Yesterday was Zayin Adar, the 7th of Adar, traditional date of Moses' birth and death. In its honor, the Hevra Kadisha at my synagogue (those, including myself, who volunteer around issues of death and mourning), and at synagogues all over the world, held a dinner--the one occasion of the year when members can be publicly thanked, since this is a mitzvah whose recipients are no longer able to express gratitude.
I go to occasional shiva minyanim, services held in homes during the week following the funeral of a family member. I know I'm not strong enough to volunteer in any other way, and am glad I can muster the guts to do even this. I'm always privileged to hear stories about amazing people, and wonder how many other singular lives I'll discover only after it's too late.
It sounds a little strange to say a Zayin Adar dinner was really cool, but our speaker was Rabbi Maurice Lamm, author of two extraordinary books, The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning and Consolation: The Spiritual Journey Beyond Grief. He shared brilliant insights while also making us laugh, an especially impressive skill around this topic. He wondered aloud: why...
...do we cover mirrors in a house of mourning? To remind us that we can become invisible at any time, and teach us to confront these fears.
...do we say Mourner's Kaddish every day for eleven months, a prayer hardly anyone understands? To experience the rhythm and music of its repetitive, hypnotic words, which become a mantra of comfort.
...do we sit shiva (the seven days after a funeral of receiving guests in one's home, preferably while sitting on a low stool)? Why sit? Shouldn't we be doing something more active to recover from our pain? No. We need to remain still and take time to hear and tell stories about our loved one, a necessary focus along the path of grief.
I listened to his wise words and remembered that I barely did any of these things after the deaths of my parents; Jewish ritual, Jewish anything, was way at the bottom of my list back then. I think I'm making up for it, very slowly. My mother died twenty-one years ago today (Monday will be the Hebrew date). She's always with me, so I don't really feel like I have to set aside separate time to think of her. But I did anyway, and I smiled, and in a few days will laugh in her memory along with hundreds of other people at services on Purim, every single one of them celebrating her life.