I didn’t become an orphan until I was many times a grandmother. I think, deep inside, that I felt the angel of death was never going to come for my parents. And I diligently left the sanctuary when the Yizkor prayers were recited.
And then, when my mother was 85, on July 15, 1999, she left us, forever. I would need to recite Yizkor for the first time two months later. I would need to join with all of those who mourned deeply beloved family members.
I know that the custom of leaving the sanctuary is debated. Nonetheless, I left. And then, seemingly suddenly my life changed. I did not have a mother. Now I needed to stay….and say the touching and beautiful memorial prayers.
It was almost Pesach in 2005 when my father left us. He and my mother, together, had had blessed lives, the kinds of lives we want for our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They, neither one, had chronic illness of any kind. Doctor visits were exceedingly rare. A house full of medication? Definitely not. My father’s cure for all ailments was an aspirin (maybe not such unsophisticated advice after all!). They were both healthy and robust until, and including, old age. I recall a dentist’s visit with my father when the dentist asked if he could call his colleague in for a moment as he wanted to show him the uniquely full mouth of an nonagenarian with nary a cavity.
My mother died from complications of a broken hip, ironically the same condition that caused her father’s death a generation earlier. Mom had been hit by an errant bicyclist while crossing Sokolov Street (*jaywalking actually) in Herzliya. She was 85.
Dad lived on and died of an undetermined cause….unless being almost 98 is a cause of death. I suppose it is. But, his health had been remarkable and he could walk for miles until age 97. His major malady was his refusal to wear his hearing aid which meant his beloved basketball games blasted their roars through the halls of Achuzat Beit, the retirement home where he lived in Ra’anana during his last years. He was buried a day before we began the Pesach Seder, having said to me a few days earlier that Sam wouldn’t be at the seder this year. He knew, and he was right, as usual.
And then my status changed, as did that of my sister Janet. We had become orphans. Now it was our time to act like grownups. To imbue wisdom. We became the historians and the transmitters of family lore. This is not easy!
Just this week, one of our grandchildren, a college student, asked me to block out some time for an interview about family legends (that’s really what they become throughout the decades) from 1910 to 1950. Well, 1950 I think will be okay. But 1910? My mother wasn’t even born in 1910 but she left a treasure: a notebook filled with all sorts of anecdotes pertaining to her life and the lives of her parents, as they had been transmitted to her. Her notebook will be my Wikipedia.
Time has its ways of smoothing out ruffled edges. We recall lives with our loved ones as always peaceful and tranquil and loving. For sure there were many moments when we argued and were angered. But that’s not what we choose to remember. So reciting the words of Yizkor brings tears to our eyes and pain to our hearts. We choose to remember the good times, the peaceful times. And the love. The love I shared with Ita bat Yitzchak and Yisrael ben Kalman. May I remember their teachings and their examples as I remain in the sanctuary for Yizkor.
May those we loved stay with us, in spirit and memory, as we pray for another year, and that we are sealed in the sefer ha chaim.