Sunday, January 25, 2015

on my father's yortzait

It's my father's sixth yortzait. Six years.

But, really, it has been longer than that. I started mourning before, earlier. I was that weird Jew who got "The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning" not in a wake of a relative's death, but in preparation for one. (It was actually a husband of friend, taken suddenly, someone my own age, and the realization that when I will have to sit shiva, it is not the time to learn the laws). My father was sick, for a long time. I started saying a long good-bye.

When he passed away, and I was trying to reread the book, on a flight back home in the middle of shiva (I had two small boys at the time), I remember reading the back section on techiyat hametim ( resurrection of the dead) and the afterlife, and it seemed hollow, empty, meaningless. I put the book away, aware that this is not the time to process those concepts, but with clear resolve to examine those ideas later, at a time when I could understand.

Then there were those two boys to take care of. Then I got pregnant with my daughter, who was born right before the 1st yortzait. A wise rebbetzin commented: "Dor halach vedor ba" (a generation leaves and a generation comes). I did not feel that the memory of my father was replaced with my daughter, and I did not think that I will get comfort from her birth, but she took a huge edge of my sorrow. Till that point I was acutely aware that my boys will not have any clear memories of my father, that the one active, hands-on grandparent was taken from them. (On my last visit, my father bought them an electricity kit, in hopes of teaching them how to use it. He was not getting them a gift; he was interested in passing on a passion of his. It did not come to pass, but I still have that kit). With the birth of my daughter, who never met her grandfather, that pity had to stop. I had a newborn to take care of, and we would have to live as we are.

Last night, I reread the last chapter of "The Jewish Way", and I found something that eluded me, did not register before. A death is compared to a birth, an entry into the unknown, a leap of faith, but so axiomatic that there is no need for detailed elaboration. To enter the world, one passes through a chamber (prozdor), and when one passes away, one also enters a chamber. Just as we are not privy to life in the womb, we are not privy to the soul's experience past its attachement to the body.Reading this while expecting another child, another grandchild, I felt a deep connection and consolation. There is a yet unknown life within me, just as my father's soul is in another unknown. My father is carrying on in my children, in their looks, in the name of my son, in their genes, in their quirks. My 8 yo, such a difficult student, and my father, who was failing school until he hit subjects that he found interesting. My father, the only one in my family to write to me a letter of apology for someting that happened during my childhood, something that I did not remember, but that bothered him greatly; and my son, quick to flare up, but also quick to apologize, sincerely, for his wrongdoings.

That first year, when I was saying kaddish, I felt my father's soul gripping me, nearby, not letting go. It sounds crazy, there is no rational proof, but he was near. As the years went by, I worried more about losing that connection, the memories are becoming hazy, and the ins and outs of busy family life leave precious little time for reflection. Now, Maurice Lamm spoke to me:
But if life is the creation of a benevolent G-d, the infusion of the Divine breath; if man is not only higher than the animal, but also "a little lower than the angels"; if he has a soul, as well as a body; if his relationship is not only the "I-it" of man and nature, but the "I-Thou" of creature with Creator; and if he tempers his passions with the moral commands of an eternal, transcendent G-d--then death is a return to the Creator at the time of death set by the Creator, and life-after-death the only way of a just and merciful and ethical G-d. If life has any significance, if it is not mere happenstance, then man knows that some day his body will be replaced, even as his soul unites with eternal G-d.
I am grateful to be able to step back, and see more of a complete picture rather than immediate grief, or the painful what-ifs.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I hadn't read this because I am now on the verge of tears. I know your loss and I am so sorry. But I'm glad I read it because you give me strength through my own loss.