Home » grief » Yahrzeit – Because Sometimes Your Own Language Doesn’t Have the Words

Yahrzeit – Because Sometimes Your Own Language Doesn’t Have the Words

This blog has hibernated for so long that even I forgot it existed. You might think that it was because I was busy writing my first fiction book (it’s over HERE), or finishing up my master’s degree in fine arts. And that’s sort of true. But let’s face it. It isn’t that hard to throw up 200-500 words for a blog post now and then. Until it is.

What most people don’t know is that the last few years have obliterated my ability to do anything but put one foot in front of the other. Wave after wave of tragedy and difficulty had rendered me speechless. And I think that may be why I could only find expression in fiction. The truth is too painful. And for someone who writes nonfiction, that’s a problem.

When there is a death, you find yourself divided into “before” and “after”. Following the initial adjustment to “after” comes the succession of milestones on your path leading away from the event. Tuesday was a biggie for me. One year since my husband died.

We have no word in the English language for this event. This macabre anniversary that suffocates the weeks leading up to The Day. This magical marker that must surely mean that life can now go on. A year gone must mean something.

But for American culture, you’re meant to be busy getting on with your life and not making other people uncomfortable with your grief. We do not mark the day with any ritual. There is no section in Hallmark cards for remembering the day your friend’s life fell apart. And one year later, I am still searching for words – anybody’s words – to describe this process of letting go and forgiving and moving forward.

Thankfully, the Jews in their staggering capacity to honor and express grief, have a word precisely for this time. Yahrzeit. A Yiddish word specifically meant for the anniversary of the day a loved one died – often marked by lighting a candle, fasting (if it is the death of a parent), and general recognition that on this day someone important to you left your life forever.

And even I feel like no one remembered this day but me, it is good to know that there is a whole language and people devoted to the idea that one year is not enough to move on. That grief and loss will roll back on you and will be revisited. Even if only for a day.

See you next Yahrzeit.


5 thoughts on “Yahrzeit – Because Sometimes Your Own Language Doesn’t Have the Words

  1. One of the cruelest things about life is that it must go on for some when it has ceased for their most beloved companions. How can one be required to go on breathing in and out when there is no breath left in the other half of their flesh? That is one lung breathing where two once were and so much more so to keep oxygen flowing to a broken heart. There is no sense trying to make sense of it because there is no justifying it and no scales ever capable of making one side equal the other. Let’s give up all the reasoning and just pray for this cycle to end. Death was never meant as the balancing compliment to life. Nothing fair or balanced about it, especially David’s. Thank you for this reminder. He deserves to be remembered.

  2. Dear Karen,

    This touched me deeply. I feel for you at this anniversary. No law that I know of says you have to be Jewish to light a Yarzheit candle. My thoughts and prayers are with you.



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