Eulogies, Truth, and Bad Memories

This entry was posted in Life, Practices on by .

There are extensive rules for giving a eulogy, and we touch on them in our article on eulogies, though it’s not a comprehensive look at halakhot having to do with a hesped, or a eulogy. I looked through those halakhot before I wrote what I said at my mother’s funeral, and was interested to find that we are meant to say things at a eulogy that will “break people’s hearts,” and make them cry over the loss (Yoreh Deah 344:1). Also, at a eulogy one can exaggerate the accomplishments of the deceased (Rosh on Moed Katan 3:63), though it is a sin to outright lie (Brachot 62a).
These rules only apply to the eulogy itself, but I think about them a lot in terms of how we remember people who have died–how we lionize or demonize them, and how we hone our selective memory so that we come out with a particular understanding of someone who was likely more complex than we imagine.

I struggle a lot with how to deal with unhappy memories of my mother.  When I unexpectedly think of one of the really good times–a Friday night in her apartment in Jerusalem, surprising her at home the week after she finished chemo–I get teary, but when I am suddenly ambushed by a memory of a bad time–one of any number of fights we had while I was in high school, or my birthday this year when she said to me, “Don’t touch me!”–I think I might just pass out the despair is so great.

I don’t know if I’m exaggerating my mother’s warmth and love and all of the good things about her that I think about constantly. I don’t think so, but I suppose I’m an unreliable source when it comes to these things. I wonder, then, if I’m also unreliable when it comes to the bad things. Were any of them as bad as I thought? If they weren’t, as I expect is the case, then I should probably be slapped. Hard.

They say hindsight is 20/20, but it doesn’t feel that way. Every memory seems like it should be interrogated–Was the light that warm? Was the hug that sincere and long? Did I really restrain myself from rolling my eyes in that moment?–but I’m not sure where I’m supposed to end up.  I want my memories to be of my mother–my real mother, not some idolized version that towers over me, unattainable. But I want it both ways. I’d very much like the bad moments to be packed up in a newfangled Pandora’s box, hidden in the back of my closet, never to be seen again.

(Cross-posted at Blog the Kaddish)

Posted on November 26, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy