Guest blogger Rabbi Dinerstein-Kurs wrestles with this perplexing paradox and comes out on top, and in the process, comforts those of us who have had abusive parents:
“For those of us who had neglectful or abusive parents now deceased, what do you do with the Fifth Commandment, which seems to say be good to them by honoring them with memorial prayers? I think the question should be flipped: How can one have positive self-esteem yet still honor such a parent?
Data and surveys show that certain negative behaviors of parents – witnessed by children – can often lead to children continuing that behavior. To honor ourselves, we would have to make a concerted effort to knowingly and willingly and purposefully separate ourselves from such parents, the bad influencers.
During our moments of memorial prayer we can give thanks that we are not them. We can review the past with sadness, but hopefully also see the present and how far we have come in spite of their actions. That we have overcome, that we are stronger for it, as we are standing here and are no longer broken. For those of us who are not yet completely healed – Please God – there is tomorrow.
In bad times, we need to build ourselves up, even when others try to knock us down. Remaining strong is the biggest push back to their attempts to keep us weak.
These prayerful moments such as at the anniversary of a death afford us the opportunity to give the royal finger, saying, ‘I am a survivor of your actions. I am here, I am relatively happy, and I will move forward. My horrible memories can be countered by my successes.’ There is no law preventing anyone from changing the words of the prayer to fit the occasion (custom – maybe – but not law). Reinvent the prayer to say what is in your heart.
So with every moment of a memorial prayer, those of us who might find love and loss difficult concepts recalling their various and sundry relationships, we might take the time of prayer as our personal time to:
1) Smile as we free ourselves to say the truth.
2) Be proud that we are not them.
3) Stand up tall, shoulders back – for what we have accomplished in spite of them!
4) Thank Adonai that we have become the fabulous persons that we are – on our own – with little or no help from them, and likely no support!!
5) Pray with gratitude and joy that we have this opportunity to dilute a toxic relationship and call it out for what it really was.
6) Rather than dwell on the negative past rejoice in our positive present. May we have the strength to look back and acknowledge the pain…but also have the strength to move forward in gladness.
Here’s to our continued successes! AMEN!”
Rabbi Laurie Dinerstein-Kurs hails from Brooklyn. She held the Federation position of Mercy County Chaplain for 15 years in New Jersey. Her two children have blessed her with grandchildren. The original version of this article, in a version more relevant to Jewish readers, appears in the Jewish Journal: http://jewishjournal.com/blogs/expiredandinspired/225687/different-take-kaddishyizkor-issue-rabbi-laurie-dinnerstein-kurs/