Friday, July 27, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Obligation and Desire

A while back I wrote of saying, “I have to say Kaddish.” A congregant replied, “You want to say Kaddish.” While it is true that I want to sy Kaddish for my father, I also have to say Kaddish for my father. This is true regardless of the desire. Many a morning I have cursed the dawn. (that was true before I was saying Kaddish too. I am not a morning person.) I have cursed the morning that always seems to arrive too soon, too early. I need my morning sleep. It is even worse on those days when I have not gotten nearly enough sleep the night before.

Today was a day like that. I stayed up way too late writing a sermon. This is my own darn fault (pushed along by a ridiculous schedule). But there I was. As I wandered to my bed I toyed with the idea of sleeping in. If I did I could go into Shabbat somewhat rested instead of one the edge. With  Shabbat dinner and lunch plans, I know I won’t get the Shabbat nap I’d really like.

With that thought in my head, I lay down; tossed a few times to get comfortable, and settled into sleep. Again, morning came to soon; the alarm waking me from a deep, healing sleep. I needed it. I was tired physically, but also emotionally, writing a sermon to address the recent mass shooting on the Danforth. How do I convey the feeling of this aftermath had worried me, and wrung me out. When the radio blared, I reached over for the snooze button, debating hitting off, as I rolled over for five more minutes.

My body wouldn’t listen. My brain wanted my bed. My body turned, lowering my feet to the floor, rising up for the day. It was time to go to minyan, and say Kaddish.

Hiyuv (obligation) and mitzvah (commandment) are interesting motivators. In our modern world, all religion is voluntary. We choose, whether actively or passively. But for those who believe mitzvah is so much more than a good deed, once done, the choice is gone. My decision to recite Kaddish was a passive one. I am an observant Jew. I made the decision decades ago. I believe that mitzvah is a command, an obligation between God and humankind. I could no more not recite Kaddish that I could rob a liquor store.

That is not to say that I haven’t missed minyan. There have been times when there was no minyan. There has been illness. But it’s always a given that my first thought is when and where I will say Kaddish. I want to say Kaddish. But more importantly, I have to say Kaddish.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Year of Mourning - A Grandchild's Memory

A letter came from Keren this week. This is not a surprise. She's away for the summer, and is usually a pretty good correspondent. She wrote 10 the 10th of Av, the day we observed Tisha B'Av, the national day of mourning for the Jewish people. It's a day associated with multiple tragedies in our history. For Keren, and now me, one more.

Tisha B'Av is a difficult day. It fall in mid-summer, a time when waking hours are long and hot. The liturgy is longer, but does not fill the day like on Yom Kippur. Focus is harder. The day drags on. Keren wrote, "Last night, at Eicha, I realized that exactly two years ago was the last time I wrote a letter to Papa, right after you told us his kidneys failed. I don't think his death has hit me this hard since the shiva." we didn't know then, but that was the beginning of the end, an end that would take almost a year and a half. Perhaps it could be marked earlier, with an infection that led to the antibiotics, which led to the kidney failure. We could even look much earlier, all the way to his genetics. But, in truth, he was never the same, physically or emotionally, once he began dialysis.

It's led to a difficult week. I wonder what my father thought upon receiving Keren's letter. Daddy suffered from depression. It masked, to him, how truly loved he was. And so, this week, thinking of the human interactions and failings that led to the destruction of the Temple (at least in legend), I am also thinking of the interactions and failing that led up to my father's death.

The 10th of Av is exactly eight months following my father's death. 17 months after we told the kids. Four months to my father's first yahrtzeit. Over and over it just keeps knocking my on my ass. Constricting my heart. Bringing tears to my eyes. Clogging my throat. Filling my mind. Leading my own personal lamentation.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Memory and Mourning

I’m more than half-way through my year. There are moments when I wonder what it will be like to have choices in my day. Of course all observance is a choice, but once made the path is clear. There are moments when I dream of sleeping in, of taking a break. And in all these moments I think of memories, memories of Daddy that come unbidden to mind. They float in from the ether, invading my mind, and invading my day.

Talking on the phone with Jesse, or writing to Gavi or Keren I think about conversations with Daddy. I end every conversation, every letter or email with “I love you.” I cannot remember ever hearing those words from my father. It didn’t matter. We knew he loved us. He showed us through so many of his actions, even through his words, though never literally. Years ago I realized Daddy never said, “I love you,” and I made sure to say it to him.  Every phone conversation, multiple times each visit, I made sure to tell him. I don’t know why he couldn’t say the words, but I wanted him to hear them. And I started saying them more and more to my children, my husband, my friends. I never felt hurt that Daddy couldn’t say the words; I was sad for him. He dealt with depression and frustration, and no matter how many time I told him that I loved him, I’m not sure he believed it. Perhaps he didn’t think he was able to be truly loved.

As I bought a subscription to Mirvish, looking forward to a year of performances, I think about my introduction to theatre and the arts. Daddy preferred opera or symphony. Movies were not his thing, but he’d put up with hours of good, bad, or mediocre tv to spend time with Russell and me. Mom would walk in and ask, “Why are you watching this garbage?!” But it was never him. It was our choice. Daddy insisted there be only one tv in the house. “If we’re not going to talk to each other, at least we’ll be in the same room, and you’ll have to talk once or twice an hour” as we discussed/argued over what to watch next. And so Daddy invades my television choices.

Today I finished Ilana Kurshan’s “If All the Seas Were Ink,” her memoir that follows her study of daf yomi, the seven year cycle of studying the entire Talmud. Daddy loved learning of all kinds. Discovering Talmud was a gift to him, a gift that was eventually taken away with his focus. I find the idea of daf yomi intriguing, and I wonder if I have the discipline to accomplish it. I’d like to study in Daddy’s honour. But even more so, I’d like to study with him, to live close by and spend a couple of hours a day working through the pages of Talmud. We’d never be able to do it. Daf yomi takes a focus we simply didn’t have, but also a willingness to learn on the surface level. It is impossible to delve into the page in any depth every day while still living life. We never learned that way. We’d pick a topic apart, examining it from all side; Daddy playing devil’s advocate, pushing, pushing us to deeper understanding and ability to explain ourselves.

I wonder what it will be tomorrow. Will I think of skating? Of vacations? Or something completely different?

Half-way through Daddy’s more in my life today than ever.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Year in Mourning - Mid-Year Crisis

Kaddish is a labour intensive process. Every day. Three times (or more depending on how many Kaddishes your minyan adds). I am not a morning person. The biggest shock was early on when I realized I would never sleep in for an entire year. Add in an extra job this spring/summer and a busy life, and you have a perfect storm.

This is where I found myself last week. I’d been wanting to blog for a week, but when? As the temperature rose everything became that much harder. In just a month I’ve had three migraines. I don’t blame Kaddish. It’s lack of sleep combined with too much to do combined with heat and humidity, but the constant focus on minyan certainly doesn’t help.

And so there I found myself - hitting rock bottom. I knew I hadn’t been at my best. I rambled a bit in my d’var Torah. Then, after a long day, just one hour after minyan, I walked out of Beth Tzedec thinking, “I’d better check when minyan is at Beth Emeth,” followed by the other side of my brain remembering I’d just come from minyan. Three days later I was in the midst of my second migraine. It lasted three days. Day two dawned with me trying to sit up, to no avail. I could barely stand to walk to the bathroom. The next day was no better. I finally discovered a medication cocktail that took the edge off the migraine. I realized that sometimes it’s okay to take a break. Sometimes you realize this yourself. Sometimes your body insists. This week, as the humidity rose, the third migraine made itself known. As it grew, I entered a 20 hour day, difficult but rewarding. The difference this week was my willingness to ask for help. Although the day was full it was rewarding. There was time spent in study, I asked a colleague to cover minyan allowing me, as one person put it, to simply be a “Jew in the pews,” stepping in a few minutes late, focusing on my own tefillot instead of making everyone else’s tefillot happen. Those extra minutes made all the difference. The rain came, and the migraine broke. I was able to get a decent amount of sleep. And finally, Shabbat, at home with Sean, early to bed, not so early to rise. A perfect Shabbat afternoon was spent reading, napping, reading, a very late lunch, and shul for Mincha, seudah shlishit, and Maariv. It’s a new day, a new week, and shaping up to be another busy one, but realizing I need some moments, I hope a better one.