I woke up this morning with memories of Janet Nichol’s shiva on my mind. It was such an amazing experience. Gathered via Zoom were 30-plus members of our greater Messianic Jewish community from all over the country. So many caring faces.
Other than Rabbi Rich’s family I’m pretty sure none of the rest of us knew his sister. We were there to support Rabbi Rich and his family. Yet what I experienced was so much more.
As Rabbi Rich, and then his brother Jerry, shared the story of Janet, we began to feel as if we really knew her. We saw pictures of her, learned of her childhood, her successes and challenges, the interactions in the family, her sacrificing mother, her loving brothers, her relationships over the years, where she lived, how the family loved on her and on each other to the best one can do. As the stories unfolded, each precious face on the screen listened intently, part of the remembering, part of the journey of transition with those left behind as they entered this holy time.
I really wasn’t expecting that, to be able to become part of their family, of her life, see life through different lenses, and in so doing, to be able to know her, even if just a little, and to help her family in this way. For it is through these memories, the telling of a life story, that we can begin to process, in our humanly limited way, and in our Jewish tradition, the death of a loved one.
Clearly Janet’s life had purpose, so many purposes, as do all of our lives. She taught her family, especially her mother, how to love sacrificially. I and others learned better how to see life through another’s eyes. She taught us how to appreciate unique beauties and talents, as we all have when eyes are open to see them. So much more . . .
As I leave for Florida for several months, separation is difficult. Leaving my loved ones and my community is by far the worst part of this experience, which of course, is a wonderful time in my life too once I settle into the community I’ve established there. I just have trouble leaving behind so much that I love.
The shiva brought home how important it is to live in community. The Nichol family is not in this alone, but rather, is surrounded and supported by so many who love them. The faces on the screen were just a glimpse of the true depth of love of each to the other, with each other during life, and support for one another at this tender time.
The transparency and vulnerability with which Janet’s life was shared created the foundation for that love. Conversely, the love each to the other created the ability for the transparency and vulnerability. No sugar coating. Just honest stories of truth, of each of our struggles, of wanting others to share their walk in the deepest, most honest way, as if we, too, walked her and her family’s journey. This way that Rabbi Rich and Jerry blessed us was felt deeply as I hope, too, the love outpouring from each of us to them was felt as well.
The Nichol family was able to share so openly for they knew they were loved – by their immediate families, by their extended families, by their community, by HaShem. God’s love permeated the experience for His Presence was there bringing us all together experiencing immeasurable love.
Separations are inevitable, as is death. Pain is real. But so is love. Perhaps when we have times where we’ve chosen to be away, as in my time in Florida, my grieving muscles are being strengthened, even if just a little since the separation is temporary, as is my understanding of the preciousness of what I leave behind. All the more reason to acknowledge, be grateful for, and continue to nurture such overwhelming love even from afar.
Living lives steeped in His divine presence, knowing that we are loved beyond comprehension, is what brings us through these challenging times, from the smallest to the most difficult. Even Yeshua asked about that final parting, death. It is a reality not even He could refuse. How blessed we are to choose to live in love with each other, to be there for each other. How encouraged we are to give it our all.