Kaddish for My Imagined Life

“I think it will be sometime this summer,” I said. “By that time, I might have mourned long enough, processed long enough.” I paused. “We say kaddish for eleven months for those we lost. Maybe I am saying a kind of kaddish for the life I’ve lost…?”

I was mourning the life I’d imagined, the future I had celebrated.  I lost the innocence I had in such dreaming nine months ago; I cannot recover it.

Last summer, my husband, Ralf and I left for the Blue Ridge Mountains to celebrate our fortieth anniversary.

We spent a week exploring the gardens atop the ridge, the gardens below it. We clambered up one path after another to stand at the feet of waterfalls. We walked through dark forests.  Ralf took pictures of mushrooms, insects, and summer flowers. We sat and looked out at the mountains every night from our cabin.

We talked, again and again, about how lucky we were. Aging, together. In love, still, and best friends, still.

As the sun set, we would dream our future, swinging gently to and fro. Our son and daughter-in-love settled and happy. Grandchildren someday. Resting, writing. Gardening, crafting.

We ignore the Damocles sword above our heads so that we can live mindlessly – as we must – until it wavers, drops lightly to prick at us, or falls altogether.

Almost exactly four weeks after those nightly mountain talks, Ralf was in the hospital. Diagnosis: wasting disease, malnutrition, heart failure. The surgeon was blunt; Ralf had days to live without emergency open heart surgery.

Nine months later, Ralf’s heart is doing well. We are mindful that his new atrial valve has a life span that is shorter than he hopes to live. There will be more surgery in his future.

He is also facing another medical concern, one that requires various procedures and tests which elicit predictable scenarios, old associations. Me, in the waiting room. Him, laid out again on some table of some sort or another, some machinery, some surgical implements. Both of us: the Damocles sword glinting above in some dark recess of the mind.

We keep the worst-case scenarios at bay (but still, they crouch, however irrationally, in the corners).

Mourner’s Kaddish is a glorious, gorgeous thank you song. As we grieve – even bitterly – we pronounce our gratitude. In the end, mourning is always an affirmation of life, of love.

The kaddish I must write? A thank you for all that I have and all that I have had. It is an extraordinary, gracious plenty. Gratitude for my heightened consciousness of the fragility of all life. This, too, is a kind of gift.

It is true: if I start dreaming now, my body reminds me with a tender warning: the future will unfold in ways I cannot predict.

But this, too, is something to be thankful for. I must be quiet. I must move more slowly in a world I consciously permit to unfold before me. It never was as possible for me to control it as I would have liked, anyway.

And there is this knowledge, too, and it is just as fine.

I have not yet been shorn of my capacity to dream.

This post is dedicated to Rabbinic Pastor Nancy Shapiro who suggested I write my kaddish for innocent dreaming.

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