More than a Minyan

In my professional work, we have used the iceberg as a symbol of what is said “above” the water line and what is felt/sensed/not said “below” it.  Usually our advice has been to take what is below and get it into some form that can be shared.  Or, at least for your own self, understand the connection between the cold and dark below and what surfaces into the heat and light of the air above.  It is what is.  In my transition to daughter-without-mother, I am standing at the top of that proverbial iceberg.  Though it seems my job is not to transfix and transform the held-back to the spoken, but rather to grapple through bedrock into the freedom of the deep blue see (not sea).

It was exactly seven days since she had passed.  My mother.  Although, mathematically speaking, not until 7:11 that night.  Somehow a corner convenience store worked its way into her leaving story.  I think it was all the secret trips for Hershey bars and diet root beer, the two cancelling each other out, in the relentless effort of “being beautiful and thin again.” As a teen, in the required act of differentiation, I stridently and independently, switched it to diet coke. I will be my own person as I sip-n-snack in your shadow.

Never before have I been a Jewish mourner.  I have mourned three due to death and three due to love. The first two were Catholic, the 2nd atheist. The other three, long continuations into the next phase: without you.

A Jewish mourner (of death, though maybe we should use it for love too) is a mourner with a footpath.  First week, first month, first year.  Even every year after is a milestone marker of passage.  The guest book the funeral guys gave me comes with her yartzheit dates listed until 2036. Her last journal entries were dated 2027 or 2034 — dementia connecting her to the future of what was to be at the end.

In the squall of getting from the night she died to the Sunday afternoon memorial service, I was consumed by the constancy of detail.  Some say we do this to distract during the rawness of just-fresh- death.  I was agitated to annoyance – exhausticated. Then came Shiva.  The ritual, communal logic.

I fidgeted over “would we have a minyan”in order to say Kaddish.  Ten people, by Jewish law, makes a minyan.  Then again, we are Reform Jews.  There can be two of us or ten of us to be a minyan. If we are called to pray we do: may this mother’s soul pass through to peace/may this mourner’s heart push through to the “see” (not sea).

So one week out, this path meets me in gratitude for a more-than-a-minyan of menches (really, really good people) who came to stand, sit, eat, pray, with this mourner (and then clean up, so I didn’t have to).  You greeted me with the kindness and generosity of your wisdom: laughter takes you out of the hollow of sorrow; so do kids; and Milano cookies with red wine in bed. “There is a very real realness –  you being from her and not her…In the shadow of what she couldn’t give you, you have become who you are – the mother that you are – a good mother – a caring and loving and devoted mother – and for this we are grateful.”

So today, one week out, this minyan-mourning-shiva- path etched from some ancient text becomes the GPS of choice for my travels outside-in,  through tiny, icy crevices, to  deliver on the  promise, over time-undefined, of a greater depth –  though maybe not ease – as her memory becomes  blessing , if not joy.

© Gabriella Strecker, 2017

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One thought on “More than a Minyan

  1. there are so many incredibly lines and sentiments (wisdoms!) in this piece that I don’t know where to begin. The iceberg. The transition to daughter-without-mother; this, I know, is an eerie, disconcerting feeling — no matter one’s relationship with our moms and no matter what type of mom we had. The canceling out of chocolate with diet soda ;-). Mourning for love, not only death. the Jewish footpath. “Exhausticated.” “Minyan of Mensches.” Memory for blessing, if not joy (this is so helpful to hear that that’s okay, that’s acceptable). Only having met Maggie a couple of times, I never “knew” her but know stories from you. As your mom’s dear friend said “you are Maggie’s greatest gift to us.” You inspire me, Gabriella, to think, to feel, to love, to write, to be.


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