I begin with a question: When does grief end?
Tomorrow is the final day of saying kaddish for my brother. But as I recite the words for him, it is apparent to me that I am also saying kaddish at the same time for a beloved wife of fifty-six years.
2016 has melted into 2018 and I expect it will continue until the end of my days. I have simply not recovered from Rahel’s death.
I had gone for grief and bereavement counseling some months after her death. It was comforting to be in a group with several other people who had lost a loved one. But as soon as I returned home, I relapsed into grief. Everything in the apartment is a memory of her. Trying to live elsewhere offers no improvement in my mental health. My children tell me that I am obsessed with grief. Perhaps it is so but I have not yet found a medical remedy to dispel it.
When a man and a woman are joined together in marriage they become one in flesh and in spirit. So it was for me and my wife. She was Orthodox and 1000% percent observant of traditions and mitzvot. The number is correct. Not only 100% but 1000%…mai al u’mai ever.
I live with guilt that I was less observant than she but I rejoice knowing that my children and grandchildren are more. They follow her teachings and example scrupulously. “Ain kmo Ima”… there’s nothing and nobody like mama.
Pesach is approaching. The cleaning of the apartment has begun. My daughter has kashered the big freezer. The refrigerator, stove, oven and microwave will follow soon. And in three or four days before the onset of Pesach we will be eating in kosher restaurants that are still open, prior to their closure for yomtov.
My two daughters will do all the cooking and baking, following their mother’s recipes…some from her home in Israel and some from her mother’s home in Warsaw. The taste will be as Rahel had prepared all the foods. How many chickens, eggs, beef, soups and vegetables can be consumed in eight days?
The melodies we sing at our seder table will be the ones my father and his father before him in Europe had chanted. We have always been committed to keeping our historic traditions alive.
Ma nishtana ha laila hazeh? What makes this seder night different? Loved ones are missing from the seder. A seat at one end of the table remains empty. No one is permitted to sit in Rahel’s chair. I gaze at the empty seat with tears in my eyes searching for a beloved who is physically no more. Only her beautiful spirit lives within memories.
Holidays, as beautiful as they can be with children and grandchildren, are still painful for me. My grief overwhelms me.
Several well-meaning friends and neighbors have told me that it’s time to get on with my life. But at age 85, what can my life be?
I only anticipate my own death when I will lie beside my darling Rahel. Sadly, we will not be able to hold hands anymore.
Tomorrow the shiva for my brother ends. But honestly, tell me…. When does grief end?