On Friday night, as I drove a very sleepy Monkey home from a lovely Shabbat dinner at the house of new and wonderful friends, house which Monkey didn't really want to leave because, c'mon, it's not that late yet, what, 10?, but I don't want to-- yes, that great an evening, as I drove her home I realized I was dreading the yahrtzeit that was to start less than 24 hours later. That was a strange thing to realize because I, unlike JD, have never been apprehensive of the ritual that came with A's death. So if it wasn't the ritual, and it wasn't the decision to take Monkey along, and I was confident that wasn't it either since that came with a feeling of peace and relief, what was it? It took some time, but it came to me.
It wasn't the yahrtzeit itself that I was dreading, but what it stands for-- a transition. Transition from a mourner, from someone community recognizes as still dealing with a big loss to just a regular person. It's the withdrawal of my official sanction to grieve that I wasn't prepared for. What is the difference, I thought, between me today and me on Monday? I am still the same, and my child is still dead.
I fell asleep having found but not resolved the issue, and I woke up to more questions. Did you know, mama, Monkey asked me, that Friday was the last time Shira said kaddish in school for her father? No, I didn't. She cried when she did that last time. A grown up crying, funny. Not that funny, baby. We talked about that, remember? Sometimes things are so sad or so touching that they make grownups cry. We cried for A, remember? Do you cry silently or out loud? It depends on what is making me cry. Sometimes I am just sad, and tears pour down a little, and then it's silent. Sometimes, though, I am hurting a lot, and then it is loud. [Omitting further discussion of kinds of crying and how Monkey cries and when as not relevant to current discussion.]
Shira is one of Monkey's teachers. Way back in November she told us a story at the parent-teacher conference about saying kaddish and about Monkey choosing to participate one day. I didn't realize, though, until yesterday morning, that since the fall Monkey has been using the occasion as her place to think of A. I told her that we would go to the synagogue to say kaddish, and she asked me whether that would be the last time. I had not anticipated that question, and was a little taken aback. Do you want it to be? No. She is upset about Shira stopping their classroom ritual, the fact she confirmed again to JD and me this morning over a giant Belgian waffle she was working on at the breakfast place we went to after morning services the three of us attended to say kaddish.
Shira sent a wonderfully thoughtful email last night about the impact saying kaddish with the kids has had on her, and, it turns out, on the kids. Monkey is not the only one affected by this. One mom in the class accidentally hit reply all on her email this morning, and so we all got to read that her daughter was standing with Shira some days to say kaddish for her great-grandfather who died fifteen years ago. Another kid was thinking about his cat.
Today I see the wisdom of the Jewish year of mourning. After the morning services there is a little breakfast thing at the synagogue, and we were encouraged to and stayed for a bit. One of our neighbors at the table had apparently only been saying kaddish for a month or so, having lost her father recently. She relayed how people in her office are mystified over the eleven months of daily kaddish recitations. You say a prayer for the dead? No, she told them, in complete accordance with the teachings of the faith, it's for the living, the dead are never mentioned, and the prayer is all about life.
Jewish mourning is about the living. It's about giving them the space to grieve, about acknowledging the loss, but also about eventually creating a mechanism for returning to that elusive regularly-scheduled life. Saying kaddish is a mitzva, a good deed. This particular one is supposed to actually count towards the dead person's credit. Eleven months of daily kaddish are ostensibly to help your loved one's soul reach a better place. There is a medieval teaching that no soul spends more than a year in purgatory, but that since you wouldn't think that your parents were the sort of bastards who would need the full year, you say kaddish for eleven months.
By this same logic, parents of dead babies are clearly exempt from saying kaddish at all, because c'mon, how could that baby have racked up any purgatory time at all? But because mourning is for the living, deadbabyparents are exempt, but not prevented. (Mind you, this is all about my denomination, Conservative. Don't get me started on the Orthodox, or some Reform for that matter.) We could say it any time we wanted to, and we did, every time we came to synagogue this past year. I thought, originally, that I would stop after Yom Kippur, but I couldn't, and so I didn't. What we didn't do was come extra, go because we wanted to say kaddish. We didn't make it a ritual the way Shira did.
Shira talked to the kids on Friday about how she was emotional because the time has come to stop daily kaddish, but that it was another step for her in saying good bye to her father, although definitely not forgetting him. She is now looking forward to the month between now and yahrtzeit, to the yahrtzeit day itself when she has an imaginative and appropriate activity planned with the kids, an activity to celebrate her father's passion for education. She is ready.
And I am not. I am no different today than I was on Friday, than I will be, I imagine, when the end of January rolls around to close the conventional circle. I am afraid of being left to fend by myself, no longer within the sanctioned confines of the official period of mourning. I didn't know I took comfort in this protection until I was facing having to leave it behind. This pregnancy, too, longed for as it was, I dread what it will mean to some people around us, dread how many times I will have to explain.
I am not ready. The year of mourning has not done it's job for me. I wonder whether this is because I didn't follow the daily kaddish custom, but I am pretty sure that is not it either. I think it's just a different kind of animal we are dealing with here. Your parents are supposed to leave, eventually, when you are an adult. But we lit a yahrtzeit candle for our son last night. We said kaddish for our child. It just isn't the kind of thing you grow up thinking you will have to face. Not anymore. And so I am not ready for this change of status. And neither, it seems, is my daughter. I guess we will have to figure this out.