How is she?
An acquaintance asks when I mention paying a shivah call to a mutual friend.
She is grieving, I reply.
There is no need to say more.
Grief has a face, and we know it.
The pallid complexion, the pained eyes, the hushed voice, the hunched posture.
The rip in the mourner’s clothing split open like a tear in the heart, the gape it leaves like the hole that remains there.
It is a hole that never mends, even as we may seek to repair it.
But the memories it evokes ease the sorrow, those stories that make the loved one now gone, still present even in his or her absence.
The words recalled, the lessons learned, the way they lived their lives, the values they embodied, are what remain even as we mourn their passing.
The recollections come out in halting words, at a shivah, at a funeral, sometimes with tears, sometimes with a wan smile, sometimes with an unexpected burst of laughter.
I am awed by the strength of the mourners, to sit surrounded by family and friends, still aching with grief, and recall a loved one no longer with us.
And yet, as the memories are shared, they are imbued with new meaning, as the mourner turns them into blessings.
Of how to live, of how to love, of how to suffer loss, of how to remember.
And it is a comfort even at a time of such sadness.
So often at this time of the year, when we pray for yet another year of life, my thoughts turn to those I’ve lost. I can envision their faces, I can still hear their voices.
My dad, always steady, practical, teaching us by example to live simply and give generously. My mom, always thinking of others, reminding us that it is not what we have but what we do that matters. My mother-in-law, feisty, strong, a pithy bit of wisdom at the ready, you can’t dance at two weddings, never throw out the old until you have the new. Her words run through my head. My father-in-law, the bright spot in our lives, who reminded all of us that the sun was always shining, there was always the bright promise of a new day.
I’ll think of all of them on erev Yom Kippur when I light yahrzeit candles in their memory. I’ll watch as I put flame to wick, the gentle pfft of smoke, lifting the light aloft towards the heavens.
Even as they are gone, they remain with me, always, like the bright flames, infusing my life with their wisdom, their common sense, their innate goodness, and inspiring me to try to follow their way.
I was blessed to have them in my life, and now, in my own way, to aspire to make their memory a blessing.