Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Saying Kaddish

Prayer of remembrance
London, ON
July 2010
[Click here for more Letters & Numbers]

If you're Jewish, it's only a matter of time before you say this prayer. It's called Kaddish, and while I can write volumes on what these few paragraphs of ancient Hebrew are saying and why these words are significant, the Cole's Notes version is this: Immediate relatives of folks who've died say Kaddish for about 11 months to honor their memory.

I said this prayer until this past August, and every time through represented a difficult journey. It forces you to reflect on why you're there, what you've lost, and how you move ahead regardless. When you're saying it in the company of other mourners, standing apart from everyone else as a way of almost physically confirming your loss, the staccato rhythm almost drills its way into your head, just as it's done for thousands of years.

Now that I'm past this stage of mourning, I still catch myself as I listen to others who have suffered loss say it. It's just as difficult to hear their voices as it was to hear mine.

I spoke about this in synagogue on Friday night, just as the Jewish Day of Atonement (also known as Yom Kippur) got underway. I'm used to speaking in quiet television studios, where my only companion is a camera, a floor producer and a red light. Sure, there are countless people out there watching, but I can't see them so it's easy to ignore the numbers and just focus on the topic at hand. Standing in front of a crowd, however - my first time ever up there - definitely raises my blood pressure.

So I talked not from cue cards or a script - can't do the reading-in-public thing - but from thoughts I'd been percolating for the last year, thoughts that danced around my head as I recited this very prayer. I'm still not the world's most religiously focused individual. I'd rather be sleeping in instead of stumbling through services and trying to keep up with everyone around me. But the repetitive ritual of dragging myself into services and sharing these moments with some very kind, caring and supportive members of my community taught me that it isn't always just about the words on a page. It's about the connections you make while you're reading them.

I guess that's another lesson of mourning that I've learned this past year. Of course, it's a lesson I wish I never had to learn, but life clearly has other plans for us all.

Your turn: How do folks around you - friends, family, community, whoever - help you when times get tough?


Kalei's Best Friend said...

9 years ago I became a widow... and this may sound trite- but 'I never thought I would be one'... My oldest said the word 'widow'... anyway- she also said something smart which I didn't know... 'death either brings a family together or separates it'.. In our case- it divided it.. Guess my inlaws and my own parents didn't know how to deal w/it.. They glossed over it, if u know what i mean.. I found that friends took the place of family...i got close w/friends who were widows... In those 9 years, I lost a brother who was killed (dep. sheriff), grandma, a few friends to cancer... I also found journaling helps as well as some themed blogging exercises...Being able to call friends whenever I needed to talk also they would do the same... Guess misery does love company? I've learned and grown up in 9 years...Commonality and heart are the glue to keeping one's 'sanity'.

Everyday Goddess said...

The Kaddish prayer is new to me, but I can feel the beauty it holds, thanks for enlightening me.

I'm lucky, my family has been very supportive of me when times have been hard, mostly by listening. We are close.

Maybe these rituals provide the way for the feelings to come out? Very helpful I think.

lissa said...

For me, it was Yizkhor services. The first time I ever attended was the first year we were members of a shul (right after Josh's bar mitzvah). My mom was already gone 5 years but this was my first Yizkhor service ever, my first High Holidays in synagogue ever, too. And to this day, it brings emotions I cannot (or want to) control. It's a heavy day, but it's cleansing too. And there's a sense of not being alone, in that huge sanctuary with so many people mourning for the first time, or the 30th time...but everyone feeling the same depth of emotion.

The connections you felt - that's how I've felt, being a member of a synagogue and going through the same rituals you know all too well by now.

Hugs, Carmi!!!

Ginny Hartzler said...

Carmi, I am so glad that you talked about Kaddish today! I have heard there are about three other kinds of Kaddish besides the mourners one. I have been looking this up, and am going to read it. It is so important to remember. Though we are not Jewish, we have been to Synagogue, and I did an really inspiring blog for the Night Of Broken Glass. Recently, our church had a passover meal where we tried to re-create it exactly, and then gave the exact meanings for all the parts of it. It was so powerful, Carmi!! I wish our church would do it on a regular basis. I also wish so much that I could have heard you talk about this! Do you have a video of it?

Chanel said...

When I was in seventh grade I asked my teacher a question. "The Bible says the world was created in 7 days, and that on the 6th day God created people. But dinosaurs lived and died millions of years before man. Is the Bible wrong?" And my teacher said, "The Bible isn't wrong. Time is conceptual. What we perceive as millions of years feels like a week to Him." I decided my teacher was a moron, and science won hands down. So I lost my faith in religion and turned to science. But...as logical as I like to be, sometimes I get scared and I fall back on my childhood habit. I pray when I'm worried or scared or really sad.

When I was seventeen I had a boyfriend with a little brother who suffered Cystic Fibrosis. He was eleven years old then, and he had no idea that he was going to die young. The doctors and his parents thought it was best to never tell him. I think maybe he knew. Anyway, that family pretty much took me in. I wasn't very close with my own family because they were mean to me, and so his family kind of took their place. I became very close to all of them, and while I've never liked children, I was especially fond of his sick brother. Maybe because he was so calm and mature for his age, maybe because he was just a gentle kid. He became really sick right after the two of us left for college and broke up. His parents called us both to say our goodbyes, and it broke my heart to see him. He was broken and in pain, and there was nothing we could do. I was raised Southern Baptist, so I didn't have a special prayer to say. I just hit my knees and begged to make his passing easy. What else could I ask for? His liver and kidneys were shot, and there was no miracle that could save him. A transplant would have only bought him time, but it would not have saved him. Nothing could.

For weeks after that, my ex-boyfriend and I met up and went to services together, trying to move past the death and comfort each other. It helped me just to talk about it to someone, even though I wasn't religious, but my ex just started to withdraw. He started drinking and eventually just cut his friends and family off. Nobody heard from him or could find him for a couple of months until one day he just showed up at my dorm and apologized, and we were best friends again.

I guess people grieve in different ways. I still think about his brother almost every day, and sometimes he'll call me and say, "Hey, I watched that video when he put on your boots and imitated you to your face," and we both laugh and then cry. I think grieving is never easy, and sometimes you need to do it alone, but I think that it's always best to surround yourself with loved ones after a loss. Do whatever it is that makes you feel better. My friends used to tell me it was really hypocritical to pray when I'm scared or sad or worried because I really don't believe. But I think that as long as it helps, and it isn't hurting anyone, then you should do it.

Ginny Hartzler said...

Carmi, If you are interested in the short post I did last year about my Kristallnacht experience at Temple, here is a link for you to my post.

Anonymous said...

These words of yours brought tears of remembrance... for me, it is all too soon that yahrzeit.

And today, I struggle for breath- for words- as we wait for word on my husband's father who is in critical care.

Thanks for writing this, for posting it today.

tiff said...

"it isn't always just about the words on a page. It's about the connections you make while you're reading them."

And that is, pretty much, what we're all looking for. I hope your connections bring your strength and peace!

carmilevy said...

KBF: Thank you for sharing your experience. As I watch my mom get used to life alone, I re-read your words and realize they hold so much value for someone like her. I'll be sharing this entry with her.

carmilevy said...

Everyday Goddess: I've found great comfort in the rituals of mourning. I'm not overtly religious by any means, but there's something to be said for having a flexible framework of milestones to work through. I didn't feel as lost as I might otherwise have.

carmilevy said...

Lissa: Thank you for this. The powerful imagery of these shared experiences has brought me so much structure over the last year. I know I'm not alone, and some days that's all I need to know.

torontopearl said...

Carmi, I sent you an email today at telus.net about Kaddish. Not sure if you received it or not.
Very moving post.

Jacob said...

that was a great post.

I remember way when my grandmother died, right on my birthday, and it made me feel like life was very unfair. The next few days I don't remember much, just that I was short-tempered and that I cursed a considerable amount because I figured God wasn't paying attention to me anyway. I was in denial.

Then about two days after my birthday, I got a letter in the mail. From my late grandmother. I sat down heavily at the kitchen table and read it. I don't think it said much, just that she loved me and such; it was your basic birthday card. But I've always thought about the white space in the card. She knew she was dying, but yet she still wrote a card to me. The words sounded very heavy to me the first time I read them at the kitchen table, like my grandmother wanted to let me know that she loved me.

I went to the Yizkhor service these past High Holydays, and it helped me keep me in touch with my emotions. It's both relieveing and saddening to recite Kaddish and light the Yarzheit candles, but it's necessary if I want to continue to be able to accept life and death.