Mourning My Father; AfterTalk Inspirational 4.20.17

Mourning My Father by Mayim Bialik

Mourning my Father AfterTalk Grief Support
As I wrote here on Kveller, my father died last month. The period of sheloshim (30 in Hebrew) just ended, as a matter of fact. Sheloshim marks the end of 30 days of mourning.

There are restrictions on behavior and activities for the 30 days and there are additional restrictions for the full year which are reserved for the following people related to the deceased: parent, child, spouse, sibling.

I have recited Kaddish (the Mourner’s prayer) in a quorum of 10 (a minyan) every day since my father was buried. That is one of the things we can do as mourners to honor the dead.

It is very difficult to go from being someone who never prayed once a day in a minyan to becoming a person who prays once a day in a minyan. I go to an Orthodox synagogue which is right near my house, but when I find myself away from my neighborhood, I plan ahead and find a minyan where I can recite this prayer.

Orthodox synagogues hold regular minyans because there are enough people in the community to make a minyan. Conservative and Reform synagogues typically don’t tend to consistently have enough members praying three times a day to be able to guarantee minyans. If I want to guarantee I have a minyan, I choose an Orthodox shul.

Morning services (shachrit) this time of year are held at 5:50 a.m. or 6:45 a.m. I can also choose to go to a mincha / maariv (afternoon / evening service) which tend to be around dinner time. Services take less than an hour, but on Shabbat, morning services are several hours.

Here is why I have made the decision to recite Kaddish every day in a minyan.

1. Routine

The routine of daily prayer encourages you to sit with your pain and grief on a daily basis. I can’t ignore my grief because it’s sitting with me in my pew every single day. It’s also the reason we say Kaddish in a minyan rather than alone. Community surrounds you and helps you define yourself. They are not mourning. I am. They are here with me and I am obligated to acknowledge my grief in a minyan so as to remind everyone to please be gentle with me; I am a mourner. Because I am virtually performing the same prayers and going through the same motions daily, I have a fairly accurate gauge of how my grief shifts and ebbs and flows in this routine of prayer and meditation. On one day, it’s a remote wish for God to comfort me because I feel no comfort at all, but as time unfolds, I embrace the notion of God comforting me. I can see my heart opening a bit more every day because I exercise it every day.

My bored children waiting for me to say Kaddish
2. Meditation

My time in shul is quiet time. In the Orthodox synagogues where I have gone, I am literally the only female there. (In Orthodoxy, men pray three times a day but women are not required to. Women attend synagogue on Shabbat and holidays, but daily minyans are almost exclusively universally male, with very rare exceptions, such as me…)

It’s private and quiet in the women’s section. Sometimes I listen, and sometimes I chant, and sometimes I shokel–rocking back and forth gently to the rhythm of the ancient words. This is time to think, and to move, and to also just be still–a rare commodity in most lives, but in particular mine. It’s a gift.

3. Discipline Among Chaos

Grief is chaotic. It mushes up your brain and makes it hard to think straight, and see straight, and talk right. The fact that I can show up somewhere every day in the midst of the chaos of grief gives me hope that order will return. I can have discipline even though I am grief-stricken, out of sorts, feeling crazed.

4. Learn Something New

I have never been to a morning service except for on Shabbat or the morning shiva ended, which happened to fall on a Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the month) and thus meant a morning Torah service. So I am learning how the structure of prayer in Judaism happens through this process. I am watching men pray while wearing tefillin (phylacteries), something I had only ever seen my grandfather do every morning by himself when he would come and stay with us when I was a child. I even have seen women lay tefillin in the Conservative shul and that was certainly amazing to witness. I have seen how people who are lefties lay tefillin (I actually did not know how lefties are supposed to do it!), and I had my (lefty) 6-year-old with me that day, so he got to learn something new too. In the middle of loss, I am gaining something: knowledge.

5. Life Doesn’t Go On But It Does

Losing my dad felt incompatible with life going on. Not so much because I felt I could not live without him, but because it felt impossible to live without him being alive too. I had to go back to work, care for my kids, feed myself (during shiva I never had to cook or prepare food for myself), make decisions, email, schedule, and do. I had to be a productive member of society again, separate from my new identity as a mourner. Life goes on; it has to. But saying Kaddish every day has allowed me to step out of the “life goes on” part of my day to enter a sanctuary (literally!) where I again am a mourner, and I feel again that life can’t go on because it’s OK to feel that way. It’s healthy to hold that tension in your brain. Grief is dissecting life going on from life not going on again and again.

I will continue to recite Kaddish every day. For the routine, the meditation, the discipline, the learning, and the tension it brings.

1 thought on “Mourning My Father; AfterTalk Inspirational 4.20.17”

  1. Dear Mayim,

    What a beautiful yet intense practice for grieving. I appreciate learning more about what my Orthodox Jewish brothers and sisters do when they have lost a loved one so thank you. I am also sorry for the loss of your father. It hurts so much.

    My personal experience of a Jewish grieving time was sitting shiva three years ago with one of my best friends after the sudden loss of her adult son. I found it comforting and yet tiring. I made friends with my bereaved friend’s friends. It is intimate to be with others who love the mourning person and I know our presence was comforting to her and her family.

    Every faith finds a way to go on living and seeking a source of solace seems so important to me lest despair find its way with us.

    Before I say goodbye, I think your expression, “Grief is dissecting life going on from life not going on again and again.” most beautiful and accurate.

    Peace be with you, Mayim.

    Mary Jane Hurley Brant

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