This post was originally published in 2009 on the one year anniversary of the passing of my beloved sister-in-law, Sandy. It’s now been three years. Her son, Bryan, posted a lovely picture of her on Facebook today, which I’ve added to this post, which was originally titled Yahrzeit. I’m reposting it in Sandy’s memory.
There is a small candle burning in our kitchen today, lighted last night by my wife. In Jewish custom it is known as a Yahrzeit (Yiddish for anniversary) candle and it will burn for twenty-four hours in memory of the passing of our sister-in-law, Sandy, three years ago. The flame is a symbol of the light of life that burned brightly in Sandy and illumined the lives of those she left behind. Helen Keller said, What we have once enjoyed, we can never lose; All that we love deeply becomes a part of us. That is to say, even as the Yahrzeit candle flickers out, Sandy will continue to brighten our lives.
My daughter has converted to another religion, one that believes that after death, families are together again. Her in-laws have asked what Jews believe and think it’s sad that we don’t have that belief to fall back upon. If you are interested, Judaism 101 has an enlightening discussion on Jewish teachings regarding the afterlife and indicates that belief in an afterlife is part of Judaism, although there is little dogma about the specifics. Particularly in reform Judaism, such beliefs are left to the discretion of the individual, but both the Torah and Talmud speak of Olam Ha-Ba (the World to Come) which is a spiritual afterlife, a higher state of being. The place of spiritual reward for the righteous is known as Gan Eden, a place of spiritual perfection. Traditionally, only the very righteous go directly to Gan Eden … the rest of us require up to 12 months of purification in Gehinnom, where we are tormented by our own misdeeds in life before we move on up to Gan Eden. If that sort of thing helps you, there it is.
Here’s what I believe … Sandy is with us, even now. Sometimes we feel her presence but our rational selves deny it. I believe we go on after death as spiritual entities known as souls, together with others who have passed, but I’m not inclined to speculate on the specifics. If there’s a Gan Eden, I’m sure Sandy took the direct route and will be patiently waiting for the rest of us. It will be good to see her again.