A. Not everyone realizes this, but Kaddish is not a memorial prayer. In fact, it doesn’t mentioned the departed at all. Instead, Kaddish is a bold declaration of faith, a glorification of G-d and G-dliness, and a prayer for redemption and peace in our world and in our time.
So why do mourners say this prayer? A few reasons:
1) It is considered a great merit for the soul for their children to continue the Jewish heritage and legacy of generations past. Saying the Kaddish is a declaration of this commitment. It demonstrates that the cycle and chain of Jewish life continues. Also, souls in heaven yearn for the Mitzvah opportunites available only here on earth, so its of great spiritual satisfaction that the Kaddish is said in their memory.
2) It’s actually been found to be therapeutic for mourners to leave home, join (and lead) the community in prayer, and have the community respond (as in Amen!) to your statement of faith and hope. It helps people recognize their loss, yet in a way that conveys continuity and hope.
3) The great defender of the Jewish People, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev had his own version of an intro to the Kaddish on Yom-Kippur. Following his informal monologue, the Kaddish was a bold and confident response, an answer to angst and doubt, to suffering and challenges. The Kaddish is an affirmation of faith, which is most appropriate for those going through a period of loss and grief in their lives.
This question reminds me of a story that I heard from the late 20th century philanthropist Marty Silverman (founder of The Albany Prize, the University Heights concept in Albany among other efforts). At the time he was exploring the possibility of contributing toward the new Shabbos House (this did not materialize) and in that conversation he told us the following story:
Mr. Silverman’s mother passed away early in life, so he made a special effort to be in the syngaogue to say Kaddish in her memory. His family belonged to Beth Tephilah down on River Street in Troy, which is an old Orthodox synagogue. He said the words there emphatically with much feeling. Later when he married, his wife wanted a more egalitarian service, so they moved uptown to the Beth El Conservative synagogue on Hoosick. There he had a rude awakening: there was English translation and he realized the Kaddish had nothing to do with his mother at all! It was not a memorial prayer in the least. And since then the Kaddish held little meaning for him again, and in some way he was nostalgic for the old days when he thought the ancient, magical words were about his beloved mother.
Therefore, because of all the above, the Mourners Kaddish is not intended to be a sorrowful reminder of one’s loss, but it supposed to be said in merit of and in tribute to one’s beloved who is no longer with us in a physical sense, and an opportunity for the mourner to affirm our faith and connect with the community.