The Process of Memory

My husband and I attended, via Zoom, the funeral of his beloved cousin Murray Darvick.  Murray was cut from a cloth of which fewer and fewer remnants remain. Murray loved life. He was filled with joy. He was a painter, an oenophile, a bon vivant. He loved people. He was charming and he charmed from a place that took delight in whomever he was charming at the moment.  Murray had that rare gift of making you feel that when he talked with you, you were all that mattered to him. Murray designed my mother-in-law’s engagement ring and was the best man my husband’s parents’ wedding. He designed my engagement ring.  Twenty-two years later, our son flew to New York to meet with Murray in the diamond district. The wheel turned through a third generation when Murray designed the ring Elliot would give to his soon-to-be fiancee.  At the end of the funeral, as the mourners present made their way to the limousine that would take them and their beloved husband, father, grandfather and cousin to the cemetery, the rabbi said, “And now we begin the process of memory.”

Jewish mourning rites and rituals are structured to comfort and order to our feelings and memories at a time when when death has upended life. The initial seven days of what is known as sitting shiva (shiva is the Hebrew word for seven) are a time of intense mourning. Mirrors in the house are covered to protect mourners from seeing their face at this time of intense grief. Mourners sit on low chairs. They do not wear shoes. They do not leave the house that first week unless it is to go to services. The community steps up to provide meals, and to organize the evening prayer service in the mourner’s home so the mourner can recite the Kaddish. The Kaddish, recited in Aramaic, does not mention death but instead praises God and asks God to bring peace upon the world.

Seven days give way to shloshim, a period of thirty days that include the initial seven days of mourning plus twenty-three additional days. Life is somewhat proscribed as the mourner continues to say Kaddish for their loved one. Those mourning a parent end the shloshim period and continue to recite Kaddish daily for an additional ten months. Each year, on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, we again join in community to recite Kaddish; in our homes we light a yahrzeit candle in memory of the deceased. And thus, the process of memory begins and is sustained. Not all Jews observe as I have described and I have not included all the halachic (legal) requirements. Read on for a fuller description.

Tomorrow marks the English date of my mother’s death. I observed it two or so weeks ago on the Hebrew date. But living within two calendars affords me the opportunity to follow Judaism’s rites and rituals and then give myself over to a private observance if I choose. My mother always found God in nature’s beauty and mystery. I do too. I am so grateful for this enduring gift.