By Larry Gordon
The gang, as we have referred to them in this space previously, is falling apart. No, we are not going our different ways, and most of us are still together. But we have not discussed at length what we will do or how we will conduct
ourselves in the future once we cross that line.
This group that I am speaking of here started saying Kaddish around the same time within the last ten months to a year. But now, for some of us, the end is near or at least it is drawing closer.
One of the men completed his 11 months of Kaddish a few weeks ago. Another man with whom we daven every day mentioned last Friday that he has 15 days to go. I know that this is beginning to sound like we have served a sentence of some sort but it is not like that.
In a way, as that time draws closer, I find that I am a combination of glad and sad. Actually, I think that I have been a combination of these two opposite emotions for most of the last year. And it all started when I arose from shivah for my mom on the fourth day of that seven-day odyssey, got dressed up, and went to dance with my son as he celebrated his wedding.
When I received the news that my mother had passed on, I was suddenly struck with a fear of what was I supposed to do next. It is at a time like this that we instinctively resort to a moment-by-moment type of conduct, dealing with whatever it is that is in front of us at the moment and not looking beyond that.
A few weeks later, after davening one evening, someone nonchalantly asked me how many more weeks I would be reciting Kaddish. I know from past experience that people generally have no idea what the timeline is by the next person in these circumstances.
My quick response at the time was that I had 46 weeks of saying Kaddish to go. The look in response was a bit incredulous because although at that point I had only been saying Kaddish for a couple of weeks, to the next person I might as well have been reciting the prayer for five years.
So now, here we are with a bit over five weeks to go. And though I do not recall the details of the last time I did this 28 years ago, I do have some repeat–or perhaps they are new–observations this time around. First I noticed of late–and this started a few weeks ago when I was in Eretz Yisrael over Chanukah–that the davening is more graceful and even flows with greater ease than in the last several months.
And another thing is that I have noticed that when I take the time to read the words of the Kaddish inside the Siddur, I am seeing that the words seem to be popping out of the prayer book in my direction. I also observed that over the last month or so I have been savoring the words of the Kaddish and articulating them with greater clarity and enunciation than in the past.
So I’ve thought about this, and I believe that this change in part has a great deal to do with the fact that there are just a few weeks to go until the obligation to say Kaddish all those times every day dissolves into the past. At the beginning I can tell you that I was a bit overwhelmed as I stared ahead at a year of aveilus and 11 months of Kaddish multiple times daily in various minyanim regardless of where I found myself located.
I’m not saying that there was a shift over the last few weeks or that anything palpably changed. I think what I am trying to emphasize is in part that instead of being rundown and exhausted by the rigorousness of the Kaddish, I’m suddenly experiencing an invigorating burst of energy and optical sharpness about those words that I have recited repeatedly over the last ten months.
With just about five weeks to go, the question is how one parts with or says goodbye to Kaddish, if there is such a thing. Back in June, Stephen Savitsky, a resident of the Five Towns and a former president of the Orthodox Union, sent me a poem he wrote on the last day that he was saying Kaddish for his father back in 1992.
It’s a brief elegy that I re-read a few minutes ago, and it is stirring as it is laden with raw, truthful emotion. When I received the poem in my e-mail prior to summer, I parked it somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind because, I thought, what did this expression of sentiment have to do with me? After all, I was staring up at a high mountain, with still nine months of saying Kaddish ahead of me.
But I also knew at the same time that I should not forget about this piece because it is penetratingly beautiful and touches the depths of the heart. I knew back in June that the time would come to re-unveil this poem and present it here as the weeks of Kaddish begin to wane.
I think Kaddish is a funny, if you will, exercise in opposites and contradictions. At the beginning, while I knew that this day was inevitable, I had indulged in a sufficient amount of denial to effectively push that reality far enough away so as not to think about the details.
Once the event occurred–that is, once my Mom passed away–there was a period of adjustment, and I was not sure how I was going to handle having Kaddish as the centerpiece of my life for what seemed like such a long time. Now, though, with just a few weeks to go, I find myself thinking and wondering how I am going to deal with not saying Kaddish.
The other day in shul, there were three new people saying Kaddish at our early-morning minyan. They are brothers, and the other aveilim, the old gang, were viewing them curiously, wondering who they were, the details of what happened, and how they got there, even though the story is usually the same– that is, either a mother or a father passed away.
In an odd way, even though these men suffered a loss, it was kind of a remote, backward kind of comfort for us. I’m not exactly sure why, but it is definitely something to do with some type of comfort being discovered in other people’s challenges or even hardships, of which the loss of a parent is a classic case.
The Savitsky poem speaks about the pathway and connection that the Kaddish has created all these months, and in my case between my mother and me. While there is definitely a bridge that runs from this world to the next one using Kaddish as a conduit, that connection is mostly as intangible as it is invisible.
That passageway might be as huge, expansive, and impressive as the brand-new Tappan Zee or Goethals Bridges, which are both quite a scene of massive construction to behold. But it cannot be seen and does not make an imprint on others because it only really exists in one place, which is in our hearts and the depth of our emotions.
All those thousands upon thousands of words uttered in an effort to ease my mother’s path into a new realm of existence also comfort us, those expressing the words by virtue of the fact that we are playing a role in her Divine placement, so to speak. I know that I will always miss her deeply though she is in some ways always with me. For now, though, it is those words of Kaddish that I will be shortly extending farewell to with uncertain and mixed emotions. If I only knew where all those words went, it might be a little easier to handle.
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