I have learned that there will be moments in our lives when we experience the loss of someone we love, and at that moment, we experience a part of ourselves disappear. The moment is not unlike the wrestling between Jacob and the angel – an existential wrestling match — a battle for our own life. The loss of a parent, a spouse, a child, or just someone with whom we have bonded at the deepest level trigger just such a wrestling match. How can we go on without them? We scream.
My core learning has happened over time and is documented in the play and book, The Actual Dance, Love’s Ultimate Journey Through Breast Cancer. The story of facing the loss of Susan, my wife now of 56 years. Her greatest gift to me has been understanding how deeply we are connected and how two souls can become intertwined into a single whole.
Yes, I do not know what it would have been like to lose her, and if I do know how it is to have walked to the edge of that moment.
These past few days have me reflecting on the relationship between those moments and the memory journey. The after journey.
September 9th was the 49th anniversary of my mother’s death. September 9, 1973. It is the first time I ever experienced a soul exit a body. I was in the room as the nurses said, “she’s gone,” As that happened, a spinning tuft of white exited past me into eternity. I saw it, and it saw me, stuttering in its journey as it speeds out of the room.
This year the world lost Queen Elizabeth on September 9th. My mother and Queen Elisabeth share a Yahrzeit. Not that I would ever forget the date. I am slightly reassured that I won’t have to write it down in my calendar every year. At least not for a while, as the world will continue to remember this day for the Queen. Of course, all of this is now followed by September 11th. As we remember the loss of thousands of American lives. Many are remembering their loved ones.
In Judaism, there are rituals for the anniversary of the death of a loved one. It is said that their memory is a blessing. We remember them and the gifts of their lives. They made our lives and the world better. The memory generates pain. A pining for their return into our lives. We light a candle or a light that lasts for the entire day – 24 hours --- the anniversary of their loss. It grants us the gift of memory all day long and time to acknowledge their blessings. We then say a prayer, the Kaddish, to thank God for life and the life that was once with us.
I now think of these rituals as a form of the original Dance – the moment of loss. If you read the book or see the play, you will understand that, for me, there is an ultimate gift in the rituals around loss and remembrance. Understanding what love really means. We lose pieces of our own being when we lose a life partner, a LovePartner. It is the rituals of remembrance, the Dance of Memory, that allows for restoration, a new wholeness. A form of wholeness that allows us to be a blessing to their memory.