Purim: Where Joy and Grief Meet

Holidays and Special Days / Holidays and Special Days : Litsa

Today's guest author is Michal Baitz. Michal is the founder and facilitator of The Mending Word, a healing space for grieving and connecting. The Mending Word is a grief writing workshop created for those who have lost a loved one. Through grief-related materials and guided prompts, the members discuss, write and share their experiences. New series begin throughout the year with weekly or bimonthly sessions to choose from. Learn more and register here.

Purim is the most joyous holiday in Judaism. It commemorates the survival of Jews in the 5th century who were freed from a death decree by Persian rulers. The story, related in the Book of Esther, is one of miracles, Jewish history, strength, and joy. 

Purim is simultaneously my mother’s death anniversary. Each year, as I prepare for the holiday—-one of laughter, fun, and creativity—I also prepare to honor another year of my mother’s passing.

Hey Mom,

It’s that time of year again—time for our annual check in. We used to speak every day. I’d call you at least three times, and we’d text in between. There was nothing new in my life that you didn’t already know about. But here we are.

Three years later, I’m forced to put on sad music, light a candle, stare at a photo of us together, close my eyes, and try to hear your voice just to feel some sort of connection to you. Just to be able to picture you next to me. To picture you alive and well. To picture you at our home. To picture us planning the purim seudah together and planning the menu. Sending you photos of my costume, and planning what you’ll give out to your students at the door when they come visiting. Going shopping for all the goodies and sweets for the shaloch manot. 

Instead, this year, I’m texting photos of my costume to your daughters. I’m planning the meal with all of your kids that live in New York. I’m planning all of this from my apartment that is around the corner from the home you lived in for 45 years. I’m sitting here and forcing myself to feel this connection, while simultaneously living that connection in the same town you grew up in, with the same people you share blood with. As much as I am aware that you are gone, I am also aware that you are everywhere—even in the holiday that you died on. You are immersed in the joy that is spread, in the community gatherings, in the charity that is given, in the time spent with family and friends. You are in all of it now, for eternity. This thought gives me comfort, as I look at this photo of us together, and I close my eyes and try to imagine you near me, I can still feel your soul pulsing through my veins and in all that I do. 

Chag Samaech, Mommy. This will be our third Purim without you. Our third year commemorating your death. Our third year remembering what it was like to lose you that night, as the megillah was read in synagogues, and you took your last breath, remembering all of us together breaking as one unit. Our third year without our mom, and our second year without our dad, and what do we still have? What do we still have to hold onto when all feels lost? This is what we must continue to seek every day—to hold onto all that is lost, but to remember what we still have: each other. The friends and family that are still here. The beautiful memories that we created along the way; the ones that can never leave us or be forgotten. And always, the holidays and moments that continue to exist, year after year, even if the ones we loved aren’t here to celebrate with us anymore. We can still find ways to bring them with us into the holidays that we celebrate. Baking their favorite treats, using their decorations, singing the songs they taught us, or being with the people they loved. These are all ways we continue to not just survive through the holidays, but to live. 

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

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6 Comments on "Purim: Where Joy and Grief Meet"

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  1. Betty Potash  March 29, 2023 at 3:00 pm Reply

    I too lost my mother 6 years ago on March 14th…..I am so grateful that she lived to be 104 years old…..She was my best friend..I wish i had the chance to tell her that..We were very close…Yes, the loss is difficult however I try hard to always focus on the positive to remember her. Passover is upon us and it is difficult knowing that my parents are no longer alive and it is different now to celebrate the holidays.

  2. Gilles  March 13, 2023 at 12:08 pm Reply

    I enjoy scanning the WYG emails/articles because there is usually something that I can wean on this difficult journey called grief. Thursday is the anniversary of the blind date when my wife and I met 29yrs ago. This summer will be 6 yrs since she died of undiagnosed stomach cancer. She just 8 short days in hospital from when she was admitted to when she died. I share and post pictures about Darla when I can on some of my closed groups and sometimes on my personal social media pages. Grief sucks and with me it always seems to lurk just below the surface like it’s patiently waiting for a trigger to appear. I still breathe and I still put one foot in front of the other.

  3. Gina  March 8, 2023 at 5:15 pm Reply

    Your essay is a beautiful testament to the traditions and memories your mother began in your family, that you now keep as a living legacy.
    As difficult as it is going on without our loved ones, in happy times we need to share our faith and family times together for new generations to learn and hold in their hearts and memories!

  4. Elicia  March 5, 2023 at 9:48 pm Reply

    My mom, my best friend, my everything, also died on Purim last year. The Rabbi who was dressed as a clown came to the hospital to final prayers and reminded me that miracles happen on this day. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story of your mom who passed on this holiday, it has made me feel less alone. I am so sorry for your loss. I do not have siblings or family like yourself, it was just her and myself and I struggle to find the joy. Maybe, because it is because it is the first year, maybe because so many things had to change. My home, her home that I grew up in, that she lived in for 56 years is now gone, her possessions, gone. Even a lot of the people who I thought would be supportive, abandoned me. Knowing that another can find hope in such sorrow has made me feel hopeful too. Thank you.

  5. Cate L  March 3, 2023 at 11:22 am Reply

    Thank you, loved finding this post on Purim and grief. So nice to have this acknowledged.

  6. Chana  March 2, 2023 at 11:33 am Reply

    Very Touching and accurate – the holidays are the hardest time to sit with your grief and as time goes on and memories are more distant we need to make a point of remembering what once was a time when we only knew this as a joyous day.

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