Mourning in the 2nd year

I’m nearing the end of my 2nd year of mourning for my Papa who died on July 7, 2018. This ‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ website, established ~8 months into this year has served as an emotional release valve, which I need more than I had realized.

The prose and poetry herein haven’t been exclusively devoted to memories of Papa or the perpetual pain of losing him, but it’s been a relief to have this depository. Also, it feels that all these reflections have been written by a reconstructed Me, permanently transformed in the wake of Papa’s death. Indeed, my loss suffuses every single letter.

Poetry has been an unexpected outcome of this website’s launch. Until recently, I hadn’t written poetry in some two decades, but I was moved to write a poem in memory of Papa, and the rusted floodgates crumbled. I’ve since written more poetry, including a second poem about Papa that I am particularly proud of, which I shared with several close acquaintances.

This led my friend Aliza to remark:

Wow. I can see you put a lot of thought and feeling into it. It made me understand better how central your father was to your life. I don’t think I really understood that before… I don’t think you have ever talked to me about your father and your feelings about him.

Aliza’s observation struck me, given that my conversations with her are always very transparent. Her words reaffirmed my own dawning realization: my ‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ series, written during the first year after Papa’s death while I was reciting the mourner’s kaddish every day, had distracted me from grief. In fact, even the traditional daily grind of attending prayer services at shul to recite kaddish had served as a diversion.

In my final ‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ (#51), written in August, 2019, I attempted to list all of the reasons I’d had for plunging into and following my project through. I wrote:

As I see it, I embarked upon my ‘skeptic’s kaddish’ odyssey for: 1) myself, 2) my father, 3) my family, 4) Jewish tradition.

Under the category of “for myself” I identified five personal needs that I had met by recording my mourning experience that year: 1) processing, 2) consistency, 3) connection, 4) curiosity, and 5) pride. Today, further removed from that kaddish journey, I realize that my project had met an additional need of mine: 6) coping. ‘The Skeptic’s Kaddish’ had soaked up most of my emotional energies.

* * *

Some say that the second year of grieving is more difficult than the first. Others disagree. I only know my own experience.

In my 2nd year of grieving (distinct from the previous year because I was no longer reciting kaddish) I have found myself dreaming about Papa on a regular basis. There have been all sorts of dreams. Some have felt real, and others I have known to be fantastical even as I lie asleep. Despite my efforts at self-care, a nihilistic cloud has been hanging over my heart and I don’t entirely know what to do about it. At the start of this 2nd year, I wanted to continue writing about mourning; but I didn’t want to become “that guy” – an obsessive, one trick pony; and I felt that anything more than my allotted year would be overly peculiar.

Also, my daughter has continued to grow up, and her comments and questions have been becoming increasingly exhaustive and exhausting. I always respond calmly and thoroughly to her regarding the implications of death, life, love, God, humanity, my own emotional state, etc., but these conversations often leave me curled up on the inside.

This all sounds very melodramatic. Indeed, loss has woven itself into the fibers of my soul, but this is the way of humankind. It’s a natural process that I have embraced. Truly, I am actually doing quite well – so no need to worry.

In fact, prior to the unexpected COVID-19 outbreak, I had been planning to find myself a therapist to discuss grief with (and I may still). However, as I draft this post I realize that expressing myself through writing during these last couple of months has been quite healing for me, and this time it hasn’t been a diversion.

4 thoughts on “Mourning in the 2nd year”

  1. Your writing is incredible, Ben! My papa just passed away. My young friend lies on her deathbed. What an ocean grief is, “Deep beneath, deep beneath” indeed. Your work inspires, moves, speaks like a laser…

    1. Oh, Hannah. I’m sorry to learn of your Papa’s death and your friend’s failing health. In Jewish tradition, when somebody dies, we are taught to say the following phrase to the mourners: ‘Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet’, which means: ‘Blessed is the True Judge’. Personally, I struggle with faith in God, but I appreciate this traditional phrase very much because it gives me something to say when my own words fail me.

      Thank you for sharing a piece of your story. I am humbled.


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