I led another shiva minyan last week. I've noticed a pattern over the past few years: more people die during the winter. Maybe it's because of cold weather, not often kind to the elderly or ill; or that shorter, greyer days take a toll on those already weary of life. Whatever the reason, I've been called to help these past two months more often than usual. I worried at first that it would be hard to lead so soon after experiencing my own loss, but that's not the case. I do feel softer, in a way, more of a sponge for sorrow in the room, but at the same time have a better sense of the nuances of pain. I am more careful with my words. I am also, perhaps, less likely to stick around and shmooze afterwards; my threshold for sadness is lower, which I think will change over time. I'm also grateful that I don't do this on a regular basis, and can't imagine how rabbis (or doctors) hold all our emotions while dealing with the ones in their own lives. I guess the best of them learn to master this skill, as difficult as Talmud.
The minyan last week was as beautiful as all the others. The deceased was loved by a big family, and let go of life only after being assured her job was complete--that her children would put aside longtime arguments and fully embrace each other once again. We prayed while surrounded by photos of a woman with an infectious smile who didn't seem to age even as everyone else looked older and more wrinkled. I spoke about the lampstand in Parashat Vayakhel/Pikudei and how its arms, like members of our community, branched out from a strong backbone. I wished those in mourning the strength of that backbone and comfort of the embracing, golden arms that the rest of us tried to provide.