Baruch dayan emet (Blessed is the one true Judge). Into your hands, O Lord, we commend our brother (sister). Allaahumma ighfir lihaayina wa mayitina wa shaahidina wa ghaa’ibina wa sagheerina wa kabeerina wa dhakarina wa unthaana (O Allah, forgive our living and our dead, those who are present among us and those who are absent, our young and our old, our males and our females). Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant(s) with thy saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.
Those words, which should give comfort, have been spoken by me and too many of my friends recently. Within the last twelve months, we have lost a wife, a father, a mother, an actress, and are now close to losing another mother. In the last two years, I have sat Shiva with both a young mother of three six-year-old-and-under daughters and an older daughter who had an astonishing tale to tell about her extraordinary mother. I took food to homes and our fellowship hall for parishioners’ families’ meals and receptions.
Just yesterday a neighborhood friend walked up with her dog and my god-dog. I was surprised to see her with my dear friend’s dog. She informed me that the reason was that my friend and her family had gone to New York to see my friend’s mother who might not be with us as I type these words. It’s ironic how two Upper East Side transplants from across the Atlantic were/are both in hospital in New York and one is mourned by the world while the other will be mourned by only those who knew and loved her personally.
I will take food again and sit Shiva again and shed tears not only for my friend and her mother but for my neighbor and her mother and for me and my father. I will help her understand the pain and the labor that grieving requires of us. And I will be thankful that she has a strong synagogue community to support her.
My own thank you notes sit unwritten in a box from the funeral home which the funeral director topped with a picture of my father. Another friend told me that the thank you notes are the finality of death. Writing them is to acknowledge that your loved one is gone. I’m not to that point yet. I’m in limbo – that dreadfully depressing time after the casseroles stop coming, when everyone expects you to be “back to normal”.
There is no more normal for some of us. We are now widows and widowers, motherless daughters and adult orphans. We have been left alone by the world because we aren’t always up and happy. People don’t like to be reminded that there is sadness and grief and anger and any other emotion than happiness. Depending on your religious beliefs, our dearly departed are in a better place, free from pain, rejoicing in the Everlasting Light. But those of us left behind need nurturing and caring and checking in on.
Next time you ask us, “How are you,” look us in the eye and mean it. Ask it with conviction and a real desire to know how we’re doing. And don’t let time and society dictate when we’re supposed to be fine. Sit with us for a week. Pray for us for four months. And check up on us on holidays and birthdays and anniversaries. And slowly, hopefully, we’ll be able to answer you back is an honest “I’m okay.”