Sunday found me back again, besides my father’s grave. It was my father’s yahrzeit (date of death) and the custom is to return once more to the resting place of your loved one. As we stood, my mother, my sister, and I, an icy rain started to fall. Hard droplets began to pelt us. We did not budge. The words in our prayer books became wet and blurred, but we did not move. It felt as if the heavens were once again crying with us; feeling our painful loss.
Can it be that years go by and still the hurt is searing?
Beyond the pain, though, is this connection to a man who loved me absolutely for all my life. No matter how difficult his day, my father never lost his temper with me. I cannot recall his voice raised in sharp anger or in a fit of rage. When I was a little child, I felt as if he always tried to hear my words. He would tenderly call me ‘sheyfalah,’ little dear, and sooth my little hurts. As I grew, there was this beautiful, beaming smile that carried me throughout my teenage years and beyond. When there was nothing left to say, his warm, bright eyes said it all. “Everything will be okay -- you are loved no matter what.” No burden was too heavy, no hour too late, if it meant being there for one of us, his children. Years passed, and then it was his grandchildren who discovered the magic world of a Zaidy’s absolute love.
Our life together brought moments that I still think about and cherish. I want to laugh with him again; share dreams with him again, talk to him again, and have my children hear my father’s wisdom. I wish that my children and grandchildren could hear his soothing bedtime Shema before they go to sleep or treasure the simple moments he’d taught us to savor. They would feed challah to the ducks, color rainbows with scented markers, and giggle at life’s wonders together.
I wish that I could once again hold his hand and walk with him to synagogue, prepare a delicious meal for him, or help him with his hat and coat. I would love to have a chance to honor my father even for just a moment. When I read the words of grown children who live with anger and resentment because of their parent’s awful mistakes, I miss my father even more.
Even after death it is possible to maintain the lifelong connection.
If one has been blessed with a parent’s love and then the parent passes from this earth, is it possible to still maintain the lifelong connection? Of course we are all obligated to respect and honor our parents; it is one of the Ten Commandments. But how can I honor my father if he is not here?
Higher and Higher
I recall a recent shivah visit that I made, to a student of mine who had lost her father. As I sat down, she told me that she had only one question.
“I loved my father so much, how can I still honor him now that he is gone?”
I explained to her that there are ways that we can not only honor our parents, but even help them, as they now enter the World to Come. Once a soul leaves this world there are no longer any opportunities for the soul to accomplish and do mitzvot. Our Sages teach us that the soul feels pained and remorse with the realization that it is too late to rectify any misdeeds or gain mitzvot and achieve goodness. Facing judgment, the soul cries out, “If only I would have the opportunity to correct my actions!”
We who remain in this world can do a great kindness and show honor once again to our parents. (Though
I am speaking about a parent; all these concepts apply to any loved one who has departed this world). Each time we do a mitzvah in the merit of the deceased, we help his soul rise higher and higher in the Heavens above.
Our mitzvot become our parents' lifeline as we link our good deeds to their soul and they now benefit from our actions. We can create the ultimate connection. It is as if we’ve sent a care package to Heaven.
What Can I Do?
Our Sages have provided us with specific ways that we can help our loved ones gain merit in our daily lives. We can dedicate our actions for the soul through the following suggestions:
• Study Torah or ask a Torah scholar to dedicate his study to your parent’s soul (during the week of shivah, others study Torah since mourners are not allowed to study Torah).
• Tzedakah: Give charity or donate a Torah scroll, prayer books, or holy books in the name of your loved one to an organization, synagogue, or school. It is a good idea to have the name of your parent (or relative) inscribed inside the book.
• Acts of Kindness: Whenever you do a chessed, a kind deed, keep in mind that you are doing this mitzvah as a merit for the soul of your parent. This creates a great impact, for just as you have accomplished kindness, the soul of the departed will now benefit from God’s kindness in turn.
• Prayer: There is, of course, the holy Kaddish prayer that is said, during the first year (12 months) of mourning and on the yahrzeit. Kaddish proclaims our desire that the name of God be sanctified. When one suffers a loss and is then able to recite the Kaddish, he is publicly accepting God’s decree.This is considered to be one of the most awesome mitzvot -- Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of God’s name. The merit for the soul is real and great.
• Embrace a Mitzvah: Choose a mitzvah and ‘put your signature on it’. It can be a mitzvah that your parent loved doing, or one that you would now like to take on. There are hundreds of mitzvoth to consider; such as helping children with special needs, visiting the sick, driving patients to doctor appointments, offering your professional services to those who cannot afford them, cooking and baking for families under stress,
Saying blessings before and after you eat, keeping kosher, honoring Shabbat, praying each day, and avoiding gossip and shaming others.
• Light a yahrzeit (memorial) candle in honor of your parent’s soul. Four times a year one lights a memorial candle, besides on the yahrzeit (date of passing) date itself. The holidays of Yom Kippur, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, allow us the opportunity of Yizkor, remembrance. We light the candle at sundown and the flames burn for (more than) 24 hours. The flame of the candle symbolizes the human soul which is never extinguished. While lighting the candle, think about your loved one and say that “I am lighting this flame in the merit that my loved one’s soul find peace and attain greater heights in the heavens above.”
The date of the yahrzeit also gives us added opportunities to help the soul soar higher in heaven because yahrzeit is a day of judgment for the soul. It is a custom to gather together and have a meal, a seudah, where we speak about the fine character of our loved one. We tell personal stories that relay
his goodness, kindness, and integrity. Visiting the grave, giving charity, and studying Torah are all additional ways for us to add to our ‘care package to heaven’.
An Invitation Above
When we completed our psalms, my sister opened her bag and took out a folded white paper.
This week, my sister’s daughter will be getting married and my sister brought the wedding invitation to the cemetery. She gingerly put it on my father’s resting place and covered the invitation with the small white pebbles that lay over his grave.
“Abba, please come to our wedding, and bring all our Zaydahs and Bubbies with you,” she cried.
My mother then uttered her own personal invitation to my father, and to my Zaydah and Bubby who rest beside him. She sobbed to the souls in Yiddish, and pleaded for them to join us and grant us all their blessings. My sister placed invitations on their graves and whispered a private prayer. Our tears flowed freely and mixed with the rain that was falling.
It is a custom to invite the souls of your parents and grandparents to the wedding.
When there is a wedding below and a new Jewish home is being established, permission is given for the soul to attend the chuppah and rejoice with the bride and groom. It is a custom to invite the souls of your parents and grandparents to the wedding.
I recalled how 25 years ago, I was about to walk under my own chuppah, and my father turned to me for a moment.
“Sheyfelah,” he said, “you are about to walk under the chuppah. You are starting a new life, building your own home. You never have to be afraid. All your holy Zaydies and Bubbies from the heavens above are here with you tonight. You are not walking alone. Never forget this moment.”
My father then took my hand and together with my mother and all the precious souls from above, we walked down the aisle.
I await my niece’s chuppah this week so that once again I have a moment with my precious father and all the holy souls from above.