I like to write something every year on the anniversary of my husband’s death, but this post that I wrote 2 years ago is still every bit as true, and I can think of nothing I would add or take away from it.
There was a time when grief 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. I could only find expression in fiction and the occasional poem. The truth was 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. Every widow or widower knows that date. The day their spouse 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.