There is something inherently tragic about our existence. It is called death – more specifically losing someone whom we love.
Nine months ago, my sisters and I lost our mother. She was 85. Our father died in 1989, at 61 years of age. Effectively, we were now orphans, albeit older orphans, but still orphans. It is clear that the younger generations now see us as the next ones, regardless of the fact that we may not want this, regardless of the fact that we still crave our youth.
Time heals. But with time comes more pain. Therein lies the emotional contradiction we all deal with. I cannot believe my mother has been gone for nine months. I cannot believe nine months have gone by so quickly.
Where is she? How is it this human being, this soul who walked the earth, spirited and embracing love, is simply gone? It does not make sense. Yet, in my lucid moments I understand.
I see people walking into shul for the very first time after the loss of a loved one. My heart breaks for them, knowing that the days, weeks and months ahead will be a time of suffering, when their eyes will overflow with tears over an egg salad sandwich – with no warning, no reason for a sudden flow of grief. I also know, in the case of my mother’s death, nine months has passed and the emotional rawness is mostly gone. I sit on the shul bench and feel as if I am a veteran mourner grasping what the newcomers can’t. And sure enough, weeks later, another family joins us and those who came to the minyan previously lend their shoulder to the new ones.
During the course of the year, we change rapidly. We change and so do our tasks.
At the end of the 11th month, I will no longer say kaddish. Tradition has it that it takes that period of time for the dead to rise up firmly into the gates of heaven. The 12th month will be a release, yet I think I will crave a return to the early days, the third month, the eighth month, the beginning days when I was safely a mourner and our loss was fresh.
I do not want to be alone in the world, without parents, an orphan. I do not want just the memories of my inner little boy. I continue to want the lessons of a father and a mother’s warning on a cold fall day.
Who will stand above me when my values are in contention and where will be the voices that know if I am edging too closely to an abyss at the bottom of a hill? Who will awaken earlier than I do and move about the house, making domestic noises, utensils clanging, screens opening, all this setting the tone for my bare feet to touch the wooden floors?
Who will sign the application form, on the line that states, “Parent,” and who will fill the seats reserved for them when we play the evergreen tree in a school play or when our child sings an Israeli folk song in Hebrew? Where will that lofty parental pride flow from when naches calls out for a parental response? And who will sit in the front row, flowery hat perched on her head, English grey vest almost closed around his rotundness, smiling elegantly that proprietary smile, at the announcement congratulating our successes?
Our loved ones will leave us, there is no doubt. And then will come our turn.