Enjoy the opportunity to reflect on the question and consider using this piece of art to help you.
Reflections on Love
I remember mere fragments of my childhood.
Ice storms that quieted the day’s regular patterns.
Practicing the violin as I looked out at the ice and snow and saw cold everywhere.
In second grade we learned about clouds. We looked up every day. Talking with God. Without language.
Lilacs, purple, abundant, outside my window. The bunnies and the cherry trees.
In the summer heat of Illinois, the smell of the chlorine at the large, crowded, noisy, public swimming pool.
The taste of the wetness as I stayed under water looking at all the white legs kicking. My first kiss.
I don’t remember when I learned there were legs of many shades or when I wondered why I only saw white legs there.
Maybe it was in India, 5 or 6 six years old. Attending a British Catholic school run by white nuns. I am the only white child. And Jew.
At 14, I wondered about Jesus and reading the New Testament. An act of independence, searching.
When did I feel shame for my body, being a woman? I don’t remember when I became a feminist. When I became angry.
Or the moment I understood that mental illness and patriarchy were interwoven.
I ran after my mother’s tennis balls. Now she is attached to the couch.
(When did I start to slow down, have trouble getting up off the floor, or taking my first steps in the morning?)
When did I fall in love with you?
Sitting on the beach and watching you pray to mama ocean.
I remember my big dark hair, curls, depth, wild. My hair is grey. When did that happen?
I remember and honor you with love and humility.
You taught me through words and deeds.
Forgive me, if I did not let that be known to you during your lifetime.
May my thoughts, words, and actions help your soul rise and soar.
I pray with all my heart that you continue to be deeply connected to all that has lived, is living, and will live.
Through this remembrance, may we all be aligned with God, God of our ancestors, and one another.
And let us say, Amen*
*There is no traditional prayer when lighting a yarzheit or yizkor candle. The simple prayer above was inspired by the study of the teachings of Rabbi Eliezer Papo regarding honoring our parents. I hope you can use it. Below is a closer interpretation of that prayer. We were especially struck by the fact that he included father-in-law, mother-in-law, etc., not often found in a prayer of remembrance like this. Our interpretation includes all who are close. Our dear ones.
Prayer for Yarzheit or other time of Memorial (unveiling, yizkor)
Written collaboratively by Rabbi Shalom Bochner, Rabbi Eli Cohen, Rabbi Chaya Gusfield
Our God, God of our ancestors, may I be aligned with You. May all the good deeds that I do, whether in thought, words, or action, be received by You with compassion and with favor. May all I do be for the merit, rest, and elevation of the life force, spirit, and soul of XXXX (insert name of father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law or any of those close who have gone before.). May it be Your will that XXX ‘s soul (any dear one’s soul) be deeply connected to all that has lived, is living, and will live, eternally bound in the bonds of all life.
Welcome to my website! Now Chaya’s Garden is part of the website. A new beginning, a time of creativity and gratitude. It’s raining. Let the rain heal and nourish the earth and all that inhabit her. Thank you Ellen Tobe for all your brilliance, design, patience, and skill in making this happen. I have learned so much from you.
We always say I will be the one who will be standing when she dies.
There are so many assumptions in that statement:
- She will die.
- She will die before I do.
- I will be able to stand.
We think we know the path, the plan
Yet there have already been so many silences when we expected sound
So many sunny days during a torrential storm.
Then, of course, great pandemics,
Bringing a box of uncertainties.
How many pandemics does it take to remember we don’t know anything about standing?
If my skin was translucent you could see my blood.
You could see my impatience rising when people use acronyms that point out who is on the inside and who isn’t in the know.
If my skin was translucent you could see the thoughts in the brain going back and forth-some of worry about that damn frig-what is making that noise? Will we one day awaken to spoiled food? Or what is that smell? What is it?
You could see the roadmap of my pain with hills, valleys, dirt paths and cement foundations. You could see the blockages to my joy.
You could see all the people I have crossed paths with, many who I miss terribly, hidden behind the heart.
You would see movies of drama, love and betrayal, anger transformed after too many exhausting years. You could see the characters I played in each scene.
You could see all the food I’ve eaten and all the walks my legs have taken me on. Many in the cemetery. Visiting myself and others. All the dogs I passed on the street wondering how they feel being owned.
You would see my spirit rising, my lungs expanding when I see a family of turkeys or quail or deer or a lone bobcat or a royal heron waiting to catch its dinner.
You would see every bone trying to do its work, each day a new challenge and a new solution, sometimes obscured.
You would see my ancestors in my liver or is it kidneys? Ancestors that speak through me about when to water the tomatoes and when to plant the kale seeds. They speak, but my ears are just learning how to listen. And my mouth. Just learning to speak.
If my skin was translucent you would see all the songs I have sung. To sick people, their families, to grieving folks, and to ones in celebration. You would see my daughter as she formed in my body. It took her nine months to move out of the body into my arms and now she lives down the street from me, teaching me and others about important matters I am just learning now at 64. She is still in my arms.
If my skin was translucent you would see the yearning, the longing to come closer, even closer, and the prayers listening to touch the sacred.
Stop! What is the sacred? How do we touch it?
If my skin was translucent you might get a glimpse.
You can’t bring back the dead, but you can live with them inside your feet and your hands, guiding your cooking, your dreaming, your words. Singing melodies of comfort, so sweetly.
You can say their names out loud. Name your children after them, make movies about them and wear their socks or pajamas. Or a necklace made of jade, bought by them on a trip to Japan.
You can’t bring back the dead, but you can ponder your regrets, write them I’m sorry letters, pray for forgiveness, and know that you might be one of those people that waited too long. Just maybe.
You can put together intricate photo collages of them in all their ages and glory, when they were sleeping, when they were posing, hoping to smell them again, or sit in their lap.
You can see them suddenly walking down the street, same gait, same clothes, same bad haircut.
You can hear their voice calling to someone.
You can’t bring back the dead, but you can look into the eyes of your mentor and know that your dead sister is looking back at you through her eyes, saying, “yes, it’s me. You get another chance. Don’t be afraid”.
You can eat that chopped liver as if mom is in the room saying, “have some more, it’s delicious”.
You can tend to your plants as if her arms are your arms and your intuition is really hers.
You can’t bring them back, but you can learn their Torah, passed down from generation to generation.
You can’t bring back the dead, but you can mourn their deaths at the hands of the State. Cry out until someone listens, or just keeping crying out.
You can write their names on your sidewalks, in the synagogue, in your poetry. Never forget those who died during the great pandemic, or at the hands of white supremacist violence.
Why has the press stopped telling stories about those who died and are still dying?
You can’t bring them back but you can remember their lives. Each individual life.
You can’t bring them back but you can know that you will join them someday and others will not be able to bring you back, no matter how much they howl, or plead, or bargain.
You can’t bring me back when I am called to the other side, but maybe someone will write a poem in my memory.
My work is to stay alive in the fullest sense of the word.
My work is to go beyond breathing and eating, and imagine moments of wonder and awe.
And do more than imagine.
My work is to be generous to everyone I know and don’t know through expressions of love and resources.
My work is to wake up each day and remember those who came before me even those I never met or who in my lifetime weren’t so nice to me personally.
My work is to tell the truth and speak out not just about me, but the injustices I see.
My work is to witness and not turn away.
My work is to give my daughter lots of space, but not too much.
My work is to offer comfort to people even when I don’t know what that word means at a time like this.
My work is to let go of other people’s faults and to see them as teachings about where and how I want to be in the world.
Nothing more, nothing less.
My work is to keep educating myself and learning about how systemic oppression works and how I can work to make change.
My work is to have the sadness and see the joy, grieve hard, and lift my head up and continue.
My work is to offer communal prayers, not just mine, but the prayers of those who are so sad they can’t pray. Sh’ma Koleinu: Hear our voices.
My work is to calm the voices in my head trying to distract me from doing good.
My work is never done, yet I’m obliged to continue.
My work is to make dinner for my beloved and tuck her into bed.
My work is to support her and not crowd her.
My work is to be creative and go beyond.
My work is to remember. Always remember.
My work is to yearn for more than we can imagine. Even when.