My mother’s second yahrzeit took place last week and will reoccur in another two or so weeks from now. I’m grappling with the idea, and that is probably why I have not addressed the issue yet.
My mother passed away at the age of 95 on the 28th day of Adar two years ago. The conundrum this time around is that there are two months of Adar on the Hebrew calendar, so in which one of the two months do we observe the yahrzeit?
Initially, I thought that since the second Adar was primary — after all, Purim is observed in the second Adar — we would have to observe the yahrzeit in the second of the two identically named months.
But just to make sure, I inquired of the rabbinical authorities in my life who quickly informed me that the law and protocol is that in a situation like this, the yahrzeit is observed with all its accompanying ceremony in the first Adar. What happens when the date arrives in the second of the two months? Well, I was advised to recite Kaddish then as well just to cover all the bases, so to speak.
So here I am, caught between two yahrzeits, having observed the first one and waiting on part two. I don’t know if I was properly prepared for my mom’s yahrzeit. Did I wait for it to just suddenly appear or am I inclined to push it off and indulge in a bit of natural denial? All I know is that not having to deal with the matter was, in and of itself, kind of comforting.
The point of this emotional exercise is that I am in a position I thought I would never be in or deal with, even though that is obviously so extremely unrealistic.
Observing the yahrzeit of a parent as the years come around, sometimes at breakneck speed, is an emotional experience with many technical components that come along with it.
As the reader might recall, my dad passed away during Chanukah 29 years ago. Both my parents are interred on the pristine and imposing mountain known as Eretz HaChaim in Bet Shemesh. In my father’s will, he requested that at least one of his children visit his kever on his yahrzeit annually. We took the request seriously. In the beginning, the four of us and my mom went to Israel for the yahrzeit, but as the years and decades passed by, it was usually at least one of us.
There were years when I played around with the date a bit and was there either a few days before or after so as to accommodate whatever was going on in our lives stateside. I did, however, try to be as exacting as possible to fulfill my father’s wish, and I think that over three decades I did a pretty good job.
No, it was not always easy or convenient. My father’s yahrzeit is on the sixth night of Chanukah, which usually is on the 30th of Kislev. But therein lies the challenge and the similarity to my mother’s yahrzeit — Kislev does not always have 30 days. Every couple of years, the month has 29 days with the following day being the first of Teves.
So some years there is no 30th day of the month, it is right in the middle of Chanukah, which meant to get to Israel in time for Ma’ariv on that sixth night, we have to leave New York after the fourth candle, which also meant that when the children were very young, we had half of Chanukah together.
I recall that one year we missed the yahrzeit because, although we were packed to leave on time, there was a strike at Ben Gurion Airport and all the flights were canceled. I suppose in the course of things, those types of unexpected events occur.
Anyway, this past Chanukah I did not go to Israel because my son’s wedding was two weeks after the date. Yes, yes, I know — I could have gone. Perhaps I should have gone, but I just didn’t. And believe it or not, I was thinking of going for my mother’s yahrzeit as I did last year, as it occurs just six days before my father-in-law’s yahrzeit. But then they sprang this first Adar dimension on me. Of course, my parents were not alone on their special days. We deputized friends to visit and recite Tehillim at their kevarim on our behalf — the next best thing to being there.
So last week was my mother’s second yahrzeit. I davened, said Kaddish, and so on, but now that I have incorporated these two yahrzeits into my reality, I find them being conflated in some fashion. The two life-altering and sad events occurred many years apart from one another, but now that they are part of my personal reality and psyche, I am having an issue separating them.
My mother lived without my father for 27 years. Frankly, they were so attached to one another I still do not know how she did it. But as time passed, and she became reconciled with the loss and living without my dad, I noticed her becoming more philosophical, accepting, and even stoic.
Like us, her children, she never stopped missing him. Even all those years later, as she became elderly, when the matter of my father came up it was always an emotional and difficult subject to deal with. But she persevered and adapted to her new life that she dealt with head on. I was proud of her and marveled at how she handled this new reality.
Now that we just observed her second yahrzeit and I do not have to concern myself with the possibility that she is lonely or hurting, I am able to focus on my new reality as an aging kid without parents. Of course, I wish I could have had them around forever. I believe that all of us in that position feel the same way regardless of its disconnection from the brutality of reality.
I am comforted in the thought — that I know is beyond my comprehension — that they’re at peace and together in a higher realm and in their own reality. I’m also comforted by the absolute secrecy of the next world as we know it and in the fact that if it was not all that great, somehow we would have found out about it. Its secrecy and mystery is its greatness.
So I’ve been saying Kaddish on these yahrzeits for a long time. Kaddish really has nothing to do with those who have passed on. Though it is the prayer for the dead, it is only that description of the prayer that has anything to do with death or mourning.
Davening for the amud, leading the prayers in shul, is a pressurized task that does not really allow one to focus on the substance of the prayers we are reciting. On the day of my mom’s yahrzeit, two weeks ago, I patched together a minyan in my office for Minchah. My sons were there and a few other people from neighboring offices. I did this because I wanted to daven slowly and comfortably and, more importantly, I wanted to concentrate on the Kaddish instead of worrying about where the people standing behind me were up to.
As I said the last Kaddish of the day at Minchah, I thought of the soothing words proclaiming G-d’s greatness and how those words were having an effect on my mother’s soul, part of which lives on in me and in these fingers typing these words.
I thought of her face and looked into those eyes that I so loved looking into. As I conjured up her image, I said the words: “… blessed, praised, glorified and exalted, raised and honored, uplifted and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He …”
I believe in the rightness of His ways, even if it hurts. I also believe in and I am hoping for something spectacular, may it be soon. Amen.