Tuesday, February 03, 2004


"In the darkness of this grave rests the body of my father. All the treasures which were mine from days of yore are sunk here. The holy spirit of my dear father has soared into the eternal world."

This morning I visited the gravesite of my father on the Yarzteit of his death. This is the Jewish date of his passing, in accordance to the Jewish calendar (a lunar calendar). I had much to say to him in the ominous setting of this barren cemetery on a cold winter day, the snow draping the tombstones like a collective solid blanket of the tears once cried there. I opened my prayer book and read from the writings of those wiser and more eloquent than me. They are the words that felt more appropriate than the small talk I had floating in my head. Especially on a day with so much significance (my father having been a rabbi), their words felt more urgent than mine did.

""From the time that his days were completed and he was laid to rest, I have not rested, been tranquil or calm from being comforted over his death, when I remember all the good he bestowed upon me from the day I was born. He was a partner in my creation. He faithfully provided me with my bread and my water, my wool. I felt his love at all times. He comforted me and alleviated my heart when any distress or misfortune came upon me. And it tears would stream down my eyes, he would wipe them dry and sympathetically nod to me."

I stood on the unshoveled path with near-frozen feet. I had wrongly assumed that there would be clear passage to his grave and had come unprepared. In my sneakers and soaked socks, I read the ancient words compiled from many sources--oddly enough, words written for the masses but still more personal and articulate than anything I could ever say.

I thought about the Yarzeit candle burning at home on our kitchen counter, a tradition I had seen my father perform for his parents on their respective memorial days. The dancing, flickering flame, a replacement for the soul that was extinguished too soon.

I thought about that morning, how I had gotten up and for some strange reason, opened his medicine cabinet to find that this was the only place left untouched since his death. Every thing had been left as it was. His comb without a hair to touch. His dental floss, his deodorant. A time capsule, an unadulterated testament to a life once lived. Eerie thoughts entered my mind, a time travel of sorts, to the last time my father had opened that cabinet. How he had grabbed his after-shave, taken his cholesterol medicine. How he had never known that that would be the last time he had used his mouthwash.

"I remember the days of yore when he was still in the fullness of life, when I was tender and alone before him, when he guided me. My heart is full of thanksgiving yet I cannot utter a word. My father who is buried here in the grave, whose pure soul radiates like a candle that I lit in his memory."

My sister and mother stood by my side. I wondered what they were thinking about, which story popped into their heads. What picture had they conjured up of my father. I thought of him walking upstairs, the creaking through the ceiling, while I sat in the den watching TV. The way he would call me from his room even though the noise emanating from the television would drown him out. Then how he would pick up the phone and call me on the other line. He had something to tell me. It's going to rain tomorrow, he would say. Make sure you take an umbrella.

He would have yelled at me for standing in the snow without having boots on. What are you doing for me, I imagined him asking. Say the prayers and get into the car. Quickly.

I smiled. I missed him. I thought about the medicine cabinet. So odd how little gestures, little habits, items that lack any inherent importantance become so much more relevant when its owner is no where to be found. His clip-on sunglasses (how nerdy they were) still sitting in my glove compartment of my car. His style-less straw hat that sat on my dresser in my room at home. All of them, ownerless.

"My treasure was taken, my glory and my splendor, and the treasure of my eyes and heart is missing from me. I am bent and crushed to the utmost...As long as he was with us, I did not realize the fullness of his worth, to appreciate him and honor him, as a son should to a father."

I asked my father for forgiveness. The imposing chill was getting to me. The silence of no one around us made me uncomfortable and anxious. I told him I was not always the perfect son, something he had probably suspected. I told him that I was not being the best son to his wife, either. I have disappointed you, I thought. I am sorry and I miss you.

At home, the flickering candle would inevitably burn out. Not far, hung the abandoned medicine cabinet. All of it, in a half empty home. The uncreaking floor.

I closed my prayer book. Looked at his name etched on the stone. I could not believe it was his tombstone. I could not believe that he was a mere six feet beneath us. The thought of a loved one being buried in the ground seemed barbarian and poetic at the same time. I resented the tradition, imagining him there but also thought of his wonderful soul and personality. How nothing of a physical nature could ever contain that beauty.

"Dust I am in my life, and dust is where I will return."

My sister said that she still couldn't believe he was gone despite the fact that it felt like years since he had been.

We walked back to the car and got in, the left over chill climbing in with us. I immediatley turned the floor heat on high.


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