Everyone who worked with my dad always saw him as a diehard Marine. Even after he retired from the Corps, he was still a Marine. To his wife and children, he was a husband a father first and last. I say this so you will not misunderstand me later.
My Dad died on 8 April 2007 from cancer. It wasn’t a shock, really, since he had been diagnosed back in November, and was pronounced terminal literally days before he passed away.
It was Easter, a day when many families are celebrating. I was at work, helping my boss fill the cooler. My cell phone rang, and I saw it was from my mom. I didn’t think twice about answering. Those two words still haunt me. She said them with no emotion, as cold as a January morning: “He’s gone.”
The Friday before, I had picked up my older brother and his wife from the airport so they could spend the week with my parents. I kissed my dad on the forehead, telling him and my mom I would see them on Monday, when I would return take out the trash and do other errands for them.
I knew what she meant, but I didn’t want to understand. I tried not to understand. I guess I made a sound because my boss asked me if I was alright. I told him the news, and he told me to go home.
So I did.
The 40 minute drive to my apartment to get my wife, who was shaking from the news, and another 30 minutes to my parents house seemed endless. When we got there, my dad was still in bed. His skin, normally a pink hue had turned an ashen gray.
My older brother was standing at the foot of the bed, crying. There was no shame in it. My wife, Navah, came in beside me. She was crying, too. I don’t remember if I was or not, but I probably was.
I looked at my mom and asked her what happened. She said that the day before he had been slipping in and out of lucidity, and talking out of one side of his mouth. The night before he kept falling out of bed, and she kept having to pick him up. “The final time,” she said, “he looked up at me and said, ‘Honey, I’m going.'”
When I heard that, it sounded just like my dad. He was tough with his three boys, but had the softest heart for his wife.
My oldest brother arrived from Chicago several hours later with his wife. He didn’t have to see our dad. Perhaps this is a blessing for him, but then maybe he wouldn’t have been so heartless later if he had. I don’t know.
When we were making preperations for the funeral, my mother settled on a poem to be placed in the flyer. It was called “Don’t Cry For Me, I’m Already Gone.” She handed it to me, and I read. It was beautiful. It exemplifed everything dad would have said had he been there. I handed it to my oldest brother who was right next to me so he could he read it. When he finished it, he handed it to our other brother who sat like a zombie. He tried to reject it, but our oldest brother said he had to read it, that it was only fair. I felt this was cold. He was the only one not subjected to seeing our dad lying in bed, a corpse that had once called us son. He would only see the made-up person in the casket, and that was unfair. Even worse was that the brother was taking it the hardest, the one who rightly should, was the one who had been there when he died, but our oldest brother didn’t seem to care about that.
The day before my dad’s funeral, I was at Half Price Books. I stumbled upon a book called The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning by Maurice Lamm. I bought it, and began to read it that night. Already considering myself Jewish, though not having gone through formal conversion, this was a very helpful book. In fact, it was here that I first read the Mourner’s Kaddish. I didn’t attempt to read it in Aramaic, though it was transliterated, so I read the English Translation instead.
I read it everyday for a year. Even when I could attend Synagogue, I would still read the English translation. Not once does it mention death. Instead, it praises G-d. It is beautiful in its symplicity.
The synagogue I attend does not use the translation that I learned from the Lamm book, so I will stick with Lamm’s translation. But first, if you want to try the transliteration with me:
Mourner: Yitgadal v’gitkadash shmai raba.
Mourner: B’olmo deev’ro chir’usai v’yamlich mal-chusai, b’chayechon u’vyomechon u’vchayai d’chol bais Yisroel ba’agolah u’vizman koriv, v’imru amen.
Mourner: Y’hai shmai rabah m’varach, l’olam u’lalmey olmaya!
Congregation: Y’hai shmai rabah m’varach, l’olam u’lalmey olmaya!
Mourner: Yitborach v’yishtabach v’yispa-er v’yisromam; v’yisnasai v’yis-hadar v’yisaleh v’yis-halal, shemei d’Kudsha, b’rich Hu.
Congregation: B’rich Hu
Mourner: L’aila min kol birchasa v’shirasa, tushbechasa v’nechamasa, da’amiron b’olml; v’imru, Amen.
Mourner: Oseh shalom bimeromav, Hu ya’aseh shalom, alenu v’al Kol Yisroel; v’imru Amen.
Mourner: Magnified and sanctified be his great name.
Mourner: In this world which He has created in accordance with His will, may He establish His kingdom during your lifetime, and during the of all life of all House of Israel. Speedily, and let us say, Amen.
Mourner: Let His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity!
Congregation: Let his name be blessed forever and to all etenity!
Mourner: Blessed, praised, glorified, and exalted, extolled, honored, magnified, and lauded be the name of the Holy one, Bless be He.
Congregation: Blessed be He.
Mourner: He is greater than all blessings, hyms, praises, and consolations, which can be uttered in this world, and let us say: Amen.
Mourner: May abundant peace from heaven descend upon us, and may life be renewed for us for for all Israel, and let us say: Amen.
Mourner: He who makes peace in the heavens, make He make peace, for us and for all Israel. And let us say Amen.
If you have lost someone, take the time to recite this prayer everyday. Pretty soon, you will see the pain lessen. Just knowing I had this to look forward to everyday, the words that praised G-d helped to ease my suffering. It has worked for countless generations, since it was first introduced into the Service, to ease the pain of loss.
But it is also good to remember the loss, too. That is why on the anniversary of the death, what Jews call the Yahrzeit, we again recite the Mourner’s Kaddish. I do this for my dad, as well as others whom I have lost, both family and friends.
To remember those we lost is never wrong, especially when it’s to remember the good times.