At every Yizkor / Memorial Service I have attended, we rabbis speak about the tenderness of parents and the undying, unfailing love and respect we had for our parents and for other family members that we in the congregation had lost. The assumption made in countless Yizkor sermons and even by the prayers themselves was that we all had wonderful, loving parents and a healthy family. I knew it wasn’t true. And in my life and my career, I’ve encountered those whose trauma was such that it brought them to the point of refusing to attend a parent’s funeral or to recite kaddish for them.
Our Jewish communities include those who are reciting Yizkor for an abusive parent or spouse, for a family member who was a criminal, for a relative whose drug or alcohol abuse made them impossible to live with, for a parent whose mental illness prevented them from being a loving parent, for a loved one whose death showed that they were living a secret life they couldn’t or wouldn’t share, for a parent or spouse who abandoned them.
Those of us who lived with these traumas experience Yizkor differently than the rest of the community (when we choose to recite it). There might be love for those departed. There might be anger. There might even be hate. Almost certainly there is ambivalence. We know that our Yizkor memorial is not what the rabbi often describes, what the prayer book says, or what others around us experience.
It is for you (and me) that I share a personal prayer that I invite you to add to your Yizkor prayer (and to feel free to share with others, asking only that if distributing to large numbers, you please mention my authorship)
Our God and God of our Ancestors,
I stand before you at this time remembering those who have departed from my life (and from my family). I pray for the insight to learn from that which was positive in the live (lives) of [name/s of those departed]. Knowing that s/he suffered and was often led down wrong paths, I pray that s/he is now eternally at peace beneath your sheltering wings.
At this holy time, I pray that you heal my scars and pain and that you send healing to those around me who were hurt by the dysfunction we experienced. May I and all who suffered be blessed with the empathy and strength that can result from our experiences. As we bring healing to our selves, may we continue to grow to be a force for healing in our households, our community and our world.
– Rabbi Arnie Samlan