Five years ago today, August 24, 2006, my Dad died. Because I am a Jew, I especially remember my Father today on his Yahrzeit (Yiddish, meaning “a year’s time”). Of the several occasions throughout the Jewish year that the dead are memorialized, the Yahrzeit is the most significant and while, according to tradition my Father’s yahrzeit is to be observed according to the Jewish calendar, because my Father was not Jewish, I choose to observe his yahrzeit as it falls on the secular calendar.
In the 16th century code of Jewish law known as the Shulhan Arukh (which is literally translated as “set table”) Joseph Caro writes, “One should not grieve too much for the dead and whoever grieves excessively is really grieving for someone else.” Although I don’t “grieve excessively,” I often grieve for “someone else” and on this day set aside to remember my Dad, the “someone else” I grieve for is me.
After I light a candle and recite Kaddish, I begin what will be a day filled with memories of my Dad. The things he taught me and the things he didn’t. The rollercoaster that was my relationship with him. His weathered skin and tired eyes. The deafening silence of the look on his face as he sat in the back yard, petting the dog, smoking a cigarette, and drinking his 20th cup of coffee. The way he lived and the way he died.
But on this day of remembering I also find myself questioning. What would my Dad be like today? Had he left the hospital would he have looked at life differently? Would he have succeeded in his millionth attempt to quit smoking? Would he have grown to like my sister’s boyfriend? Would he, unable to shoulder the ache of losing his wife of nearly 45 years, simply have given up?
Today more than any other, I seem to sense his spirit accompany me as I go about my daily tasks. I can almost smell the scent of Old Spice mixed with cigarette smoke and hear the heels of his boots as he walks down the hallway toward the front door. He is somehow here, looking over my shoulder, offering suggestions on what book I should read next or how to set the sprinkler so it reaches every corner of the lawn in one pass. He sits next to me in the car reminding me to “slow down and drive safely,” and he gets irritated when a clerk at the drugstore takes more than a minute to fill my prescription.
As the day continues, I not only remember but I also grieve. Grieve for the loss of his presence in my life. Grieve for the fact that, in two short months, he won’t be there as I turn 50. Grieve that he won’t be there waiting as the surgeon fixes my bad knee. Grieve that he wasn’t there as I received my graduate degree and grieve that I turned down the opportunity (more than once) to take a ride on the back of his motorcycle.
Today, I remember my Dad and for a short time, I grieve for myself. I miss you, Dad, and sometimes I just can’t believe that you’re really gone.
I love you.