Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood

Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood
Celebrating Havdallah

Monday, February 11, 2013

Judaism gets it right: Reflections 30 days later

Judaism just get it's right: 3 days. 7 days. 30 days.  A year.  

It's been over thirty days now, since we buried my mother, and I really get it.  I've been saying it to others for years, but it wasn't until now that I really got it.  You need Judaism to help you mourn.  You need the community and the laws and the rules and the structure of time.  It's not that it's comforting.  No, there's nothing comforting about it.  It's that you have no other way to express what you're feeling and going through - so Judaism does it for you. It lifts the obligation of having to tell others how you are feeling when you've never felt more sad, or more alone, or more scared.  And it provides a community that knows all of this, that provides support and love and faith when you are unable to find those things.

It's been over thirty days and I'm just starting to understand what this new reality will be like for me - without my mother on the other end of the phone at the end of the day, without her telling me how to cook something I'm not sure how to cook, without her helping me work through ideas that I have.  But it's more than that.  It's realizing that she won't be there as my life continues to unfold - celebrating the victories that lie ahead, the rough times that challenge me, the joys and the surprises, the big moments and the ordinary moments.  It's been over thirty days and I'm just now starting to really realize what this all means.  Thank goodness I have a year to continue formally processing all of this, to continue honoring my mother's memory and figuring out how to live in this new reality.  Thank you Judaism. 

Everyone tells me I should be feeling a lot of emotions right now.  A lot of people tell me it's okay to be angry.  But I don't feel angry.  I feel gratitude. I feel thankfulness.  My family and I are so grateful for the outpouring of love and support we've received throughout this whole process.  My congregation in NY, our friends and family, our congregation in Indiana and everyone who has reached out to us - we are so overwhelmed by your generosity of spirit.  Thank you - each and every one of you.  We could not have done this without you. 

But my gratitude lies deeper than this.  It lies with my mother.  The greatest emotion I feel right now is gratitude for having a mother like mine.  She was a great teacher and she was patient and kind and wise and fun and smart.  She gave me so much, and for all of those lessons I will be forever grateful that she made me into the person that I am now.  As I wade in the sea of emotions that have taken over me and begin to really process all of this, I hope that I will never loose this sense of gratitude and kindness that I have been given and that I sense all around me.

Judaism marks time so brilliantly.  We mark our years (and reflect on them at various times), we mark our months, our days, our weeks, even our moments.  As I've come through these thirty days, I've realized the importance of time and of marking time.  I realized that it was 10 weeks from her diagnosis to her death.  That's not even three months.  I've realized that I think about how long it's been since I last saw her, since I last heard her voice, and since I last held her hand and kissed her cheek. I also think about how it's gotten lighter the more I come out of mourning.  The first few days were an exhausting blur.  The first seven days of mourning were painful and unbearable.  The first thirty days were a mixture of tears and sadness and catching my breath and trying to keep busy.  Now, things are a bit different.  I still have incredibly hard moments, but I feel more like me, again, than I have in a while.  I remember what it is to smile and to laugh and to enjoy time with friends and family and to be back at work and to be doing good and productive things. I remember that sparkle that I used to have - the one my mother taught me never to let dim or die.  I remember that I have the next year to deal with all of this.  And then, I remember that I will always honor the memory of my mother and her beautiful life by marking the anniversary of her death, year after year. We mark a person's life in Judaism by celebrating the date of their death (not birth) because it reminds us of all their life held and all the things they gave us. And we remember that we never forget who they were and what they mean to us.

Even in death, my mother is still teaching me.  I can still hear her voice telling me to keep smiling and laughing and enjoying life the way I do.  "You're a party in a package!" she would tell me. She was too.  But she loved seeing that in me as much as she loved that it was a part of her.  She would remind me that it's okay to be sad and to use the beautiful structure that Judaism has provided for us to work through all of my grief.  And then she would remind me that there is SO much life to be lived and that it's my job to get out there and to live it and to love it.  

Thanks for letting me grieve, dear friends and family and community and for holding me up and holding us in your thoughts and prayers.  

I'm so grateful for Judaism and the structure it has provided for us in grief, but I'm also grateful for my mother and her lessons, in life and in death. 
Thanks, mom.  You'll always be with me and I'll always keep learning from you - days, months, even years after you are gone.