My uncle’s English-date yahrzeit is this week. The Hebrew date anniversary was a week or so ago. But it was a year ago that we were all gathered at the hospice to offer our love, find strength in and for one another, grieve for his dying and his death. He was not conscious at the end, but that didn’t stop us from talking to him, holding his hands, holding each other.
It’s hard, saying good bye to someone you love. It is never easy, but it is certainly a more gentle good bye when everyone is there – cousins and brothers and parents and friends, most you know, some you’ve met in another life in some distant time. Many are connected to you only peripherally, the only point of intersection your uncle, who is dying.
We buried my uncle on one of those perfect late summer mornings. It was warm and the bees droned and the sounds of traffic were muffled, blunted by stately trees whose branches hung in graceful disarray. All those people who had drifted in and out of his hospice room, known and unknown, were there, or came to the shiva later that day, which was at my house. That was a first. I’m in my fifties; I have been an adult for quite some time. Having shiva, I felt the very first whispers of old.
It seemed as if he knew everyone, and they all showed up at my small house. We laughed, told stories. Ate. Reconnected with Israeli cousins and the Nashville branch of the family. There was a lot of touching those three days of shiva, as if to say “I’m here. We are here together. You are not alone in your grief, nor am I.”
Shiva ended Friday afternoon. The house was so quiet. Out-of-towners had returned to their hotels to rest for early morning flights the next day. My Israeli cousins were taking advantage of their few days in the States to reconnect with old friends and were heading into the city. I puttered around the house, which was mostly clean – some dear friends of mine had performed the “Shiva Lady” duties with loving perfection, making sure that there was a free flow of food and coffee, cleaning as they went.
And that night, as the sky grew dark and the week seemed to settle, I went to synagogue. It was, after all, Shabbat. And I prayed, and I sang, and I rose and bowed and bent in all the right places. And when it was time to say the Mourner’s Kaddish, I heard my uncle’s name said before the community for the first time, and felt the love and strength of friends who stood with me, to let me know that we do not mourn alone.
And on this Shabbat, one year after his death, I will attend services as I always do. And I will hear my beloved uncle’s name again, so that the entire community can stand with me, in strength and love, to honor with me, the memory of my uncle. This Shabbat, my community will stand with me, to let me know that we do not mourn alone.
For my Uncle Phil
May his memory be for a blessing.