Sunday, January 20, 2008

Not yet

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.


slouching mom said...

It's the withdrawal of my official sanction to grieve that I wasn't prepared for.

That seems like it would be incredibly tough -- largely because it's so arbitrary.

Waiting Amy said...

Wishing you peace as you find your way on this new journey. I think Monkey will help lead the way.

Phantom Scribbler said...


Bon said...

the little i know of Jewish traditions of mourning through my SIL and family are really appealing to me...mostly because i'm drawn to ritual and my own, long-mostly-abandoned leftish Protestantism has few of them. but i know well what you mean about not being ready to leave that circle of sanction.

in many ways, though i realize that this is in no way a faith community, the company of bloggers has become a circle of sanction for me, giving me permission and identifying me when my real life did not.

i think of you these last days of January. you and Monkey and A.

Birdie said...

take all the time you need...I have to believe that this is with us for a lifetime. How can it not be? We will always miss and be sad for our little babies who are not here with us in life.


kate said...

Just wanted you to know i was thinking of you this weekend...and wishing you peace.

Lori said...

A year is not enough time. Will it ever be enough time? I don't know. I am in a very different place now, over four years later. But, in the ways of the heart, I still consider myself in mourning. I still miss them. I still feel their absence. There are still times I look around and wonder how they can't be here? Those moments become fewer, and the pain less sharp, but it is there. And a part of me, hopes it always will be.

Thinking of you, and remembering your dear son.

niobe said...

As you know, I never said kaddish and, in my denomination, I'm pretty sure it would be prohibited. I can only imagine how difficult the end of this official mourning period must be for you.

I'm sure that Lori and Birdie must be right: that some people never truly stop mourning for their children. And I'm also sure that some people arrive at the end of their mourning long before a year has passed.

christina(apronstrings) said...

there is no way that you or anyone could stop grieving for a child based on an arbitrary date.
i hope, hope, hope that your commmunity realizes that.

Tash said...

I love the idea behind this ritual, which is a community of grief with, like you said, focus on the living. However, you said it yourself: this is the *official* end. Nothing about unofficial, or real end. There is no end to this, sadly. And although your rites and community there may be gone, there is no reason for your grief to end if you don't wish it to. There is something to be said for creating new ritual and new communities as you move forward. A year is definitely not enough.

kalakly said...

I think it is so right on to have the grief focus on the living, the ones who are learning to live without a part of themselves. I guess I also get the year thing. I have always thought it's the offering of support as you mark all of the "firsts" you do without them. First holiday, first summer, fall, birthday, etc..after that I guess people figure, hey you made it through everything once, second time around should be cake, right?
But when it's a baby, a child, it's screwing with the natural order of things. A parent should never have to bury a child, should never have to live in a world without their baby. But we do. So it isn't the year that heals us, because it doesn't restore the natural order, it just makes it worse. Why should you suddenly feal healed having survived 366 days over 365??? I think when you lose a child, you get a lifetime of grief, no matter what.

wannabe mom said...

i hope that "official" doesn't mean that others will also officially forget that you will still be grieving for the next 80 years.

thinking of you on A's anniversary.

Aurelia said...

Part of grieving for a deadbaby mama is also what comes next, (another child?) and the kids who are already there.

So a death out of time, like A.'s, is harder, because there will be repercussions for a long long time.

And those repercussions fade over time. A long time. There is no limit.

The Town Criers said...

You know, I feel silly writing this, but I had never thought about that first yahrtzeit as this transition out of the year of mourning. I think this belief came from the death of a family member and feeling this lingering loss and sadness still hanging over the family years later. I never thought about how that first time was this transition--I think I just considered from the loss until forever as this ongoing mourning that got smaller and smaller and never went away.

Today is the day after the transition and I just wanted you to know how touched I was by this post and that I'm thinking about you on this first day.

charmedgirl said...

no matter what, it is impossible to know what to do (or what you will do) ahead of time. whatever comes this day, is what it is.

loribeth said...

Here from the Stirrup Queen's Friday roundup. I've always sort of envied Jewish people for their mourning customs -- but you're right, it must be jarring to realize, "OK, it's been a year, your time's up!" I'm almost 10 years down this road & I don't think you ever stop grieving. You just gradually learn to integrate it into your life (with flareups from time to time). Thinking of you.

Dianne/Flutter said...

I came from Mel's SQ&SPJ.

Thank you for this beautiful post. Yes, I imagine the sactioned allowance must give you a sense of peace. But, I think you still have a right to grieve, even if the time has expired with in the usual guidelines.

Your loss, as you stated, should never happen. The loss of a child, is not natural. It isn't something that can be neatly tied up.

Hoping you find permission in your own heart. Because, I think you still have much to grieve.

Ahuva Batya said...

I wish you peace, but also that you continue your own grieving without feeling that the end of your yartzeit prevents you from that which your soul needs. I believe that God mourns with you and strengthens you at all times.

Nearlydawn said...

What a beautiful post about a very personal and heartwrenching time.

I guess it is an age-old problem, how to move on. I have no background for your particular custom, but it sounds beautiful and meaningful.

After loosing several people over the past couple of years, including miscarriages, I am certain that you do not move on, even after the offical morning period stops. I don't imagine people think you really stop greiving alltogether. Their memories simply become part of you - part of your day-to-day - part of how you go on living.

I wish you ease in your transition.