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.
*For this article, I refer to the “Torah” as a broad term to include the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and subsequent ancient books such as The Talmud*
Shavout is a holiday where Jews celebrate the giving of the Torah during 1312 BCE. The Torah covers a vast and intricate history of the Jewish nation as well as the laws that were given over to us on Mt. Sinai. The Torah even includes guidelines on death.
There are guidelines for what you are called during the moment you learn of the death of an immediate relative, up until their burial (an “onen”) and then from the moment of burial and seven days after that (an aveil) and then 30 days from the burial, and then one year from the death. There are detailed laws and guidelines for each of these stages of mourning.
The beautiful thing about the Torah is that it acknowledges the intricate details of time—every single second means something. From the moment your loved one stops breathing, time becomes sacred. Nothing is wasted anymore. Nothing is taken for granted. You live in a new world now. During the first few hours until burial, you live in an in-between world where your loved one is dead but isn’t buried yet. The world splits into two: the time when they were alive and the new reality in which they aren’t. Time slows down and yet speeds up all at once. You become so aware of every ticking second that brings you further and further away from your old reality with your loved one.
During the first week, you will count the days from when they died. Three days without your mother. Five days without your mother. During the first 30 days, you will count the weeks. Two weeks without your dad. Three weeks without a father. During the first year, you will count the months. Two months without a mother. Five months. Eight months. One year.
During the second year, you will lose track of months.
You will be forced to rejoin a society where no one is counting with you anymore. Maybe every so often you stop and think and try to calculate the months or years it’s been since your loss. And you’ll hold onto anniversaries and birthdays in which you don’t have to remember to count. Because counting is hard, and keeping track of a new life without your loved one is painful. But when a holiday comes and forces you to pause and remember your loved one, The Torah will be there to guide you.
On this holiday of Shavout, it is customary to light a candle for their memory and their souls. It is also customary to go to the synagogue to hear the recitation of Yizkor and pray for them. The Torah will keep track of the holidays and the special days of remembrance. The Torah will count for you, so you don’t have to.
I’m not the most orthodox Jew, but on this holiday, I acknowledge and am thankful for the beauty of our history and our tradition—to remember those we lost, even when we feel like we may be forgetting. This holiday, if you’re grieving, I invite you to light a candle; to go to synagogue and whisper their names in prayer and think of their faces, their smiles, and their hugs. Imagine them looking at you and hearing their voice and giving them a tight squeeze or a soft kiss.
And the most important step? Go home after and eat the most delicious cheesecake and pastas and all the traditional dairy foods that you always ate with your loved one on this holiday. Cry and laugh with close friends and family, and though you remember the dead, please don’t forget to pause and acknowledge the present. You’re still alive; you’re still here.
We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.
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What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
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