Monday, November 12, 2012

Yahrzeit day

Perhaps it was because I had been thinking so much about it? Or because I believed that the day of the first anniversary of my mother's death would be so significant? Or that I would be davening (praying) from the Amud for the first time since I stopped saying kaddish? Or that my status as an avel (mourner) would end and I had mixed feeling about letting go? Or some combination of all of these? For whatever reason, the Yahrzeit, which began Thursday evening and ended as Shabbat came in, was very stressful, more than I thought it would be.

I made sure I got to shul on time for Mincha on Thursday, which began at 4:30 p.m., so I could remind the Gabbai about the Yahrtzeit. Before the clocks had been moved back for daylight savings, I had plenty of time to get to shul from work; now there wasn't much time to spare, so I felt stressed about getting there on time.

Before the Mincha service began, I approached the Rabbi and spoke to him briefly. He spoke to me about the importance of continuing to go to shul. I told him I was doing the best I could and that I was trying to be kind to myself. He said sometimes being kind can mean pushing oneself and that if I were willing to come to to shul for my mother, how much more so to worship the living God. I wasn't prepared for this "guilt trip." Maybe he felt it was his job as a Rabbi.

After Mincha, the Rabbi spoke as usual and the mourners said their Kaddish D'rabbanan. I then assumed the position of prayer leader for the evening Ma'ariv service. Nobody announced I had Yahrzeit. I began the prayers. My Yahrzeit had officially begun.

As is the particular custom at this shul, the Gabbai banged the Bimah (stand where the Torah is read) and announced publicly "Yahrzeit!" halfway through the Aleinu prayer. The custom at the shul is that only a person who has Yahrzeit as well as anyone else in the first 30 days of mourning (Shloshim) recite the kaddish after Aleinu. I said my kaddish along with one other man. Feeling acutely self-conscious, I was actually happy to have someone saying kaddish along with me.

I then recited Psalm 23, one of the most powerful of all the psalms. It speaks about a living person coming as close to death as is humanly possible but living to tell the tale: ("though I walk in the valley  of the shadow of death, I do not fear for you are with me"). I then recited another Mourner's Kaddish along with the other mourners. Afterwards, a few people approached me with the traditional words: "may your mother's neshema (soul) have an aliyah (elevation)."

Right after prayers, I ate something quickly and then went shopping to get food for the planned kiddush at our home on Shabbat as well as some pizza for my son's dinner. (I did not feel like doing any cooking.) The line at the kosher food store was very long and it felt as if the wait took forever. Even on normal days, I do not do well on lines, feeling anxious and antsy. When I finally got everything I needed, I walked to my car, loaded the bags and pizza into the trunk, and closed it. Then I couldn't find my keys. I had no idea what had happened to them but there was only one plausible explanation for their disappearance: I'd locked them in the trunk. So I left the car and food in the parking lot and took the bus home. I had dinner, tried to relax, waited for my wife to come home from work, got her keys, called a cab, got back to the car, found the keys buried underneath all the food, and drove back home.

I didn't sleep well that night. I was anxious about getting to shul on time the next morning. I knew I needed to give myself extra time to get to shul because, with a Yahrzeit, it would be embarrassing to come late. I got to shul on time the next morning and led the prayers as best I could, being conscious of my tendency to go too fast when I get anxious. It's difficult to describe my feelings as I prayed. Mostly I felt some kind of weight that pressed down on me. I felt both emotional and numb. When I had finished, the Rabbi gave his short d'var halacha. The mourners began to recite the Kaddish D'rabbanan. Momentarily, I forgot that I was one of them. I said the words hurriedly and caught up with the other mourners. I put away my tallis and tephilin, got to my car and went to work.

I left work early to make sure I'd get to shul in time for the afternoon Mincha prayers. My brother, who was staying with me for Shabbat, led the prayers. I was happy to sit in the back and let him fulfill our duty. I recited the Mourner's Kaddish after Mincha, conscious that it would be my last for an entire year. I sat down and tried to let myself become carried away by the joyful tune of Yedid Nefesh, which begins the Friday evening Shabbat service. My Yahrzeit had officially ended.

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