Sunday, February 21, 2010

908. I'm back, and more minyans

Yes, it's been awhile. I think I exhausted myself in January, between all that blogging and writing for my class (to paraphrase Barbie, writing is hard!), but hope to resume at a saner pace.

There were an awful lot of deaths in my synagogue community these past few weeks, which always seems to happen during the cold winter months. Someone suggested that it's also because people nearing the ends of their lives try to hold on until the new year. I like to believe this is true, and that we can influence our fate, and God's will, in that way. In either case, it means I've been very busy as a volunteer shiva minyan leader. One night I led for a member of my havurah who lost her father after a long illness, an evening of funny, moving stories and the warmth of a room filled with people who knew and loved one another. We were friends, relaxed, and so I could breathe while immersed in the sadness.

Last week, a very different scenario. The apartment was packed, a father, mother, 40 or 50 other shell-shocked, smiling people: the young man, their son, brother, friend, had committed suicide. I knew neither the family nor circumstances and spent the day very nervous about walking into this house of shiva, afraid I'd say the wrong thing or respond inappropriately to a completely unimaginable kind of grief. In an attempt to quantify a wholly incomprehensible situation, I envisioned some kind of black pit of swirling despair. Then I thought about the wise and eloquent words of Gannett Girl following her son's death, as well as how my infinitely sensitive and compassionate rabbis might react, and realized that I needed to say very little, and just be as present as possible.

It was fine. They were people just like the rest of us, broken on the inside but still standing. The son and father wept during the prayers; the mother stood frozen. They shared stories about a caring, smart man with many friends; the mother asked if people could send photos and web pages they knew were out there, but never needed to find before. We sang "Esa Einai," Psalm 121 ("From where does my help come?") at the end; I watched the father close his eyes and sway gently, and was relieved that I correctly judged that music would be bearable.

Afterwards I came home and collapsed into an unconscious sleep, utterly exhausted. I'm in awe of how rabbis and others who provide this kind of support during impossible situations can do it on a regular basis without losing their minds.

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