Season of Thanksgiving

I think I have a Jewish heart.

Jews, like no other people, know how to mark the stages of life. From Brit Milah to Bar Mitzvah to breaking the wedding glass to Aninut– every event is given structure and meaning. Every time I read the Old Testament I lament that we don’t celebrate Yom Kippur, Purim, Sukkot, Rash HaShanah… I love their symbols and the rhythm of Jewish life. I love their devotion to scripture.

Earlier I wrote how we ‘sat shiva’(the first week of mourning) almost instinctively by gathering in my mother’s home, talking, crying and letting the neighbors bring food. The next stage, shloshim–a 30 day progression back into society, is also somewhat innate.

It wasn’t until this week that I read about the Jewish year of mourning.

Only one relationship requires the year of mourning and the rituals that accompany it. Do you care to guess?

I guessed wrong.

Not for the loss of a spouse or a child, Yud Bet Chodesh is required only for the death of a parent.

“Psychologically and spiritually, our connection to our parents is the essential relationship that defines who we are as people. Therefore, the loss of a parent requires a longer period of adjustment.

This period of time guides us into a deep state of gratitude for all they gave and all they did. As children, we spend most of our lives in “taking mode,” and our parents, being parents, are almost constantly in “giving mode.” It is hard to say thank you from a taking perspective. In a relationship where it is the most difficult to show gratitude, this period of time helps us focus on recognizing the good that our parents desperately tried to give in the best way that they could.

Parents also represent values and ideals. They are God’s representatives to us in this world. They try to impart in their own way essential tools for living. This extended period of mourning recognizes that the loss of such a relationship has deep spiritual ramifications.”

Children are required to mourn because of the commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” But anyone can partake in these rituals. The surviving spouse may choose to participate for their own comfort or as a gift to their children.

I love this. It makes me feel my heartache is reasonable, even valuable. And it gives me direction for the months to come.

Each day during this year of mourning is marked with public prayer; each holiday centers on remembrance of the lost parent: a candle burns for 24 hours, specific prayers are offered, a donation to charity in the loved ones name…

And always, in everything, a spirit of thanks.

Like sitting shiva, the sense of gratitude also seems intuitive. I’ve had countless conversations with my family as we remember mom’s raisin bars, the way she ironed my shirt, her sparkling Christmas tree. Her loving intentions, even in times of difficulty, now seem clear and bright.

In her last weeks my mother told me over and over, “If you want to know my testimony read Alma 34.” So as we planned her tombstone– a simple rectangle with roses etched at the upper corners, both my parents’ names, the dates– I searched Alma 34 for one phrase to engrave across the top, one phrase that embodied my mother. It’s just a snippet from verse 38:

“Live in thanksgiving daily.”

I have a path forward now. One of purpose, a path where tears reflect honor and conversations imbue respect.

A path of gratitude.

p.s. Here I go talking way too much about my kids over on Segullah today.

p.p.s. This talk from Elder Uchtdorf made me happy this week.

November 5, 2009
November 10, 2009



  1. Sue

    November 7, 2009

    My mom is 82 and ailing. This one made me cry.


    PS. In a good way.

  2. Selwyn

    November 7, 2009

    Sometimes having ‘permission’ to mourn makes everything a little more easier to bear – even (particularly when?) you know you’ll mourn for a long time.

    Luvies, SK

  3. GeorgiaBecksteads

    November 7, 2009

    I always love your posts. Thanks for the p.s.-es. Both of them wonderful.

  4. Tracy

    November 7, 2009

    I hope you don’t mind me sharing this with my mother and her 5 sisters. They lost their mother 3 years ago and I have never seen such grieving. Sure, I miss my Grandmother dearly..but nothing like the deep sadness I saw and still see in my mom’s and aunt’s faces and the tears they still cry when they talk about her.

    Love you. xoxo,t

  5. Christie

    November 8, 2009

    Beautiful words from a beautiful soul. As always, thanks for sharing.

  6. martha corinna

    November 9, 2009

    Michelle, I’ve been thinking about your post at Segullah all weekend. I hope this isn’t pure cheese, but you really are a blessing in my life. I am a better mother for knowing you. Love you.

  7. Claudia

    November 9, 2009

    “and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;”

    I loved re-reading Alma with your thoughts in mind.

    Sarah and I were glued to Elder Utchdorfs talk! So many treasures. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Melissa

    November 10, 2009

    Treat yourself gently.

  9. Alyson (New England Living)

    November 10, 2009

    You touch my heart, always. I adore you, Michelle, and your lovely words and thoughts. I’m glad you feel more free to mourn. You need to.

    If you really have a jewish heart, you should move to Connecticut. My kids have all the jewish holidays off of school. I didn’t know much about their holidays until I moved here. Fascinating.

  10. Sage

    November 10, 2009

    Thank you, Michelle. I will forward this to my husband. His dad died in Sept.

  11. andrea

    November 11, 2009

    I love the idea. Brian’s dad died last week and I feel like we might never be *normal* again.

  12. Jk3

    November 12, 2009

    I agree with the other comments. Not only am I a better mother for knowing you, but a better person too. Take all of the time you need. 🙁 Thinking of you.

  13. Coach A.

    November 14, 2009


  14. Coach A.

    December 9, 2009

    I read your words several weeks ago, pondered them, and let them paint a picture of the heart.

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