I am a mourner. A stranger in a strange land, with a blurry map and a tattered phrasebook.
This year, I am a teachable moment, and I cannot think of a more fitting honour for my father.
Everything happened so quickly, yet in slow-motion type surreality.
On a sunny, take-for-granted normal Sunday evening, I finished my day by dropping in to my parents for “soup”. Soup had become the catch-all name for Sunday pot-luck dinner over the past few years, whereby my Dad would spend Sunday afternoon tinkering around the kitchen, elevating whatever he found in the fridge, plus a potato or two, into Sunday Evening Soup, a weekly observance. It had started out as a ‘second-chance Friday Night’ — a make-up dinner in case some of the kids and grandkids couldn’t make formal Friday night. Sunday drop-in at Mima and Zaidy’s became known as “Soup” — even if there wasn’t any actual soup, as was sometimes the case — and ended up being its own tradition.
And so, one Sunday last June, I showed up for “Soup”. I was the only one there with my parents, and it was warm, pleasant, low-key. I kissed them both as I left. “Have a great week. See you Friday.”
I don’t believe any of us ever think these things happen in real life. I mean, our real life. Obviously it happens to other people.
Wednesday Dad got rushed to hospital, and began, like a grandfather clock, to wind down. Thursday he left us. Friday began with his funeral, and officially launched my family’s new normal.
What follows is a year of consecration. Every single day, I recite Kaddish. And every Kaddish marks its own microcosmic reality, its own challenges, insights, strengths. Its own unique step in this journey of mine that just rounded a corner and began a new direction.
Saying Kaddish is not traditionally an obligation for women, and while there is no prohibition from doing so, it is not customary. I have been met with curiosity, vague dismay, encouragement, admiration.
My determination to say Kaddish publicly every day was not so much a decision but rather an instinct. It’s one of those clear points on that blurry map, and I’m clinging to it for dear life. Every day, my world pauses for half an hour while I duck into services. I have recited Kaddish in synagogues of differing denominations; in other cities; in our local park with the shul baseball team. I have found a wonderful weekday ‘half-hour home’ at a high school, with a diverse mix of students and teachers. Every single day I have found a minyan, a quorum — a symbolic and de facto community that supports me in my declaration that this year, this is who I am, and this is where I belong.
I hope to share my year of teachable moments here.