Monday, May 10, 2010

The First Year

I ran into a friend on the street Sunday afternoon. I had just been thinking about her, that I should send her a message for Mother’s Day, wishing her well and noting how hard it is the first year after a parent dies to experience such holidays. Her mother died only a short while ago. She had been walking with uncharacteristic fierceness, hiding behind large sunglasses (think Jackie O) and frowning. Our conversation changed her demeanor, as she lit up with wonder saying that she had just been thinking about her bad mood and realizing why she was feeling so blue. I also reminded her of how well she had cared for her mother. Smiles and good wishes followed; the sun came out and the wind temporarily died down. I kid you not, and the weather’s good timing had us riffing even more magical phenomena: rainbows and greenery and sparkles.
In Jewish tradition much emphasis is placed on the desire to do mitzvot or good deeds. In this instance the synchronicity was all but instantaneous, enough to make one believe in the Law of Attraction. I thought of the idea and the means of immediately enacting it appeared. Would that all opportunities for good deeds come rushing to meet us on our way.
Jewish tradition is wise to have mourners mark the first year after a passing, since it takes a cycle of special days – holidays of the Jewish and secular sort, seasons, birthdays, anniversaries and celebrations – to recast one’s life without the beloved but with memories of them. When my father passed away another friend, who had lost her mother even earlier, said to me that what I would miss most (as she did) was the conversations that I would not have with him. I think the same principle is in play here: the days we especially mark make us more acutely aware of the absences in our lives. We may carry people in our hearts, but they are no longer in our present and this is especially poignant at significant moments. At a baby ceremony earlier in the day I was reminded of this as well as, in keeping with Ashkenazik Jewish custom, the new arrival was named for departed family members who were remembered lovingly and with tears. There was tremendous joy too for this long-anticipated child and the future imagined for him.
For me Mother’s Day is a double whammy, since my father passed away on this Sunday twelve years ago. While the date is not his yahrzeit, the Jewish day on which I recite once again the mourner’s kaddish in commemoration of the anniversary of his passing, it is impossible to forget the connection. It was a sunnier Sunday and I was lucky enough to have a few friends who had come to the hospital to visit stay with me and my mother as we shifted into our new reality. How odd that a day devoted to one parent now forever reminds me of the sadness of losing my other parent and the power of community. Perhaps it is this experience more than the Jewish mourning tradition that makes me so sensitive to what my friend was experiencing.
There are many ways to close a posting like this, some sappier than others, but I think it is truer to its spirit to leave it, much the way absences of loved ones leave spaces to fill with spirit.
©2010 Leah Strigler


chayaruchama said...

An evocative and beautifully truthful post, dearest friend.

The duality of ritual and and community is very apparent for us Jews.

So much that is wise and of potential growth opportunity and comfort; and when misused or perverted, such a source of misery.

We share that discomfort about Mother's Day , for similar reasons...

I'm so grateful that you were able to be there for your friend.

No accident :-)

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