Last week, I was having a very brief e-mail conversation with a few friends about growing up without a father and how hard that was for two of the guys in the e-mail chain.
I said at that time, that parents losing children and children losing parents is the worst and most acute human pain that exists.
There is a little boy that we know who has to recite Kaddish, the Mourners Prayer over his mother, who died of cancer. There isn't a dry eye in the entire synagogue when a little voice pipes up and speaks the words that one should only have to say over an older person, for the soul of someone who has lived long years.
But life doesn't always work like that. And that's a horrible thing to have to explain to a child.
Last night I had to drop into our synagogue for a few moments and when I was there, in one part of the shul there was a woman that I know quite well by face, but never knew her name or who she was, or who she was married to or any other details. We just have a quiet, chit chat about this and that when I see her.
The table in front of her had dates and some roasted nuts, and some cookies and I said "oh"-not expecting to see anything like that.
So she said "oh yes, these are brachot (blessing) for my son".
I guess my face betrayed me, I was horrified.
These blessings are said over food items to elevate the soul of someone who has died. What was she talking about? Her son?
She said yes, I guess you didn't know, it's the one-year anniversary of my son's death. He was 24, I guess you didn't know.
And then I realized I did know. I put two and two together. I think a little 'oh no' slipped out of my mouth.
I don't come from a religious family, certainly traditional, but not religious. My husband comes from a religious family. So, I didn't know exactly what to do with the brachot. Say a regular blessing? Say something else?
But I did know that giving charity in someone's name is also for the same purpose, to elevate the soul of the person who has died, to do a good deed in their honour.
So I said, I'll give tzedakah right now in his name. And she looked at me with sad, red eyes and said his name.
She had to say it again, because I couldn't really hear her.
In Jewish tradition, you say the name of the person, as the son or daughter of their mother. This is also how prayers for healing, for refuah shlemah, for full recoveries are made.
I fished out all the change in my change purse, and managed to say out loud that I was giving charity, tzedakah in honour of her son, and said his name as the son of her name.
But my voice was creaking and I was starting to cry. And then I said out loud, and prayed that G-d would give her strength, to be able to be strong for her children and grandchildren and for her family, and that his soul would know peace.
And then I just asked if it was OK that I give her a hug.
She said of course.
So I put my arms around her and just held her very, very tight for a few moments, and told her to try to be strong, but that it is understood how hard it is, and I told her that being a bereaved mother, is the most excruciating human pain that exists. I had to go.
I wished her a Shabbat Shalom and she wished me one back.
I went back to my car, and back to my warm house, to my family and took a few deep breaths.
Child-parent, and parent-child relationships bring the most joy and pain possible in the human experience. Loss of this kind is physical and meta-physical. You don't just lose the physical presence of the person but you feel physical pain.
That's why I think it is always important, even in times of frustration or anger, (and that's only human) to remember the privilege of having our children and having our parents around. Their "mere" healthy presence is a daily miracle for which we must be grateful and thank G-d.