by Pam Adelstein (Newton, MA)
Eleven months of showing up and standing up. The days blur together, sometimes feeling short, and other times feeling endless. People tell ME that it feels like I’ve been saying Kaddish forever. I think in response, it has been longer for me than it has been for you.
Countless Kaddishes feel like exposure therapy for public acknowledgment of grief.
I feel vulnerable and exposed each time I rise and hear the Kaddish uttered from my lips, as my voice fills the room.
In the traditional call and response, the kahal overpowers my voice. I know they are listening to me. Me – one tiny insignificant mourner among centuries of Jewish mourners around the world.
Humbled and grateful, I take comfort in our togetherness. A daily minyan, where I stand with a group of mourners, who implicitly understand, no questions asked. I march blindly forward in their footsteps, often the youngest in the room. This has the effect of making me feel way too young to have lost my dad.
At our evening services the shliach tzibbur reliably inquires, “Is anyone observing a yahrzeit who would like to speak about their loved one?” Each time I stare blankly back, thinking, “Nope, still a poor schlepper.”
Finally, I learned what I have dubbed “the paragraph.” The talmedei talmedehon of the Kaddish D’Rabbanan.
Though I no longer feel nervous trepidation, sometimes while reciting the Kaddish I still feel as if the poetic Aramaic words are rocks in my mouth, projectile phrases from my throat, lyrics from my grieving soul.
The Kaddish words sometimes come out differently with every recitation. Someone jokingly asked if the words rearranged themselves on the page. I shared that reciting an imperfect Kaddish reminds me that my grief is imperfect. Like the Navajo people, who intentionally weave a flaw into their rugs to show that only a Supreme Being can produce perfection.
The end of my daily Mourner’s Kaddish is here. I have ordered my life around this prayer. I have observed the sun and the moon, the snow and the rain, and the day and the night through the skylight of Gann Chapel. Thinking about and searching for my father. Is he out there somewhere, looking in?
It feels as if a cliff’s precipice awaits me. A leap of faith, knowing that the sages thought we mourners would be okay at the eleven-month mark without the daily scaffolding of coming together briefly in community. Without those snippets of conversation before we return to our daily lives outside these walls.I wish those sages could guide me through the next phases of mourning, of integrating further back into regular life, as I ask: what do I do with my grief now?
Pam Adelstein is an active member of her Boston-area minyan. She is married, has two children, and is on the verge of becoming an empty-nester. She enjoys hiking, yoga and kayaking, and works as a family physician at a community health center. Writing is a way for her to express the emotions around her work and personal experiences, connect with others, and be creative. Her writing can be found at Pulse Voices (search Pam Adelstein), at WBUR, Doximity, and STAT.