My (the Rabbi’s) mother died from a brain aneurysm at the age of 44, and I just recently marked the 30th anniversary of her passing, yet I feel her presence every day.
I know this sounds counter-intuitive. Seemingly, the more years that go by, the more memories would fade, and the distance grow between us and our loved ones who passed away.
In truth, within the first few days after her death, I could only focus on her last moments in this world and I could not erase the painful scene of her laying in the hospital in a coma. This image was front and center. However, over time, I have discovered new and meaningful ways to not only remember her but ensure that she lives with me always.
The secret is to never forget that one candle, one soul, can light many flames. We will never know the full impact of our lives. Each of us encounters hundreds, if not thousands, of people in our lives. In each moment of connection, we possess the potential to make a difference. The more we are attuned to this secret, the more we will reveal someone’s eternal spirit. The body may die but the soul, the Divine spark, can be transformed into a burning and enduring flame of love and influence.
How do we keep their flames alive? Here are four recommendations to ignite a memory and reconnect you to a loved one who has died—no matter how many years have passed.
- Ask yourself, what values did he or she stand for? How does he or she live on in me? Write down your reflections. Take the moments as you live your life to stop and acknowledge the characteristics you share…when you employ the lessons you learned…how you pass on the wisdom you gained.
- Gather friends and family annually and share stories about your loved one. You will learn new ways their impact endures.
- Choose a volunteer activity and dedicate yourself to doing it in memory of your loved one. You will find great comfort and feel his or her presence by your side.
- Recite a daily prayer in your loved one’s memory. Ask for the Divine inspiration to serve as a conduit for the blessings your loved one brought to the world.
Although my mother, Sandra Cohen, died so long ago, every year I find comfort and strength in the infinite ways to she lives within me. I recently reflected on the light she implanted and helped reveal in me, my siblings, family and so many others. Her light continues to shine.
One of her legacies was her generosity of spirit, hospitality and ever-present smile. No one was a stranger to her. I shared her story at a speaking engagement and a woman whom I did know told me that 40 years ago, when she was law student at Emory coming south after a difficult break up, my mother was there for her. Another fellow told me about his brother who was visiting Atlanta and was the beneficiary my mother’s hospitality. Sharing my memories revealed new ones dormant but now awakened. My mother felt even closer than before.
She also instilled within me the light of faith. She gave me the tools to cope in the darkest times in my life. In the crucible of our deepest pain 30 years ago, when we walked through the valley of the shadow of death, it was the ever-presence of God in our lives for years before her aneurysm that carried us through. My mother planted those seeds and nurtured a strong faith. God was not a stranger in our family. The phrases “God willing” and “thank God” were constantly on her tongue. And in doing so, she filled up in all of us a reservoir of Godliness that I draw on and share until to this day.
Each one of us can ignite the memories of our loved ones and truly feel their guiding presence every day. I am eternally grateful for my mother’s investment in our eternity and know that her light has turned into a blazing flame and will always, God-willing be a source of inspiration for generations to come.
Click here to purchase Rabbi Daniel Cohen’s book, What Will They Say About You When You Are Gone?