Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio Yiskor 2022

Amanda Dodson walked into her small local grocery store, she saw Frank, the young man who bagged groceries at the shop. He asked the familiar question, “paper or plastic?” and after her reply he began to place her items slowly and carefully in the bags. The routine was the same every week, Frank, his baseball cap firmly on his head, his crooked smile, conversing with Amanda as he diligently went about his task. Frank was neuro diverse, he often repeated himself and when he found he had done so, he laughed. Amanda and he went to the same church but it was at the small grocery shop each week that they interacted. As they talked, he told her about what he was doing, church every week, YMCA, baseball games he would not miss, she marvelled at his full schedule.

When the groceries were all packed, he carried them out to the car, trying to hide his visible limp. Frank loaded the groceries in the car and he lingered, he was not good at goodbyes! And then, as always, he pulled Amanda into a big bear hug and returned to the shop to pack for the next customer.

One day when Amanda walked into the small shop, she noticed a heaviness in the air, heads of the staff were hung low, tears streaked their faces. Amanda knew that Frank could tell her what was going on. She walked one aisle after another but could not see him anywhere. Then she noticed the manager at his desk, head down, sobbing. She quietly placed her hand on his shoulder and the elderly gentlemen said, “Oh Frank!”

Frank had drowned on a fishing trip. The young man who had lifted Amanda’s spirits every week when she went to do the most mundane of tasks, was gone. She found out the details of the funeral and decided to attend for his family. He had been a simple man and she did not expect many people to be at the service. She had never met his family, but felt she should go and support them.

Amanda drove into the parking lot of the church and there was not a space to be found. She entered the sanctuary and took the last seat in the last row, the ushers behind her were directing people to the overflow section. She looked around and saw in the faces of the people around her the same bewildered look, why were there so many people here? This was not the funeral of a famous person, a politician, it was Frank.

Once everyone was seated, half an hour late, the service began. The pastor stood behind the lectern trying to regain his composure, tears streamed down his face. As he took a deep breath, a brusk gentleman, weathered and worn by time stood, he was over six feet tall, “I would like to say that Frank came into my shop every week with a bucket and soap and he cleaned the bathrooms until they shone, he would never take a cent. I will not forget him” and he sat down

Then someone else rose, an elderly woman with a cane, “every time I came into the shop, Frank would put a little piece of paper in my bag of groceries.” She pulled out a tattered card, “it always said ‘thank you for being so kind’”

A young boy stood and proudly said “Frank came to every one of my baseball games, whether I played or not”

The funeral went on for four hours, every person recounting the ways that Frank had touched their lives, the ways he had brushed them with his magic. Frank’s family sat there astounded, they had no idea of the life their young 20 something son had led and the impact he had on so many with his simple acts of kindness and love.

Amanda writes “Frank was never good at goodbye but that day he outdid himself” [1]

Bahya Ibn Pakuda, a Jewish philosopher said “our days are like scrolls and we write on them the ways that we will be remembered.” The scroll of Frank’s life was short in years but long in deeds and acts of goodness and kindness. Frank did not receive prizes, he did not live his life on the big world stage, but he touched people’s lives, he left his footprints on their hearts and that is what we remember today as we gather to remember those we loved: small acts, the moments which at the time seem insignificant but end up being the most significant of all.

When I meet with families to talk about eulogies, many begin by saying, “my mother was nothing special, she lived a simple life,” or “my father did the best he could for his family, his life was all about us, he did not do anything particularly important,” and then they go on to describe the most remarkable people, people filled with love, who cooked for their families, who supported and cared for them, who lived with kindness and compassion, who shared the little they had with others, who were generous and beautiful people who lived lives of goodness and were true blessings. These are some of the most moving and poignant eulogies of all, because every single one of us is important, we matter, our lives are special because we lived them. 

Now in this holy community, in this space, made sacred by the memories of those we loved, we stop to remember. We unfurl the scrolls of their lives and we read their stories, we hold them close to us, and for a few moments, we bring them once more to sit beside us. We feel their presence, we link arms across time and space, and we hold each other again.

I invite you all now to come with me as we encounter our loved ones again, as we meet them here in this holy, magical time. If you would like to do so, close your eyes and I invite you to imagine a doorway that you open and there, waiting for you, are the ones you are remembering today, bathed in light, shining with peace, radiating their love towards you. Gone are the struggles, the sufferings of illness, of decline, of failing strength. Gone is the pain of body or of spirit, freed from the constraints which maybe took their essence away even when their body remained. You see them in the fullness of their being, their most essential, authentic, beautiful self. And you greet them, embrace them, feel their love, support and presence with you and we sit together here and remember.

Remember the ordinary days, elevate those mundane moments with the beauty of memory. The way they walked, the way they looked at us, the way they ate, they sang, they talked. Remember the ironing, the shopping, the cleaning, the meals, the workday, the phone calls, the walks, the silences. Remember the small things that touched our hearts, the, at the time, seemingly insignificant details which now are the most sacred of all. Take a breath and remember

Remember the times of joy, the celebrations, the special moments filled with laughter and blessings. When we felt the giddy delight of being together. Maybe it was the first rush of love when you met your partner or child for the first time. Perhaps it was the thrill of connecting with a friend, creating a deep and lasting bond, feeling your lives entwining. Or a moment when you felt an overwhelming love for your parent, or grandparent, your family or friend. Stay with those feelings and allow them to wash over you, to feel deep in your soul, the connection, the love, the happiness of knowing them, being with them.

Remember now the times when they lifted you, when they brought you strength, peace, helped you believe in yourself, when they were there beside you as a comfort, a healing presence, a safe harbour in the storm. Maybe they brought you a gift or the gift was a squeeze of the hand, a look in their eye, a word, a thought.

Not all our memories are good and positive ones, take a moment now to remember the conflict and struggle, perhaps harsh words were spoken, there are times we regret, we wish we could change, they hurt us, we hurt them, we ask for forgiveness and we try to grant it in return.

Return now to the beautiful memories, the ones which make us smile, that bring us comfort. We feel gratitude for the blessings they brought to our lives, the ways they shaped us helped us to become who we are. We offer thanks for the gifts that their lives brought to ours and we know that in these sacred moments, they know, they know what they meant in our lives, they know how we feel and they too feel blessed.

And now is the time to speak with them, catch them up on what has been happening, say the words in our hearts that we want to say. We all longed for another moment to be together, the chance to have another conversation with them, this is our time to speak.

At yiskor we sit together and we remember and for a few moments we bring those we loved here. In this sacred space we can feel them, be with them once more. Allow time to stand still. Allow the music to wash over us and touch our souls and hold hands across eternity with those we love

May each of their memories forever be a blessing

Zichronam Livrecha

[1] As told in Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul


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