The Yiddish term “yahrzeit” translates literally as “year time.” It’s the word we use to annually commemorate the death day of someone we love. We light a special candle. There are prayers, the Yizkor, which means “to remember”, and the Kaddish, which means “holy”. The tradition taps our history and our hearts.
There is respect and honor in remembrance. But the thought occurred to me in the recent month of my mother’s fourth yahrzeit that if she could, she would call me and say, “Get over it, go have lunch.” At the risk of making my rabbi and the sages frown, I agree with my mother. My sadness has no use, and it wouldn’t please her.
She would say, “Don’t waste a candle, go do something for someone. Give them a candle.”
It’s weird to mark death when life is what matters. Death takes a moment and, like any loss or betrayal, may not be worthy of all the attention we give it, while the impact of my mother’s life is forever, and on many generations.
And besides, she haunts me daily as if she never left. From the ether I hear, “Make a corned beef for your father.” Or “Can you be a little nicer to your sister?” Or “You sure you don’t want to change out of those sweatpants before going out to dinner?”
I have a habit of reworking thoughts in my mind to make them more real for me. So, I will secretly be morphing the name of this commemoration from “yahrzeit”- a reminder of death- to “lebnzeit”, a commemoration of life.
My mother’s response would probably be, “Since when do you speak so much Yiddish?”
That said, this year on my mother’s yahrzeit, or “lebnzeit,” my 92 year-old father and I floated on a vessel from the Blue and Gold Fleet for one glorious hour under the Golden Gate Bridge, celebrating my mother’s humor, her impact and her advice spanning the eons.
With a Perspective, I am Jolie Kanat.
Jolie Kanat is executive director of a supported living services agency in Marin.