In Judaism the one year anniversary of someone’s passing is called yarhzeit – which essentially means “year time.” At this time a candle is lit, kaddish is prayed, and the deceased person’s headstone is unveiled. That person is gone, but they are remembered with love forever and each year yarhzeit is noted.
I grew up in a very Italian neighborhood, either immigrants or the children of those immigrants. Our parish was a very Italian one, it was built by hand by using stones, a small but beautiful worship space.
When someone died, everything went black for the following year. The women all wore black, often pictures were veiled. Life was somber as they mourned their departed loved one. Any big celebrations, weddings included, were canceled or postponed.
My mother was Irish Catholic and she found the entire business dreadful and far too mournful for her cultural sensibility. Don’t wear black when I die, she’d say, don’t cry and cancel things. Just remember that I lived, and send me off with joy and love. When she did die, many years later, I wore a red dress to her funeral, one that she loved to see me in. Some people were scandalized, but I had not doubt I was doing the right thing.
How I digress – anyway, the one year anniversary of a death was as important to my Irish Catholic mother as it was to our Italian Catholic neighbors, as well as to our Jewish friends and relatives. We just marked it differently.
Yesterday, October 8, 2022, was the one year anniversary of the death of my former boss Fr. Jerry Gingras. A garden was created in his memory and it was dedicated before the 5pm mass. The combined choirs of our three parishes sang, there were prayers and a reading from the Book of Genesis. It was very beautiful and deeply moving. Our new pastor Fr. Tom Konopka is deeply pastoral and is trying to shepherd us all as we move from death back into life.
Death and loss impacts each of us differently. Grief has myriad facets and no two people experience it in the same way. Because Fr. Jerry died unexpectedly, the suffering of our parish communities was something akin to a ginormous water balloon hurled to the ground. The rubber snapped, the water exploded, things went flying, we were soaked in sorrow. It was such a difficult time.
Here we are one year later, each of us experiencing our on-going grief and mourning in a different fashion. Sometimes the grief of another makes us want to ask them what’s wrong with them. To our own wounded eye, we see someone who is either suffering too much, or someone who seems aloof. We see disrespect where there is simply an emotional distance from where we stand. We grow impatient with one another as we attempt to hold each other up and muddle along.
All of this is part of the grieving process. It does kind of suck, but it is necessary.
Anne Roiphe wrote this: “Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.” Those words are where I find myself as October 9, 2022 dawns. May this year ahead be full of that remaking of life, remember and holding all that was in our hearts, and going forward in hope.
Fr. Jerry we miss you so much, but we know you are with us. We go forward in faith from here.