Last month, our website Editor, George Alexander, was kind enough to place my eulogy for my mother in this space. That was very meaningful for me personally, and it allowed me to share my feelings with the congregation. I always have found that the most personal is the most universal, and that my experiences and feelings relate in different ways to different people.
So with your permission, I’d like to continue in this vein in this message, too. My eulogy reflected my feelings at the point when we were still shocked by my mother’s sudden death. I’m writing this on the Shloshim (Thirtieth Day of Mourning) for my mother, and during these thirty days I have been lucky enough to learn all over again how the Jewish process of mourning works, and why it works, to bring great comfort to those who are bereaved.
Let me explain. When one hears the news of a loved one’s death, one is in Aninut, a kind of limbo period when you are not under any religious obligations because you are busy making arrangements and plans for the funeral. One says the Mourner’s Kaddish for the first time at the grave during the burial. Then one is in Shiva, which means Seven, the first week, when one sits at home or goes to shul and is comforted by one’s family and friends and community. With Covid restrictions, this has been especially difficult in these last two years.
In my case, we did not have people come to our home, which we missed, but people certainly found wonderful ways to show their support. In fact, I was overwhelmed by all the food, cards, baskets, minyan participation, and donations both to our shul and to my parents’ synagogue in Bethesda, Maryland, where my father was the rabbi and where the Adult Institute is named for him. What I have found, in reading all the cards and seeing the lists of donations, is that I appreciate every single one of these things, every single one. I have not reached the emotional point where I can start to respond personally, but please accept this message as a thank you note to all the comfort that all these efforts brought me.
This may sound like a joke, but I knew my mother my whole life. At every point along the way, she was there for me. In my shock at her sudden death, I had a moment of feeling lost. I didn’t feel like I lost her; I felt like I was lost.
But it’s hard to stay lost when one belongs to a family that has pulled together better than ever, and it’s hard to stay lost when you are a part of a real community. You can’t stay lost when people find you where you are.
The Jewish Genius is to have these laws of mourning like Shiva and Shloshim and the Mourner’s Kaddish so that you stay connected and fight the isolation and loneliness that grief brings. The laws work. The customs do bring comfort. They really help.
To mark the Shloshim, the end of this stage of the mourning process, my extended family will have a Zoom Havdalah service on Saturday night. How lost can I be when we demonstrate our family-ness even though my mother will not be zooming in?
When we light the candle for Havdalah, I am sure that I will have a whole range of feelings. But one of the feelings certainly will be that of thanks for a religion that provides a structure of comfort and for people who truly care about each other.