Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Joy in the Empty Spaces

31 August 2011/01 Elul 5771

I miss my brother.  It has been almost a year now, and still, there are times when missing him threatens to swallow me whole.  In an instant, grief comes racing in from nowhere, and I am wrapped in solitary and breathless sorrow.  Mostly though, it is a gentle missing, filled with love and soft regret-- that he is gone, that my hand is halfway to the phone before I remember that he won't answer, that he will not see his nephew make that sometimes graceful, sometimes gawky leap from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, that there is a small emptiness where he once stood.

And what if he suddenly appeared, filling that empty space?  What would I say?

I have no idea.

I'd like to think that I managed, through grace and luck, to say everything I needed to say before he died.  Words like I miss you and I love you skitter through my head, fleeting as a summer shower.  All our words, all our thoughts:  spoken and unspoken, whispered and trumpeted in our pain and our hope, they were all woven together into the tight space of his hospital room, connecting him to us to God in some eternal tapestry of unutterable and awesome beauty.

I think.  I hope.

I pray.

I've prayed a lot this last almost-year.  I stumbled into that sacred dance of mourning, a stutter step of hesitation, growing in surety and ease, reciting such ancient words to the exaltation of a God who seems both near and far, present and not, just and merciful and cruel.  In the beginning, I wept-- great wracking sobs that stole my voice and my exaltation.  I wept-- and there were hands that reached out, in comfort and with grace.  And when I could not pray, could barely manage to say my brother's name, there were other voices to carry me, to lift me and sustain me and let me find my way.

Reciting Kaddish is no longer a staccato pulse, insistent and harsh and pounding.  Now there is a quiet grace note, starting low, gaining in depth and richness as I stand with eyes closed and fingers laced around my prayer book.  There is such power in this prayer!  I can feel my brother, close as light, as heat or love.  My sorrow washes over me like water over stone, clean and pure, no longer pooling, dank and cold at my feet.  I can feel God again, holy and waiting for me to start the dance, ready to catch me should I falter.

Just about a year.  It has taken me just about a year to find my way to this place of-- if not exaltation, then certainly of celebration-- of my brother, of God.  Even of God.

And now it's time to let my brother go.

Not his memory, or my love for him.  Not even of my sadness.  All this time-- of sorrow and grief and learning to find laughter and joy and hope again, I thought this was his last gift to me, a last lesson: learning to find joy in the empty spaces.  Every day, for eleven months, I have recited Kaddish.  I have stumbled and stammered my way through these words to honor my brother and his memory, to find grace and healing, to rest again in the palm of God's hand. 

Almost a year later, and I finally get that this has been about his journey, not mine.

For these eleven months, our mourning has allowed us to share in his soul’s journey, to help him find his way.  Now he must find that last bit of eternity on his own.   This is about his soul's journey-- to God perhaps, or to Home, or Heaven.  Perhaps everywhere all at once.  But it is his way to find.  We release him, in love and faith, into the sacred space of remembrance.  

We say zichrono liv'rachah: may his memory be for a blessing. He touched the hearts and lives of so many, and the world is different-- better-- because he was in it.  His memory will surely be a blessing.

But there is one other thing.  More than a blessing, let his memory be for a prayer: zichrono li't'filla.  Let his memory teach us to reach and strive and praise and celebrate and hope and love.  Every day.  Even as we mourn, perhaps because we mourn, let his memory be for a prayer--- of comfort, whole and holy.  

What would I say to my brother, if he appeared, if he paused for a moment just before he soars and leaps and dances with God?  I would say I love you; I miss you. And finally--

Let your soul find peace on your journey.
Let your memory shine as blessing and prayer.
And let us say: amen.

Zichrono liv'rachah v'li't'filla