The “Second Year Holidays”

We always think the first year is the hardest,
And it most certainly is,
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing like those first holidays
The shock, the fear, the tears that seem to never end
Those moments when you think you will never be able to go more than three minutes without crying, 
That you’ll never be happy again, or laugh wholeheartedly, because you are just so sad,
So broken.

But oh,
That second year.

When the death begins to settle.
When it is no longer surprising.

I remember I used to just stare unblinking until everything became blurry as I tried to look at what my eyes were seeing. I looked outward and I could not fathom how to process what I was looking at. I was seeing the world through a stranger’s eyes, because I did not recognize my own, these eyes I was looking through, the world that I was seeing. That shock, it froze me. And in a way, it was easy to run from that shock. To stop staring, stop trying to understand, to just blink and look away.

But in the second year, you no longer feel you are looking through a stranger’s eyes. This life you see in front of you, this is yours. You know this is yours, you know this is your truth. You know now that this year will pass, and the third year will come, and she will still not be there. You recognize that your mother will never again celebrate another holiday with you. You have accepted that your family will never be complete again, there will always be a missing member, and not just a member, but the one who held you all together, who connected your messy dots, the one who held you all and brought you close.

This acceptance, this acknowledgement, this lack of shock – this is the second year holiday. A new sadness. You recognize it. You hold it. And you don’t let it go.

During our first time saying Yiskor*, I felt confused. It was very quiet, I could barely hear the soft murmurs.
I didn’t know what to say, I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing, I wanted to be saying the right words for you mom, I wanted to make sure you were being remembered. The prayer says the souls are with us in these moments, and I whispered these prayers and I pledged the charity on your behalf but I didn’t feel your soul with me? I didn’t know if you were there, but I didn’t want you to be there. I didn’t want you to be a soul that is waiting to be remembered on a few holidays a year, I wanted you to be with me mom. I didn’t want to be there, motherless children remembering what once was. But we did it, we prayed, we stayed.

And I start to understand why in the first year, we go to Yiskor, but we don’t say anything. We just listen. But in the second year, we join the congregants and we speak the prayer. In the first year, that shock would not have let us said such a thing, that we are “remembering” you, for how could we remember you when we were still trying to find you in your room, in your kitchen, in your living room on your favorite couch. We couldn’t possibly remember you when we were still searching for you everywhere.

But in the second year, we must not only stay and listen to the prayer, but we must do our part. We must acknowledge that we need to remember you, we need to call your soul to the congregation, we need to bless you, raise you, we need to bring you here because you no longer are with us. We need to show up to these moments and we need to do our part and speak the words because we are no longer in shock, and it’s our turn as your children to call your name into the blessing, to tell God and the heavens and the people around us, that we showed up for you, we remember you, we’re still your children and mommy, we will never forget you.

*Yizkor, a special memorial prayer for the departed, is recited in the synagogue four times a year, following the Torah reading on the last day of Passover, on the second day of Shavuot, on Shemini Atzeret and on Yom Kippur.

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