It is the orthodox custom to recite Kaddish, the prayer said by mourners on behalf of the departed, for eleven months following the death of a parent. Why eleven months? The belief is that the departed sits under Divine judgement for a year. The full year is the amount needed to judge a wicked person, and since our parents are certainly not wicked, we only say kaddish for eleven months minus one day. In the case of a son, one is obligated to recite the kaddish for 30 days only, but for me, I needed the whole eleven months. If, in the custom, the son brings merit to the father by reciting Kaddish, in this topsy-turvy world, this father brings merit to the son. So for the first several months I made it to shul every day to say it. As the time wore on, it became more and more difficult to be there. The realization of why I was there and for whom I was reciting began to truly sink in, so I stopped going every morning. I still said it during the weekend Shabbat services and whenever I was in shul with a minyan, and contrary to custom and Jewish law, sometimes I just recited it by myself.
Eleven months. The time has at once oozed by and rocketed by. Just like the 24 years of Jake’s life. Gone in the blink of an eye. Time is such a relative, subjective, plastic, thing. At once long and short. How the days grind by so slowly, and yet, nearly a year of those grinding days is past. It is these milestones of time, the ticks on a calendar that prompt stock-taking, examining how far or how little we have come, never mind how far we still have to go. That eleven months is up tonight, and I have been in an emotional daze since Friday, the last Shabbat of the eleven months. After tonight, I won’t say Kaddish any more save for on the anniversary of Jake’s death and during the Yizkor memorial service, said a few times a year. So how far have we come? Not very.
Everyone who grieves has a different timeline and a different way of traveling this lost highway. I follow several blogs of fellow travelers, and each has a unique way of seeing and experiencing their journey. For me, there is still that aura of disbelief that it is all happening. Even after all this time. I know that Jake will never show up on my doorstep again, but emotionally, I just can’t believe it. Acceptance? Well, not really. I will never accept that this had to happen, at least that is where I am now. Perhaps in another eleven months or eleven years that will change, but deep down, I don’t think anyone who experiences this magnitude of loss ever truly ‘accepts’ it. We just learn how to deal with it. I guess that is the true goal of the grief process, a full and final acceptance of the situation, and the discovery of how to move forward with one’s life.
And we are moving forward. Baby steps. I am teaching and writing. Other than my two blogs, I just got accepted as a freelance writer for a popular website, and have contributed on occasion, to a prestigious political publication. I recently had a promising job interview for something I could do and would be good at. I have been unemployed for two years, so the possibility of income is very attractive. However, these two years ‘off’ has been a double-edged sword. On one hand, I haven’t had to ‘suck it up’ and get back to work. I have been free to break down and rebuild myself day by day. I was so distracted during those first horrible months, I can’t imagine having to be organized and productive. On the other hand, I didn’t have the necessity of having to suck it up and get back to work. The luxury of immersing myself in something to take my mind off the despair. As if.
Returning from the gathering tonight, a gathering with our very best friends from our community, I had a chance to reflect on where we are and where we are going. We toasted to Jake, ate some of his favorite goodies, cried a bit and laughed a bit. But nothing really changes. It is still so surreal. He is still gone. No longer here with us. Nothing will change that. This isn’t some movie where a shift in the time-space continuum on page nineteen effects a cosmic reunion. We can’t blink three times and go back to December 27, 2013, the day ‘before’. No DeLorean Time Machine. No ruby slippers; that isn’t in the script. So what is next?
Living our lives as best we can. Learning to walk on one leg, to see with one eye, to live with half a heart. And we do it. Tonight someone said something about what Jake would want us to do. How I had to be strong and carry on. Well, I will carry on, but strong? I don’t know. For me, it takes great strength simply to get out of bed each day. To put on my big boy pants and face the world. How does anyone know what Jake would want us to do? It is so easy to mouth such platitudes, as if that is meant to bring comfort. Frankly, there is no comfort to be had. Every day is filled with longing. The mask fits better and better as time goes by, but behind the façade, there is still emptiness and pain and bewilderment and sorrow and …
I follow a blog called Grief and Gratitude. The latest post is about Mounting Loss. It is worth reading. Yes, the losses mount higher and higher every day. I have plenty of grief, and while my gratitude is difficult to realize, I am grateful for some of the things I have in my life. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, people who love me. I have my health, mostly, and do find some satisfaction in the work I do. But that deeper “gratitude” still eludes me. That unquestioning gratefulness for just being alive in this world. It is a beautiful world on some levels. But for me, that beauty is tempered with such sadness as to make it unrecognizable at times. Not all the times, but when that Grief Bandit jumps out of the rocks and attacks, everything goes all dark and grey. It happens less and less as time goes by, thankfully, but when it does strike, it is no less powerful.
So we mark the eleventh month. On the 14th of December we will have the unveiling of Jake’s headstone which marks another ‘milestone’ on grief’s journey. People will come and gather at his grave. We will say another Kaddish. We will cry together and perhaps share a story that will make us laugh together. And another eleven months will pass, and another, and another. But there will never be a new ‘normal’. Life from now on will never be normal. We will just have to learn to deal with this horrible abnormality, as one learns to live with one arm, or a missing lung. But we are human, we’ll deal with it. Maybe not so elegantly as some, maybe not as graciously as some, but we will deal with it. What other choice do we have?