“How long do you have to go (until you finish saying kaddish)?”
“Two months and two days, but who’s counting?”
For the first part of the year, I had been counting up, ticking off month by month in my mind. Then I noted the half-way mark (which was Rosh Chodesh Sivan, but who’s counting). Downhill from here, right? Someone mentioned to me that the second half of the year goes faster, and it does. Yet a couple of months ago, I hit a wall. It was just after we returned from a very pleasant trip overseas, and I stood there one morning at the amud and thought “I don’t want to do this any more. I’ve just had enough”. I went by for a couple of weeks like that, but pushed through it.
I’ve never run a marathon – the best I could do was 10km. They say the 32km mark of a marathon is the point where the body reaches a level of physical exhaustion and says “enough” and that’s when it really starts. Saying kaddish and davening at the amud for 11 months is probably like running a marathon.
Over the journey, so many different things pass through my mind. Initially, lots of flashes and thoughts about my father. And then I settle into a weekly rhythm, and then it’s broken up either by yom tov, or travel, or something else. And then I settle back into a rhythm again. And so it goes throughout the entire year.
The rote and monotony of it starts to get to you after a while. Standing there saying kaddish after kaddish, one chazoras hashatz (chazan’s repetition of the amida) after another – it doesn’t take long and it can all be done with eyes closed on auto pilot. Is that a good thing or not? I don’t know. It leaves way too much room for stray distracting thoughts.
Then, at various times during the year, others who were attending the same minyanim as me finished their kaddish stint. Another opportunity to reflect on how long I still had to go, and also to discuss the mixed feelings associated with finishing (“See you later, I’m off to get my life back”, said one person on his last day). Then, from time to time others ‘joined’ the kaddish club. There is something of a camaraderie or fellowship between the people in the community all going through this stage. We are there for each other, both emotionally and logistically.
I got over the wall. I’m nearly over this damned viral winter cough (or ‘man-flu’) which was another little setback along the way. At some point it starts to be about finishing for the sake of finishing. Is that a good thing or not? I thought it was about my father.
At this point, I’m definitely counting down, and the finish line is in sight. I’ve booked a ‘post-kaddish’ trip away. I’m knuckling down to the mishnayos study I’m planning to complete.
With the High Holidays approaching, there are feelings of fragility and trepidation. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are times when fathers and sons sit together in shul. My son asked if I could join and sit with him in his minyan this year, and I will. Last year, I was still the son. This year, I’m the father.
For more in this series, see Shiva: sitting then getting up, And who before his time, and ‘Hamakom’ as a Verb and Transactional Judaism, Celebrating Liberation without the one Liberated, and Kaddish Club 2: chained to the amud.