Nico (Nick) Linesch, son of Debra and Steve Linesch, brother of Julia, and life-partner of Gene, was only 31-years old when he died suddenly in an accident last week.
In my nearly forty years serving as a congregational rabbi, few deaths have shaken me and my community as this one has.
I’ve known Nico since he was very small. He was the friend to many people of all ages, including my son, and he and his family are as beloved and admired as anyone in our community.
We rabbis face special challenges in helping people who suffer the enormity of the loss of a young person. This is why I am writing this blog – to offer some thoughts about how best to do this even if we feel completely inadequate for the task.
As I prepared to lead Nick’s memorial service, I struggled to choose the right prayers and poetry, the right words and music sufficient to comfort the nearly 600 broken-hearted young and old who convened at our synagogue to mourn Nico’s death.
Every rabbi I know faces this terrible challenge. We begin by recognizing and accepting our inadequacy to do what the moment requires and that we will likely fail because there is no comfort in a time such as this. Yet, we hope that something we say will enter the hearts of the bereft and provide a measure of comfort.
I began Nico’s memorial service by reciting from the prophet Jeremiah (48:17):
“Bemoan him, all you round about him
And all you that know his name;
Say: ‘How is the strong staff broken,
The beautiful rod!”
I suggested that what we do now as we confront the world without Nick (I knew him always as Nick – he took the name Nico in recent years but he was accepting of whatever we wished to call him) is our greatest challenge. Thankfully, there is a font of wisdom in Jewish tradition from which we may draw and take sustenance. In addition to the careful selection of Biblical text, I offered this poem by Mary Oliver:
“…when death comes
Like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
…I look upon time as no more than an idea,
And I consider eternity as another possibility,
And I think of each life as a flower, as common
As a field daisy, and as singular,
And each name a comfortable music in the mouth
Tending as all music does, towards silence,
And each body a lion of courage, and something
Precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonderIf I have made of my life something particular,
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
Or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
(From New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press)
We sang Leonard Cohen’s Halleluja after Kaddish not only because Cohen was Nico’s poet and songwriter and this song was his most favorite song, but because the family wanted the mourners to leave the memorial service with the feeling of uplift as a tribute to Nico who lived his life so positively, productively, joyfully, and lovingly (he worked for the County of Los Angeles in the transportation department as a civil engineer with special concern for the environment. The photo of Nick was taken this past summer at about 9600 feet in the Sierras, one of his favorite places on earth).
Nico’s family asked me as well to read this poem by Laura Gilpin called “Life After Death.” We read this at Nico’s bar mitzvah eighteen years ago:
“These things I know:
How the living go on living
And how the dead go on living with them
So that in a forest
Even a dead tree casts a shadow
And the leaves fall one by one
And the branches break in the wind
And the bark peels off slowly
And the trunk cracks
And the rain seeps in through the cracks
And the trunk falls to the ground
And the moss covers it
And in the spring the rabbits find it
And build their nest
Inside the dead tree
So that nothing is wasted in nature
Or in love.”
Nick will live on in the hearts of everyone who loved him and who he loved.
Zichrono livracha – May his memory inspire blessing.