When my father talked about the death of my sister, Midge, he often went on to describe the birth of my brother, Dean, not so many months later. “It was as if the sun came up,” he said.
After a loss, how it heartens us to see a fresh generation behind us, revitalizing our faith in life and our hope for the future.
Last weekend, I ventured to Minneapolis (brrrr…) to see my niece Eileen become a bat mitzvah.
From the moment my brother, Dean, and his wife, Gwendy, met Eileen — in a Holiday-Inn sized hotel room packed with 10 adoptive parents, six children less than a year old, and eight caregivers, she stood out from the crowd. She was the only one who didn’t cry as she regarded the two people who would take her home, love her and raise her. When Dean and Gwendy brought her back to Seattle in November 2000, it was just a year or so after Mom died. At the time, I wasn’t quite ready for Mom’s name to be attached to anyone else. But Eileen is the perfect inheritor of her name.
My brother Dean made these remarks to her as she took on her role as an adult in the Jewish faith:
“When I see these characteristics growing within you, I am reminded of another person I deeply loved: my mother and your namesake, Eileen Driscoll Campbell. I see your determination and focus; your love of God, family, friends and life; your fun-loving spirit and lively sense of humor; and your ability to see and embrace the goodness within others, and I realize these are the same qualities I loved within my mother. I wish that she had been able to know you, because I know she would have loved you as I do.”
Jewish people know a few things about love and longing, and that includes their traditions for remembering those who have died. I loved this bit from the mourner’s kiddush section of Shir Tikvah’s prayer service:
“Grief is a great teacher, when it sends back to serve and bless the living… (E)ven when they are gone, the departed are with us, moving us to live as, in their highest moments, they themselves wished to live. We remember them now; they live in our hearts; they are an abiding blessing.” — p. 294, Mishkan T’Filah 2007
Grief is a great teacher, and I am its student.