, on the first 'Yahrzeit' or anniversary of the death, the Kaddish is recited once again and then on every anniversary thereafter, for as long as the mourners are alive.  The public recitation of the Kaddish glorifies the Eternal in outward expression.

As Kaddish magnifies the Divine, the months immersed in contemplation of the inevitability of death and transformation yield to an inward stability, even in a world of impermanence.  The sheltering heart can hold and sustain the Love that remains. 

As expressed in the beautiful and familiar words of the Song of Songs (8:6-7)  "Set me as a seal upon your heart...for Love is as strong as Death...Love is a "divine flame ...many waters can not quench Love, neither can floods drown it."  (Song of Songs, 8:6-7)


Monday, April 9, 2012


Passover - Easter - Eostre - the rebirth of Spring.  How naturally the season lends itself to the perception of rebirth and renewal.  In contrast, during the brittle days of winter, it's difficult to perceive any movement at all, the contraction can be so tight.

During this past winter of long dark nights, something was surely happening.  As morning came, I knew the work had been arduous, but didn't know what had been done.  During the day, pangs of longing arose like mist.  A phrase uttered from my mouth, "I miss him so much," had the power to undo me.  Even now, I don't know whether to use the past or present tense.  The two fuse together.  Past is present.

Memory continues to play episodes from my lost love and marriage.  From the first encounter on a bus to the final goodbye in a cath unit, the scenes surface randomly, like beads that had been scattered when the thread uniting us broke apart. 

Most of the dreams have been as faint as gossamer.  Night after night I submerged in the deep  underworld and  when I awoke, grasping, I came up with nothing at all.  Some mornings I felt caught in a web, as if I were being pulled back under.  I dream he is here.  What joy!  I remember he is gone.  What pain!  The slow process of adjustment is underway.
I've never used a rosary, but this winter it seemed my psyche was trying to present one for me. Assembled from memories and dreams, the pieces of my life somehow seek to be reordered, strung back onto one unified thread.  I've been moving forward in a kind of prayerful trance - touching and feeling my way from one bead of memory to another.

In December during the long nights following the winter solstice, our family celebrated his 69th birthday, the first one he was not alive to celebrate.  As a tribute for the occasion, our daughter bought a gardenia tree, in memory of planting a tree with him as a young child.  I planted it in front of our home and continued to water and watch it throughout the winter.

Then spring arrived and on the very first day of Passover, the first blossom opened -  fresh and exultant.  His palpable absence at the Seder table the night before was drawn within this most fragrant and tender token of Beauty, a perfect symbol of rebirth and hope. 

There's no need for me to resort to superstition or read more into the timing than what I've already suggested.  Love doesn't die, nor does Beauty.  Both are eternally interwoven, embedded in our world and deep within each of us.  As I personally transition from winter to spring, I take note of the beautiful renewal of nature around me and the voice within me that echoes in my dreams:  "Love Forever." 

Saturday, January 14, 2012


What essential qualities characterize you or me or those we love? As we each live out the uniqueness of our own individual nature, we eventually become representatives of those qualities, vivid living examples of how they manifest in form.

Recently I met with a group of my treasured women friends that have been gathering monthly for well over a decade. As agents of change for holistic wellness, we have each contributed our own particular skills and perspectives to each other and to those we serve. In the first step of the process of Beginning Anew, we took turns thoughtfully appreciating and articulating what each brought to the group.

In a poetic description, one described the group as a crown of jewels.
Another called it a Council of Mothers. In a moment of inspiration, one began to name each of us sitting on that Council with a defining quality: Mother Ritual, Mother Soul, Mother Clarity, Mother Compassion, Mother Qi, Mother Roots, Mother Ambassador, Mother Gentle, Mother Fertility, Mother Mother.

Although no one had thought to distill our essences in such a way before, it seemed perfectly fitting as soon as it had been done. We each contribute our own particular jewel within the collective crown of our gathered circle. Once we are gone, those that remember us carry the memory of our particular contribution to the whole.

Six months now since his passing, I continue to reflect on the defining qualities of my longtime husband and partner. As I recall his surefooted presence on this earth, one quality that stands out for me was his consistent confidence. Just as the structure of the word indicates, (con - with, fid - faith), he lived with faith, trusting in his perceptions and abilities and in the rightness of life as it unfolded before him.

He trusted that the beauty and intelligence of the universe provide an infinite source of perception and creativity. He perceived the subtleties of space, color and dimension and was attentive to the things that he could see and imagine, both real and yet to be realized. He trusted his mind and his hands that built, dug, painted, plastered, scraped, shaped, fixed & finessed countless things to transform material in creative ways.

As I reflect on how he lived his life - with eyes open, hands-on and an unwavering sense of inner guidance and intuition, I realize how much his quality of confidence has been a touchstone for me. But since confidence sometimes manifests as offensive arrogance, I take special note of the way his confidence was tempered by his humility. Yes, that was yet another remarkable quality he embodied: humility!

As with the word confidence, the origin of the word humility is telling, derived as it is from the Latin word "humus", the dark, decomposed, fertile earth. One who stays in touch with our transitory earthly nature - "from dust we come and to dust we shall return" - remains humble. He certainly was.

Humble confidence. Those essential qualities are part of his precious legacy to me and to our children. We were privileged to have experienced his living demonstration of them over several decades. Now, to honor his memory, I share them here with you. May his memory be a blessing and may we also be worthy to live with humble confidence.