There are many clubs, so to speak, that we become part of during our lifetime. Channeling Groucho Marx, however, I just joined one that I had no desire to join.
That is, as the literature describes it, the orphan club. That is the club that welcomes a person whose last parent has died. I got up from shiva this week and found myself being slowly aware of my new status.
It is NOT a place I wanted to be. It has been 20 years since I last had to wear the black k’riah ribbon that signified being in mourning. It was a challenge to “let go” of things. My daughter and son kept trying to remind me that I was a son, and not the rabbi.
And, as expected, so much of what took place was a blur. Faces and people and conversations all seem to blend into one another.
Yet, there was a truth that emerged again throughout the week. That is the power of human relationships and the strength one finds in the embrace of a community. This is no small matter. We live in a world that is so rushed and privatized that we often forget the value of being in community. I was reminded of that constantly. The overwhelming number of cards and letters from friends and colleagues added to the sense that I was not “alone”.
Our tradition’s rituals regarding shiva are profound. They are sophisticated and true in that they literally help a mourner walk “through the valley of the shadow of death”. That is a strange and sometimes frightening journey. The power of community ushers one back into life. That is a true mitzvah.
The next stage of this journey, that of sh’loshim (thirty days), is where I am now. The memories of my mom now vie for attention with the still not yet real truth that she is gone. This too is normal.
But her name will be brought forward at services during sh’loshim and the connection to a community will again be present. Maybe it is not time that heals, but the presence of people, many of whom are also members of this club, who share, each in our own way, the emotions of loss and memory that now become part of who we are.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min