As I prepare to gather with friends later today, I can’t help thinking about past Thanksgivings with those dear to me who have passed on.
I am thankful that I am here to remember them, because the Jewish people say the deceased live on as long as they are remembered.
As one descendant said of Holocaust victims, “If I transmit the story to them, they continue to live in the memories of the kids.”
The Jewish observe the anniversary of the death of a loved one each year. Yahrzeit, it’s called. A special candle is lighted in memory of the deceased. It burns for twenty-five hours, starting at sunset before the anniversary day.
This is one way we have devised to honor those who have gone on.
For my part, I was born poor, or, in more modern terms, under-privileged. One of the drawbacks: my grandmother, a farm girl from western Ukraine, was illiterate. She was unable to write her life’s experiences and thereby enrich the lives of her descendants.
My grandsons, however, are blessed that I can pass along to them my memories—especially memories that involve their grandmother, whom I still think of as my bride.
Her greatest message to them, as memorialized on the façade of her crypt, is this:
All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.
When a loved one leaves us, we deal with disposing of left-behind clothing, treasures, and memorabilia. We stuff a life into a Hefty bag.
This is why our species alone is compelled to gaze at ocean waves and stare at stars. It’s the Lord’s way of reminding humankind of how insignificant we are, who deem ourselves mightily important.
Still, we strive with all our might to stay alive and, knowing we will fail at that, we labor to at least be remembered.
The classic “Frosty the Snowman” program will soon be broadcast in anticipation of Christmas. It’s more than a kid’s holiday cartoon, isn’t it? It’s a metaphor for our mortality and hoped-for resurrection:
Frosty the Snowman knew the sun was hot that day,
so he said, "Let's run, and we'll have some fun now, before I melt away."
Down to the village, with a broomstick in his hand,
Running here and there, all around the square,
sayin', "Catch me if you can."
He led them down the streets of town, right to the traffic cop;
and only paused a moment, when he heard him holler, "Stop!"
For Frosty the Snowman had to hurry on his way,
But he waved goodbye, sayin' "Don't cry, I'll be back again some day."
The anniversary of my wife’s death is next week, December 1. So at sunset on November 30, I will light a yahrzeit candle and pray the Kaddish in her memory.
I hope you, too, will remember her and all our other loved ones who have gone before, lest they be forgotten.