A Mother’s Kaddish: Mourning for My Son, From the Women’s Section

By Shelley Richman CohenkaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

It is hard to believe that it is four years since Nathaniel’s passing. I still feel his presence throughout the day and miss his warm, smiling face and upbeat outlook. The name Nathaniel means “gift of God,” and that is what he was. He woke up almost every day with a smile, eager to greet the world. An optimist by nature, the words “no” or “can’t” were not a part of his vocabulary. He viewed life as a series of opportunities to explore and experience. Although never seeking the limelight, he always desired to be where the action was. He loved people and places, and was always ready to try something new. Although Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive deteriorative disease, reversed the normal course of his life, he managed to enjoy all that he could participate in.

From the time of Nathaniel’s diagnosis at age 6 he began to decline. He lost his ability to walk at age 8 1/2 and by his early teens was fast becoming a quadriplegic. Instead of being a mother who slowly let her child grow toward independence, I was forced by necessity to be a mother who had to involve herself in every aspect of my child’s life. From showering, to toileting, to dressing and feeding, as Nathaniel deteriorated his every function became the responsibility of those who loved him most, his family.

With his death at age 21, on that cold day in April, my constant physical orchestrations ended, but my emotional desire to care for my son did not. The desire to do for one’s child does not die with that child.

When Nathaniel passed away, we in his immediate family were obligated to say Kaddish for the shloshim, the thirty-day period of mourning. My husband, Ruvan, my other children, Jonathan and Jackie, and I were steadfast in taking on this chiyuv (halachic obligation). After all, didn’t Nathaniel deserve this last act of devotion? As the days of that first month dwindled, Ruvan told me that he wanted to take on the obligation of saying Kaddish for the full eleven months. The minute he said that, I too knew that I wanted to take on this longer obligation, as well. Had Nathaniel had the zechut, the privilege of living a full healthy life, chances are he would have had children to say Kaddish for him. Since that was not to be his fate, who would be more appropriate to say Kaddish for him than his mother? I carried him in my womb, I birthed him, and I orchestrated the life he led. For his 21 years our lives—his and mine—were inextricably bound together. It was out of a profound sense of loss that I took on the commitment to say Kaddish.

At that moment, I don’t think I fully grasped what saying Kaddish would really mean. Yes, I knew it was Continue reading “A Mother’s Kaddish: Mourning for My Son, From the Women’s Section”