On communing with the dead at Yizkor

On communing with the dead at Yizkor

Lois Kaplan and Ken Goldrich stand under the chuppah; Meryl Troodler looks on.
Lois Kaplan and Ken Goldrich stand under the chuppah; Meryl Troodler looks on.

(Spoiler alert: I am neither delusional nor a psychic)

On Yom Kippur — dressed in white, as is the custom in some congregations — I realized that I would be reciting Yizkor for my husband, in a flowing white skirt, on my wedding anniversary.

Sincerely hoping that this wasn’t merely ironic but rather something more meaningful, I conjured up the image of my long-gone spouse to ask him what he thought.  He appeared, clearly, in his kittel, a large woolen tallit with a silver atarah — my wedding gift to him — and his oversized white kippah, which we bought in Sefat.

Never, in the 14 years since his death — he died at the conclusion of Simchat Torah — have I been able to picture him so clearly. True to form, he was too focused on the service to chat, except for occasionally correcting someone’s Hebrew or deliberately perverting the words of a prayer for comic effect. He hung around until Yizkor and then faded.

I hold two images in mind regarding my deceased loved ones. The first, and most helpful, is my village of the dead. When someone dies, they move there. Simple as that.

I like to think that Ken, who always said that heaven would pretty much be uninterrupted reading, helps them get adjusted, introducing one to the other. This is my village, so everyone here has one degree of separation.

My other image, lifted, I think, from Rabbi Avi Weiss, is of a bridge. Those living in the village enter from one side. I enter from the other. As Yizkor begins, we move toward each other, with Ken as a kind of troop leader. I smile and wave to the other side and then stand side by side with Ken as I recite the various memorial prayers.

Yep, there are my parents and sister, behind him. Hi. Miss you. Did I forget to tell you I love you? My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends. Nice to see you. Really. You were all pretty colorful characters.

I don’t leave the bridge until I have to. It’s precious time. Holy time.

I don’t believe, as I recite my sins, that I have committed one by venturing outside a bit to get closer to those who have moved further away. I get to say things to my parents that I forgot to say when they were alive. To tell my sister how sorry I am that she died so young. To embrace friends of my children who should be here now hugging their own children. To stand beside the man who taught me about unconditional love and was so passionate about his Jewish practice that our kids said he couldn’t tell a joke without a Jewish punchline.

Yom Kippur was, in truth, a beautiful day. I prayed for the future as I embraced the past.  I learned, I sang, and I crossed the boundaries that separate us from those who came before. All in all, not too bad an anniversary.

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