18 December 2020
‘If you need to cry, cry
for your brother walking
the street beside you’
I was writing earlier today (18 December 2020) about my memories of my eldest brother, Stephen Edward Comerford (1946-1970), who died 50 years ago today. Mourning the dead is an integral part of Jewish spirituality and prayer life, and most if not all Jews have learned by rote the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer that should be said in the presence of a minyan or quorum of adult Jews.
Reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish is one of Judaism’s greatest mitzvot, a true act of kindness. This beautiful prayer reflects on life, tradition and family. Traditionally, Kaddish is said daily for 11 months after the death of a parent, and again on the Yahrzeit or anniversary of the death of a family member.
The nucleus of the prayer is the phrase:
‘Magnified and sanctified be His great name be, in the world He created by His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and in your days.’
The congregation responds: ‘May His great name be blessed for ever and all time.’
A person may say Kaddish not only for parents, but also for a child, brother, in-law and adoptive parents and children.
Recent editions of Reform Jewish prayer books in the US, including Mishkan T’filah, have added poetry as optional readings before or after the traditional liturgy of Kaddish.
For my Friday reflections this evening, I have decided to reflect on one of these poems is ‘Epitaph’ by the popular poet Merrit Malloy, although she is not Jewish. I first blogged about this poem earlier this year (16 January 2020), and it became one of the most popular postings on my blog in 2020.
The poem is included in the Reform Jewish liturgy as an optional reading before the Kaddish, the prayer traditionally recited for the dead. But it is used regularly at many other funerals and memorial services, and has gained in popularity, perhaps because ‘Epitaph’ captures how we can best keep the essence of a loved dead person alive after our death, not just in memories but through purposeful acts of love.
Mallory’s ‘Epitaph’ was reposted on Facebook late last year (14 October 2019) by David Joyce, a musician who lives in Reseda, California. Since then, his posting has been shared almost 260,000 times by my counting this week.
‘Epitaph’ by Merrit Malloy
When I die give what’s left of me away
to children and old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
cry for your brother walking the street beside you.
And when you need me, put your arms around anyone
and give them what you need to give me.
I want to leave you something,
something better than words or sounds.
Look for me in the people I’ve known or loved,
and if you cannot give me away,
at least let me live in your eyes and not your mind.
You can love me best by letting hands touch hands,
and by letting go of children that need to be free.
Love doesn’t die, people do.
So, when all that’s left of me is love,
give me away.
The Mourner’s Kaddish in English includes these prayers:
Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world
which He has created according to His will.
May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days,
and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;
and say, Amen.
May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honoured,
adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He,
beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that
are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us
and for all Israel; and say, Amen.
He who creates peace in His celestial heights,
may He create peace for us and for all Israel;
and say, Amen.