My mother passed away. It was simultaneously surreal and too real. I had visited her continually in the hospital for 4 weeks, for me it was four weeks of hell. I will always be grateful to Chabad whose local rabbi visited a number of times, whose ChabadOnCall service staffed with volunteer doctors was of tremendous help, and who sent a care package to my father from the state, 2500 miles away, where my mom first became ill. Those 4 weeks were extraordinarily difficult and draining. Then one day, as I was preparing to visit her I received the news that she had passed away an hour earlier. A tidal wave of grief washed over me.
Shive began after the burial. The flow of visitors was continuous, ensuring that her immediate family wasn’t alone very much at all during that week. There were even people my parents hadn’t seen in 50 years. It was my first experience of being part of a Jewish community. Feeling like a true part of the Jewish community was new to me.
During shiva I began attending my local Chabad to recite kaddish at one of the three daily minyans. It was the first time I had ever recited kaddish. Soon Kaddish was playing in my head on a non-stop rewind as with a song one can’t stop thinking of. Shiva was a like a place in time, a grim place, where the theme of everything is death. I eagerly looked forward to the conclusion of shiva, to be freed from it, to return to something more like the everyday world, to begin processing what I was feeling, shiva caused me to suppress it.
Shiva ended, and the Shloshim began. (shiva is the first 7 days of shloshim, but in any case I was now solely in Shloshim).
Shloshim coincided with “the 3 weeks”, “the 9 days”, “the 17 of Tammuz”, and ended on the morning of T’Sha B’Av. I had never before attended a synagogue for any of these but now I was there. I discovered just how extensive mourning and trauma are in Judaism. I had thought of Judaism as being primarily about higher meaning, hagim, and simcha. The higher meaning was still evident, but now from the perspective of what death implies about life, the hagim were now Tsha B’Av, the 3 weeks, 17 Tammuz, and simcha was replaced by extended mourning.
Finally on the last of the 30 total days I woke up early to go to attend Shacharit, this would mark the end of the shloshim. It was shacharit on T’Sha B’Av. The core of the shachrit service on Tsha B’Av, was the reciting of the kinot. The kinot struck me as 49 chapters of narrated horror stories of victim’s experiences during each of 49 atrocities committed against the Jewish people from the destruction of the first temple up to the holocaust. Those I read described screaming of victims, and victimization of civilian women and children, war crimes. It was clearly implied that it could happen again, history itself is the proof.
After 4 weeks mourning in the hospital, then 4 weeks of Shloshim and these grim holidays, I couldn’t help but think “is this really necessary after all that?” Simultaneously, as if reading my mind, the rabbi announced that anyone who needed to leave could leave as long as there would still be a minyan. I walked out of there eager to rejoin the real world. And perhaps part of this experience is the building up of the desire for healing and recovery, one can’t get stuck in the grieving process.