Yahrtzeit, in Hebrew, simply means “time of year”.
Specifically, “time of one year”, as in anniversary.
As in, anniversary of a loved one’s death.
Specifically, and most often, your parent’s death.
For this anniversary, there is a Kaddish prayer said at the end of the synagogue service to remember and honor the deceased. Chabad.org states:
Tradition regards this day as commemorative of both the enormous tragedy of death and the abiding glory of the parental heritage. It was a day set aside to contemplate the quality and life-style of the deceased, and to dwell earnestly upon its lessons. It is a day when one relives the moment of doom, perhaps even fasts to symbolize the unforgettable despair. It is a day conditioned by the need to honor one’s parent in death as in life, through study and charity and other deeds of kindness.
I relived the moment of doom HERE, where I poured out the horrific story of my mother’s death, and my early grasping efforts at accepting it. We relived some of it today, on accident. We stayed home unexpectedly, had a pajama day, taking turns writing. My brother relived some of it all too consciously, spending today at the same swim and debate tournament in Joplin that mom had driven to that day to see the kids. It hit me this evening, when Nathan’s composer, Scott, called at the same time as last year. That’s what Nathan was doing when we got the call from the ambulance: talking to his composer. Today, when it was a year later, we felt that moment again, and took a moment of quiet, and had a few tears. It just is.
It is based on the firm belief that the living, by acts of piety and goodness, can redeem the dead. The son can bring honor to the father. The “merit of the children” can reflect the value of the parents. This merit is achieved, primarily, by living on a high ethical and moral plane, by being responsive to the demands of God and sensitive to the needs of fellowman. The formal expression of this merit is accomplished by prayer to God and by contributions to charity.
This part about live people being able to do work to redeem the dead catches me by surprise every time I read it in a text, or when we talk about it in my Jewish Studies classes. It comes from Malachi, at the end (4:6), in the promises that state:
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children,
and the heart of the children to their fathers…
along with D&C 128:18:
For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect.
In this case, “perfect” means “whole” and “complete”, not just “without any naughty”.
I could not be made perfect, or whole, or complete, without having been born into my body on Earth so that I could have the opportunity to continue my progression.
My mother could not be made perfect, or whole, or complete, without receiving holy and sacred ordinances so that she may have the opportunity to continue her progression.
We need each other.
We need each other in a million ways, and learned a million things from each other through a million battles and a million hugs. I don’t know that anyone ever worked so hard on a relationship as did my mother and I, and we were both stubborn enough to keep trying. I miss her everyday, and often see her smile or receive another lesson or special teaching or gentle reminder or some comfort. I am grateful.
I have never grieved so consciously for so long. My father died a year before my mother, but he died from cancer. It was slow and horrific, but gave us time to say goodbye and left the rest of us survivors behind in some mortal exhaustion. It was hard, but this was different.
This was sudden, and without warning.
Except it wasn’t. We felt it coming, though we didn’t know when or how or so soon. Even mom had given us each a special farewell lecture, right down to shaking her fist at Nathan and promising to haunt him if he ever mistreated me. Except she knew I would be the mean one, so I got the same fist and had to promise not to mistreat him, either. It was a tender moment, that Sunday after church, her last one with us, when I felt my father with her, felt him nearby, felt him giving her words he would say if he were here.
We felt like family, I thought.
I felt it, even though my father had died a year before.
I feel it now, even though both my parents have died.
I feel it because it was only their mortal bodies that died, and that is a necessary discarding of what is not eternal. For they will be raised again with new and eternal and healthy bodies to house their already eternal spirits.
Those spirits remain present, alive, and ever near me still. They have classes and studies and assignments, and they have all these grandchildren – my brother’s children they met and loved, and my crew of castaways that I embrace – and so they are busy, so busy. I can’t tell you how busy they are, the things I hear and see and how urgent it all is, how close to running out of time we are. But still, even then, they smile at me, and visit me, and care for me, and help me, and teach me.
I think they are stuck with me as a forever assignment.
Only parents could love a girl that much.
Well, and Nathan.
It is through these precious and sometimes startling experiences that I receive evidence of our continued relationship beyond the grave. My token back to them, evidence of this understanding, is an increased obedience to the things they teach me and to the promptings by which the Spirit guides me. Trust me when I say this is good evidence for them, as I was never so very obedient before. I am not good at it yet, but I am trying. They know, and they cheer me on. Because that’s what parents do, and our relationship continues to grow in these ways, made possible by temple ordinances and practice at covenant keeping.
The Family Proclamation says:
In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshiped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.
We need each other to be complete.
This year has been really, really hard. Every month or so, fresh air fills my lungs and I think, “wow! I had no idea how hard that was until now when I feel so much better!” Then the next month comes, and I think, “wow! I was really still grieving last month… so glad I am starting to feel better!”
And then the next month, and then the next month, and then the next month.
And then here we are, at Yahrtzeit.
I think I am almost over it, and then I pull out a necklace I would always pretend to steal from her but now have without her to tease me, or drive past a Sonic (which are everywhere, by the way), or try to pack my house for moving and find her things everywhere. Each new encounter is a fresh punch in the gut, and my eyes are tired from the hot tears I have cried in the last year. It has been really, really hard.
I wanted to run when it happened. I wanted to run away like I did before. I wanted to disappear, literally, to just get on a plane and not come back.
But I didn’t.
Because I believe my covenants are real.
And the more I try to keep them, even when I am so very weak, the more I try to keep them the more power they hold… even enough to keep my feet glued in place.
Every single day was a conscious choice not to run away, especially when we had miscarriage after another, and foster kids came and went, and my body fought to heal from the pregnancies. It made me kind of whacky, in a not-breathing kind of way.
Running would have been easier.
But it would not have been better.
I stayed because I am stronger now, healed-er now, better now. I stayed because I loved Nathan, and had no intention of losing him after waiting so long to find him. I stayed because it was the right thing to do, and I had already promised to do the right thing – even when it was hard.
Sometimes it was so hard to stay that I couldn’t breathe, that it was all I could do to go through the motions, that looking back I have no idea how I functioned as much as I did – even though I wasn’t.
It’s embarrassing and humiliating, that kind of weakness, that kind of falling apart.
But it is genuine, and real, and authentic.
And it was that big because I loved my mother that much.
And there was Nathan, so gentle and loving, making me sappier with each new day, always promising there would be more new days, and that one day I would be able to breathe again. I love him so much, really so very much. But he loves me even more than I can comprehend. I know that is true. He loves me well. This is a quote from that blog I wrote the week mom died, the one where I “relive the moment of doom”. I wrote:
Nathan is my blessing. He is a pure heart, and he is good and kind. He has literally held me up these few days, and has often held me tight. When information was too hard to face, and scenes too gruesome to see, he held me steady and strong in a way I have never known. When I cry in my sleep, he holds me tight. When I jolt awake in panic and screams, he wraps his arms around me and lays me back down. When I lay there unable to sleep, still and quiet but with tears pouring down my cheeks, he rubs my hands and rubs my back and just lets me be.
That is always how Nathan loves me, just being him, just being with me, just letting me be. It’s a hard job to live with someone as intense as me, and a hard job to live with someone as stubborn and obstinate. Except he melts me always, and we have never had ugliness between us, and always we are united. There were months of grieving that were hard, because my life changed so suddenly.
My whole life had been about my mother, which maybe is part of why it shook me so hard. We were best friends as I grew up, and I had to run so far away to individuate, and then we reunited with as much force. I floundered my way through our healing reunion, and we grew to become grown-up friends. She loved Nathan, and they were a hilarious pair as they bantered nonsense faster than I could listen. But that was my life, me and my mom, and then adding Nathan, and then just as quickly, mom was just gone. My life, I knew, would never be the same.
This was the last day I saw her. It is the day Nathan and I walked through the snow to her house to help take care of her dogs and put away her Christmas decorations. We cleaned her house for her, too, and she was so grateful – and wanted us to stay longer, of course – so she made us chili. She hugged us when we were leaving, as always, but pulled us back a second time and told us it was the best Christmas she had ever had, and that she was happy, and that she was so glad our family was healing, and she was excited about our second try at a pregnancy.
She was happy.
We ended well, mom and me (mom and I).
I don’t have nightmares anymore. I have the facts from the highway patrol and the ambulance people and the hospital reports and my written memories, but there are no flashbacks that intrude or gruesome scenes that replay in my head. I do sometimes have flashes of anxiety when I drive now, though I never did before her accident, but they are not full panic attacks and me having a little extra caution while I drive is probably a good thing.
I still cry sometimes, but when I cry, it’s just a few moments. I don’t need hours in a hot bath just to burn away my tears, and when I run at the park it is because my body is healing and getting strong again – not because I am trying not to run away. When Nathan and I find some new pile of mom’s things I still need to go through, I can handle it. I can ask him for help, or wait and do it later, or take care of it quickly and be okay.
Because I am okay.
Because mom didn’t die yesterday. It was a year ago. That was a long time ago.
And I am okay.
Here is the truth: my mom was killed in a car accident that I was supposed to be driving, but I wasn’t driving, and so I survived, and I am okay. Sometimes sad, and always missing her, but okay.
Shake it off, she would say. I might be nervous for my doctoral defense or maybe ashamed of a mistake or giddy over Nathan, but whenever I got all worked up, she always told me to “shake it off”. She would make me do this ridiculous little dance to shake it off, and she would do it with me until I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe.
My mom was really, really funny.
I think – honestly – that is another reason this year has hit me so hard, because she was highly entertaining and extremely hilarious, and so the world was a little more dull without her, besides any grief of just missing her being around.
I always thought I was working really hard to make her happy and keep her laughing, even until it drowned me, but maybe she was working just as hard, too, and I know that I am exhausting.
That’s enmeshment, and that’s why I fell over when she disappeared.
But I faced it, and consciously grieved, and lived every painful emotion I was supposed to feel or that even tried to surface.
And I did it without any alcohol.
And I did it without any running away.
I stood there, with my face in the wind, and held my ground.
And that was as healing as anything.
And now I’ve made it, all the way to Yahrtzeit, and survived, sober and present, strong and awake.
I am alive, and my reward for enduring – the same way they give you chocolate milk at the end of 5K – my reward for enduring is that Heavenly Father says that now I can leave. Released. Permission to go, which is not the same as running away.
Without trying, without seeking it out, and with all things provided, and by deliverance greater than I could asked or imagined, there is a new house in a new town. I get to keep my husband I adore, and I get to keep my job that I love, and I have more kids than I know what to do with most days.
But I can say goodbye to the house that I built for my mother, and I can take the final exam of the language that I studied to keep myself from drowning in grief, and I can say goodbye even to the grief itself.
Because we ended well, my mother and I.
And because our ending was only the beginning.
So it’s time to say hello.
Hello to my mother, hello to our ongoing relationship, hello to my new life with my husband, hello to a new town, hello to new in-laws that are very good parents to me despite myself, and hello to my very own grown up family.
It’s time to say hello to me again, and come back to life.
Shake it off.
I’m scared, you know, to say goodbye, to let go, to move forward. I’m scared because it’s an act of faith to do it. It’s an act of faith not to just say “I believe this is true”, but to really act on it and feel it and do it. But I know it is true, this resurrection business, and I know this ongoing relationship stuff is legit. That’s the thing about acting in faith, even if you have to experiment for a year to try it out and practice for a while, but once you really act in faith then it isn’t just hope anymore.
And ultimately, that’s why I am okay.
And that’s why our ending is just the beginning.
And beginnings are something to be excited about.
I am grateful for my mother, not just because I wouldn’t exist without her, but because she made sure I became something, someone, myself. She sacrificed a great deal to be sure that I had opportunities that I would not have otherwise had, and made sure that I was strong enough to accomplish them and to do them well. She made sure I believed in me, and she believed in me when no one else did.
That’s a lot of love.
I love her, so much, and always will. I will miss her every single day.
But I won’t be without her.
Because “the divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave.”
Because this is just the beginning.
And it’s time to get ready.
Game on, mama.