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)