YAHRZHEIT: THE POWER OF RITUALS IN HEALING GRIEF
The holiday season can be particularly painful for those who are mourning. This time of year is particularly poignant for me, as I have lost a number of loved ones over the years – including this year — during the week of Thanksgiving.
Although I am a practicing Buddhist, I am never far from my Jewish roots. I turned to the rituals of Judaism (with some Buddhism thrown in) as a healing tool in my holiday grief. With the coming dark days of winter, and the annual reminders of loss I face each year, I knew that ritual could help me with my holiday grief. During this time of darkness, I lit a Yahrzeit candle – a memorial candle that Jews around the world light to commemorate the anniversary of a loved one’s death. The Yahrzeit candle burns for twenty-four hours. “Yahrzeit” means “years-time” in Yiddish.
In Jewish tradition, the candle flame is often thought to represent the human soul. As it is in other spiritual traditions, the lighting of candles is an important part of many Jewish religious occasions, such as the marking of the Sabbath each week, and the lighting of the menorah during the eight long winter nights of Chanukah – the Festival of Lights.
As it is said in the Book of Proverbs, like the human soul, flames must breathe, change, grow, strive against the darkness and, ultimately, fade away. Thus, the flickering flame of the Yahrzeit candle helps to remind us of not only of life’s challenges, but the impermanence of all, and of the preciousness of our human lives – concepts that Buddhist practitioners contemplate daily.
On Thanksgiving eve at sundown, I lit my Yahrzheit candle – remembering all of my loved ones who have left this particular life – grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, beloved pets. I let those remembrances permeate my heart like waves of warmth, as if emanating from the warmth of the candle flame. At the same time, I prayed for them, seeing the flame even with eyes closed.
I then prepared my turkey for cooking the next day, and went about my life with my loved ones in my heart.