Speak of my late husband. Go ahead, I beg you. There is an old Jewish proverb that says "As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now are a part of us; as we remember them."
I've been where you are. I know that you are hesitant to remind me of his death. In my case, it hasn't been a month yet. I know that you don't want to make me sad, or bring up painful memories of my loss. You don't want to say the wrong thing, so you say nothing. But, guess what. I haven't forgotten. Where I am is that transition place where he's not here, but he's always in my thoughts. So when we pretend the sadness isn't there, I feel his absence nearly twice as much.
The holidays are always a hard time when one has lost a loved one. For a whole year, every momentous time is altered because our late beloveds aren't here to share it with us; their birthday, Father or Mother's day, a wedding anniversary. Most people realize that these are difficult times for the ones who mourn. But what would make it brighter would be if someone spoke of a memory. If nothing appropriate comes to mind, well, then let it go, but if you have one, let it resonate. Let it sing. "Remember that time when Dad and Sandy's boyfriend tried to build the chair and it collapsed when the dog jumped in it before it was finished?" Or, "Remember that time when Grandma forgot to turn on the oven and we didn't get to eat turkey until 10:00 p.m.?"
My Jewish tradition teaches that letting go of the mortal life of our loved ones is our obligation. Keeping the memories alive is another. It is a mitzvah, a good deed.
Thanksgiving was the first holiday without my husband. He was the light of my life, my second chance at love. We were really happy. But he had cancer. He fought it, we lived in the moment, we cherished each other, but in the end, it killed him. That can't be erased. I will always ache for him. But what gets me is the conundrum of remembrance. I feel his absence, and I would love to keep his memory alive in conversation, but if I do, and it falls onto an awkward silence, I'll then withdraw. But if you welcome my remembrance, and you participate in it with me, then we can continue to enjoy what he was, what he brought to all of us. In my case, Dan was full of humor and bemusement, of stories of the wilderness, of artistic musings. As I sat at our holiday table this year, I thought of all the ways he would have contributed. But his name was never mentioned. And that made me sad.
So, next time you are with someone who has lost their spouse, or their father, or mother, or even their child, tell the bereaved a story. Ask them a question. Acknowledge that this holiday is different. Be bold enough to hold their memory in the light of the celebrated day.
We'll thank you for it. Even if it makes us cry.