A day from now, Jews all over the world will gather to pray Yizkor, our most momentous memorial ritual for the dead. One source of Yizkor’s enduring power is the sheer number of people who stand together, in a room or a tent, united by remembrance of loved ones we have lost. Many of us experience a deep catharsis at this moment. No matter how complicated our relationships with our loved ones had been, no matter how many issues still remain unresolved, we feel a certain mystical clarity and purity when we revisit our loss in the presence of ten or a hundred or a thousand others who have lost. Look around the room. Everyone here remembers someone.
Yet even this is not so simple. I have a friend who took care of her father during the last phase of his life, which was marked with profound dementia. She told me, “For the last two years of his life, when I’d go to synagogue and everyone would get up to say Kaddish (a mourner’s prayer), I would want to stand up, too. But I didn’t. I thought I’d feel like a faker. Those other people, they had really lost a loved one, while I just felt like had. But the fact that my dad was biologically alive didn’t comfort me. What was I supposed to do? I felt guilty for wanting to remember him while he was still alive, as if that would signify a wish for his death. But with all this I couldn’t help but feeling like a mourner. There was no Jewish container for me to pour my grief into.”
She presents a challenge to our tradition and our clergy: where are those words to comfort the person experiencing ambiguous loss? Where is the synagogue where my friend can find a place to stand among others who grieve a grief with no official beginning point, and have her grief acknowledged by the rest of us?
Seivah’s mission is to create that kind of community. You can help. Tomorrow. Yom Kippur is the perfect time.
Do you have a friend who cares for someone with dementia or another degenerative condition? Ask them, “How are you? How’s your _______?” If you know the person well, risk a little more: “How does it feel saying such a long goodbye.” If you know their loved one, too, recount a fond memory: “I have this vivid picture in my mind of your ______…” Those simple words will assure your friend that they belong in the community of mourners.
May the memory of our loved ones, both living and dead, be a blessing for us.
יהי זכרם ברוך