Wednesday was Jake’s 2nd yahrtzeit, the anniversary of his passing in the Hebrew calendar. As I have written, the Jewish calendar is lunisolar and the dates drift around with respect to the Gregorian calendar we all use; the two dates rarely align on the same day. This year was no different, the Jewish date 25 Tevet coming a week later. As in all Jewish “holidays” it began on Tuesday night with the lighting of a 24-hour memorial candle. We keep a candle burning all the time for Jake, and another for T.’s sister who passed away a few months ago. So we had three candles burning on our window sill above the kitchen sink. It is also incumbent to say the Mourner’s Kaddish at each of the three daily prayer services, evening, morning, and afternoon. So it isn’t enough to have one supremely sad day each year to reflect on the passing of our beautiful boy, we now get to do that twice each year, and three times on that day.
We gathered at our little shul on Tuesday evening, along with a minyan of our friends, the people who have been there for us since the beginning of this hideous ordeal. There were fewer people than last year, and the group was somewhat subdued. Not exactly a celebration. Our rabbi spoke about the Sefirot, the attributes of the three Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Each one has a different aspect that represents his character: Abraham is Chesed – kindness, Isaac is Gevurah – strength or severity, and Jacob is Tiferet – beauty, the balance between strength and kindness in compassion. And that was our Jacob. Strong of purpose, immeasurably kind, compassionate to a fault, endowed with a beauty of spirit and balance. Afterwards, we sat and toasted to Jake, had a little something sweet to eat and cried together.
The next morning, Wednesday, we again met at shul for the morning prayer and then headed to the cemetery. I haven’t been there since the unveiling last year. We don’t go there to visit, to decorate, it is far too difficult to be there. However, it is a custom, nearly an obligation, to visit the gravesite at least on the day of the departed ones passing to read tehilim (psalms) and say kaddish. When we left for the cemetery, a light drizzle started to fall from the leaden grey sky. It had poured rain the night before, and rain was forecast for later that day.
Our little caravan arrived just after 8 AM. The drizzle abated, and we made our way through the soggy world to the little stone beside the fountain that marked his resting place. The rain had left the stone muddied, so we cleaned it off as best we could. We didn’t have the 10 men necessary for the minyan, so we couldn’t say another kaddish, but we read from the book of psalms. There is a special one, 119, that is made up of verses that correspond to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. We spelled out Jake’s name, Yakov Shmuel, reading each verse in order of the letters. A palpable sadness hung over our group, T and I clutched each other for support. As we read, the sky started to brighten, the clouds shifted and jostled against each other, and by the end of the reading, the sun broke through, flooding the cemetery with a pale cold light. As I stood there, enveloped in sadness, the memory of the worst day of my life came rushing back. The sea of people, the unadorned wood coffin, the unimaginable agony of watching them lower our son into the raw brown earth, throwing shovelfuls of dirt into the hole, hearing it crash against the wood. I can never forget that sound. Standing there screaming at the sky, wondering how this could have come to pass. Two years later, there are still no answers. There will never be answers.
We returned home, and I crawled into bed, unable to do anything. I woke around noon, thinking it was evening. I rattled around the house the rest of the day, out of sorts, feeling detached from the world, waiting for the afternoon and the last of the three services to say one more kaddish. Many of the same people came together for the Mincha service. I discharged my final obligation with tears in my eyes. A toast to Jake’s memory, and that was it. In a way it affected me more than the week before, that 28th I can never forget. Maybe sharing the day with people, being at the grave, the contradiction I now feel between the spoken prayers and my inner indifference, brought things into a sharper focus. I don’t know. I do know that I am now destined to repeat this for the rest of my life; reliving that dreadful day twice a year, every year.