My mom died 25 years ago on the Nov 17.
The reason I know the date so well is that, if you are Jewish (I am), you go to temple on the closest friday night to that date for the rest of your life.
You go to temple to participate in a thing called a Jahrzeit. It is the remembrance of those that have died. I have been to one or two every year of my adult life and they never fail to move me.
The way it works is the Rabbi asks if there is anyone in the congregation who has a sick friend or family member that needs support this week. Those people are encouraged to stand and speak the name of the person who is sick. They remain standing.
After that, the Rabbi asks if there is anyone who has experienced the death of someone close to them in the past week. They too stand and speak the name.
Then, the Rabbi reads a list of everyone that has died in past years on this anniversary. This part is really something. Without fail almost all the names have someone to stand for them. And in an odd sense of community, I recognize most of them from our visits in years past.
I don’t know who they are but I share this remarkable bond with them just by sharing this moment over the years. I notice those who have grown old and now have to helped to stand but none-the-less still make the trip every year. And those that came alone before, but are now married. Or those whose spouses are no longer with them.
But, the thing that really moves me, every single time, is the next thing.
The Rabbi asks everyone to stand in order to show that no one of us is alone. That this grief we all feel is in common. In common, in the deepest way. In common, in a way that no one can take away from us. We are all going to die. All our mom’s are going to die. But somehow there is grave beauty in the knowing and in the remembering. And a strength that none of us has to go through that alone because we are all in this together.
This ritual forces everyone in that temple to spend at least part of this day remembering that one person who left them so long ago.
The funny thing is that now that my children are a little older, I find myself thinking of her more often.
Especially when I see my daughter stand her ground in an argument where she is right and she politely, but firmly won’t give in to the superior fire power of an adult or teacher. Whenever that happens I always think: my mom is still here. She hasn’t really gone away. My mom who went to Radcliffe back when their were still quotas for Jews. My mom who went to MIT business school when that was still unheard of for a woman and then had the audacity to start her own business. My mom who lives on in the polite, fearless strength of of my beautiful 8 year old daughter.
Cheers to my mom.