I have a confession. I like murder mysteries. A lot. Call them what you will: police procedurals, cozy mysteries, whodunits, even thrillers. The death is not the important part; it’s a catalyst for the puzzle. The hook is the chase and the solution.
It occurred to me this week – given that I have extra time on my hands for murder mysteries – that these stories and puzzles almost completely ignore the grieving process. People get back to the office (and have to work even though there was a murder!) and the family and friends of the victim help (or hinder) the investigation. It all feels very non-Jewish.
When a Jew dies, the immediate family stops everything for 7 days and allows themselves the space to mourn and remember. Semi-mourning goes on for 30 days. And then the person is remembered on their death anniversary every year.
I had forgotten that there are other days in the year when a candle is lit and a prayer said in remembrance of those, especially parents, no longer with us: Yizkor, from the Hebrew root of the verb “to remember.”
This week I’ve been listening to an audiobook about an 82-year-old Jewish man living with his granddaughter in Oslo. He has lots of opinions, doesn’t pay much attention to what other people think, and kind-of lives in the past. Some of his monologues reminded me of my dad.
Christoper Lloyd was the guest star on this week’s episode of NCIS. I can’t put my finger on why exactly but he always reminds me of my dad. Something in the cheekbones? Maybe some of the kooky behavior of his characters? His character in this episode was a curmudgeonly WWII vet who just wanted his story to be heard and to have his ashes interred on the USS Arizona, the ship that sank in the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The last scenes of the episode show divers taking the ashes down to the sunken ship.
Before the coronavirus shutdown, I was planning to take some of my dad’s ashes to Masada, but everything – and I mean everything! – conspired against it. A friend offered to drive me to Masada and we had to cancel a couple of times for various reasons. And then when our schedules matched, a huge storm blew in with high-speed winds and flooding. Two days later, everything was closed because of coronavirus.
My Google calendar reminded me that Thursday was Yizkor and, coincidentally, I got an email from Chabad about the prayer said on these special days. So I lit a candle for Dad and said a prayer of remembrance. After all this, Dad will have to let me know when and where he wants his ashes interred.
Some rabbis have noted that Passover is a very unusual time to be locked in our homes avoiding the coronavirus. The tenth plague was the killing of the firstborn. And the Angel of Death passed over the homes marked with the blood of sacrifice. The Hebrews were released from Egypt and in freedom on the the other side of the Red Sea became a nation.
All of us will be released from our homes eventually. And we will have lost people to the virus and to death from other causes. Unlike in a murder mystery, we will grieve, we will mourn, and most importantly, we will remember.