On Sunday May 6th, in a small cemetery in Vermont, we buried my mother Diana (Deena) Popack Winer. She was born in Montpelier, Vermont in 1918 so it was fitting that Vermont was her final resting place. She touched many people by her attitude of gratitude and her zest for life. Her motto was “you make your own happiness”.
My brother and I participated in many rituals (both traditional and non-traditional that I will write about at another time) but I wanted to share with you the meaning of Kaddish, a Jewish prayer recited by mourners after the death of a relative. There are many gateways to Spirit and this is one that is meaningful to me.
Kaddish is meant to be recited within a collective so there is enough energy to lift up the lonely mourners, the angry mourners, the mourners too hurt to even say amen. It reassures the wounded soul that you are not alone.
Kaddish affirms that God is beyond us. Understanding is beyond us but Holiness and beauty are all around us. We have work to do. There is hope. Peace is possible.
Kaddish asks you to take what might appear random, meaningless and cruel and speak of it as part of the sacred whole. This is an enormous challenge. As we accept death as a part of life we are given a refuge…a way to find peace even when there is no way to make sense of the loss.
Although Kaddish gives voice to acceptance it is not a statement of submission. Kaddish reminds mourners of their obligation both to dream of the kingdom of heaven on earth and to build it…without delay.
Yet in our time of mourning we know that fragility of life.
Kaddish addresses the meaning of life and death, immortality and redemption, the purpose and efficacy of prayer, community and the ultimate goal of peace.
Both inner peace and the peace of the whole world.
Every death leaves unfinished family business. Saying Kaddish in memory of a loved one is one way the mourners forgive the dead and themselves for words spoken in anger and for words of love and forgiveness never given voice. Kaddish helps replace guilt and grudges with shalom…peace.
The bottom line is startlingly clear. In words and through practice, Kaddish insists that the mourner turn away from death and choose life. In this way Kaddish expresses the essence of Judaism.
I read this prayer at my mother’s grave (thank you Terri Gold for suggesting it):
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
-Mary Elizabeth Frye
Thank you all for your prayers and good wishes. And a special thank you to all my family and friends, especially my mother’s friend and aid Joy Williams who kept her laughing until the very end.