When my mother died, the first day of chol ha'moed Sukkot, I was furious at the rabbis, the halacha, our tradition.
What do you mean no eulogies?! How do I begin to say goodbye with silence? (we spoke at the graveside anyway, after the crows performed the ultimate act of chesed and went away. As my mother would have said, with the flick of a hand, "They can go jump!")
What!? No shiva until after chag? But I had to say Kaddish, so I could forget about cloistering myself. A minyan was not going to come to me. Not yet. But I was not going to wave the lulav around in public exclaiming "הודו לה' כי טוב". Not a chance.
But our tradition is wide and the Rabbis did (even sometimes do) know what they are talking about: Don't ask a mourner how he is doing. For the 12 months. Let him tell you if he feels like it.
OK. Maybe you didn't ask, but here's how I am.
For eleven months what began with silence turned into cascades avalanches waterfalls of words. And today I said my last. Tonight begins the last month, and a return to silence. For eleven months, through the seemingly endless repetition, my Kaddish at times lost texture. Layers sanded down until it was something flat and smooth and nearly unrecognizable. But I still had it. Steel myself as I had to nearly every time to stand up or get up there, I still had it. It was okay to feel like crap. It was okay to sometimes feel like I'm losing my mind – after all – I'm saying Kaddish, it's only natural. Now I have silence.
For twelve months the soul is supposed to rise and fall. Buoyed and dragged, until ultimately rising away. Our Kaddish, our davening, our learning, our chesed, is a warm updraft. An extra lift. But in fine fashion for our people, we cannot even consider that our loved ones will bounce around for more than eleven months. So we stop. And so I did.
But I will have to steel myself for silence now, just as much as I steeled myself for speech. And in my silence there will be the echoes of last year crashing against the sound of the shofar and the coming of the New. And in my silence there will be the sound of the Kaddish of those who I have come to think of as partners. And instead of calling I will answer.
How am I doing? Feeling fragile again.
Ask me again in another month.