Marguerite Louise Russell Bachman Smith died one year ago today, ten days shy of her eighty-eighth birthday.

It was a decent day. I’m tired, but not emotionally exhausted. My brother Darryl came by today, and I gave him Mom’s jewelry to be parceled out between his wife, my brother Dale’s wife, and their various kids. Or sold, if they don’t find anything they want to wear, or anything of sentimental value they want to keep.

Yahrtzeit means “time of [one] year” in Yiddish, and refers to the anniversary of a loved one’s death. It is customary for Jews to say the Mourner’s Kaddish, which I learned today is literally the “Orphan’s Kaddish.” Lighting a yahrtzeit candle in memory of a loved one is a minhag, or custom, that is deeply ingrained in Jewish life to honor the memory and souls of the deceased.

I didn’t have a yahrtzeit candle to light, but I had some quiet time with Mom’s spirit, as I often do in the evenings. We used to watch many of the same TV programs together, and we knew each other’s reactions so well that as we watched, we’d glance over for the expected frown or listen for the laugh.

It’s been a year of being stuck, and of getting unstuck. Mourning, at least this time, is not at all what I expected. It was a full-body experience, not so much an emotional one (though there were certainly moments . . . ).

The strangest change, I think, has been in realizing the weight of Mom’s illness, how profoundly it limited her and how she hated being limited, how she struggled against it even as she was trying to let go. In her last year, I found myself reproving her for not struggling harder; now I see that she fought harder and struggled more bravely than I ever realized, and probably more than I ever could.

I love her and miss her, certainly, but most of all I admire her and thank her.

I think W.S. Merwin said it best in his brief poem, “Separation”:

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

Categories: Death, Family, Judaism | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Yahrtzeit

  1. helen

    Oh, I don’t know you and I didn’t know your mother, but this made me teary. I do remember a friend, in her 40s, whose parents had died. She said no matter what your age, it’s like you’re orphaned.

  2. There are certain things I cannot get out of my head. The look that came over my mother’s face when she realized her days could be counted on the fingers of a hand. That same face the next morning, empty. Empty. When I watch a TV show, when someone dies, I can’t help but compare. The TV dead do not look dead. I find myself staring and thinking. Then I am lost.

    I cannot forget telling her the truth when everyone else kept telling her it would be ok. I cannot forget being the only one who knew her last wishes and conveying them to the nurse. When the nurse asked her if what I had said were, indeed, her wishes, she said the first word she had said in two weeks and the last word she would say ever. “Yes.”

    I saw my father’s face drain, his posture change, his spirit deflate as he lost his best friend. And, instead of feeling for him, I feared for myself in years to come. Sometimes I still do.
    I cannot use the word mother without becoming momentarily sad. And how often that word is used in common conversation. Sad moments come often.

    And so you are telling me it gets better. Ten months from now I suppose we’ll see.

    Somehow, the fact this is a nearly universal experience does not help.

  3. indigo bunting

    I visited here yesterday, too early. I’m in Portland again, which is where I was when I got the news last year, and we toasted Marguerite warmly at the Fore Street Bar. I remember it vividly.

    A year. Already. And yet it seems like forever ago.

  4. I’m sending you thoughts of peace and healing.

  5. Jenny

    I am sitting at work right now trying not to cry so loudly that the entire office hears me. I knew the day was coming and then yesterday was crazy busy and I never stopped to think about what day it was. I have her picture up on the fridge and in my foyer and tell her I love her every time I see them and smile with such happy memories of her. I miss her too and am so glad I saw your post on FB so I could come read this today….thank you for always sharing such emotion. Love you!!!

  6. Hyla

    Hi Adam, First my prayers are out to you. These words you wrote have me in tears. My Mom just past 2 1/2 weeks ago. it weighs heavy on my heart and as I say Yahrtzeit for her.. I ‘ll say it for your mom too! I was fortunate my mom didn’t suffer. But I saw her pain as she lost her independence to Altheimers (sp?)

    That poem touched my heart.. Thank you. I thank my mom too and choosing right now to not think of difficuties we had. Only the good times. I used to enjoy our morning coffee chats when I lived up there in CT. When both parents go you do feel orphaned.

    Thank you for sharing a big piece of your heart…

  7. Hyla, awfully nice of you to say but I didn’t write this.

  8. Mali

    What a beautiful tribute to your mother, and to you too, healing and surviving.

  9. Anonymous

    Oh Craig, thank you for writing this. I loved the evenings of watching TV with both of you — eating, pulling up our chairs and sharing the time without having to talk. It make me feel so much a part of your family. And the candy dish that your Mom gave me for Christmas one year sits in my office full of peppermints and butterscotch. It gets constant attention, of course. It is beautiful and graceful, just like Marguerite.

    And I talk to my Mom every day and hear her voice slur from the worsening Parkinsons’ Disease. She still asks about my life, you, my other friends, and listens with true interest when I talk about you. It’s hard for me to accept that the acute pain that I feel over losing Rich this summer will soon extend to include Mom and Dad. I know this sounds like a five year old, but where does the voice go? I can’t quite get it.

    I love you and I know we share the nearness of our grief. I told a friend the other night that the extreme stress in my life will continue until my parents are gone. But since I don’t want that, I’m going to try as hard as I can to prolong the stress. I know that’s what you went through, too. And I know you understand.

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