Friday was the second anniversary of my father’s death. I haven’t been very good at keeping the Jewish traditions that are there to honor the dead. I was supposed to have gone to temple every day for a whole year, and I never did. I’ve only been to the grave site twice, because the cemetery is in New York.
This year, I decided to light the Yarzheit (memorial) candle on the anniversary of the death. I was anxious about making the moment “spiritual,” something I’m not very good at doing, and I found myself feeling cranky as sunset approached. Sophia was planting flowers on the patio, and all I could think was:
“Why was she planting NOW — right before this important moment?! Couldn’t she show my father some respect?! There’s dirt everywhere outside”
Of course, I wasn’t really mad at her, but at myself. What am I supposed to say when I lit the candle? What am I supposed to think that’s meaningful? I didn’t just want to rush through the prayer, and I was dependent on Sophia to help me get through the candle lighting. And the whole moment just felt wrong. I wasn’t ready for it. I told Sophia I was leaving the house and heading for the beach. I thought the ocean would be inspirational. I left the house without lighting the candle.
At the beach, I watched some surfers. I thought less about my father, than about the closing days of “summer.” By next week, kids would be going back to school. Soon it would be Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. By October, the colorful knit sweaters would be reappearing. My local CVS Pharmacy even had their Halloween costumes already on display!
I wish I could tell you that the ocean caused me to become poetic about the moment. It wouldn’t have been difficult to make the connection between the changing of the seasons and the cycle of life itself — birth, death, and renewal — metaphors that have been used in everything from Shakespeare to “The Lion King.” But, for me –the beach was just the beach, although it was fun to see the surfers packing up their surfboards and heading home, the boards on the heads. My father would have gotten a kick out of watching them. He was stationed in Hawaii during his time in the Army, so I’m sure he’s seen some surfing himself (and would have been as unlikely to do any surfing as I am).
On the way home, some oldies station played, “I Want You Back,” by the Jackson Five.
Oh baby, give me one more chance
(To show you that I love you)
Won’t you please let me back in your heart
Oh darlin’, I was blind to let you go
(Let you go, baby)
But now since I’ve seen you it is on
(I want you back)
Oh I do now
(I want you back)
Ooh ooh baby
(I want you back)
Yeah yeah yeah yeah
(I want you back)
Na na na na
I know the song is about a boy wanting a girl, but it also made me think of my father.
“I Want You Back.”
Isn’t that exactly what I would say to him if I could speak to him in person?
After the song, I went back home and lit the candle.
A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Let’s Stop Ladies’ Night
That was really touching. One of my biggest fears is losing my parents or anyone that I really love.
Lovely. I wish you could have him back.
Well done and nicely written.
I’ve been there and I know how you feel. You will never stop missing your father, it just gets easier. Sort of.
Well said. I lost someone close to me this Spring and that’s the bottom line, I want her back.
I think this is the hardest part of grief – being past the initial brunt of it and dealing with the day to day loss.
I know two of my blogging friends just lost a parent — I’m not sure if they would want me to link to them or not –and I’m very sorry for them. Much love.
You know your heart and traditions are nice, but you’re grieving and remembering him in your own way. Be kinder to yourself Neil. Beautiful post, thank you for opening up.
My wife is having similar problems now that her mom died.
Big hugs, Neil. My mom died when I was 17, I like to think I keep her spirit alive by remembering her, telling my kids (and anyone else who’ll listen) about her, laughing at old stories and reliving our time together. Lovely post, as long as he is in your heart your father will always be with you.
Yes. Big hugs for Neil. Definitely.
The hell with religious tradition; mark the day in your own way. Do what feels right for you. That’s the best way to honor your father.
I think he would have enjoyed sitting on the beach with you. xoxo
I agree with Finn, and stipulate that in his way, your father was on the beach with you. I firmly believe that your father’s spirit is living in you. You’ve done a good job of keeping it alive. Much love to you, Neil.
i’ve struggled with honoring the anniversary of my father’s death too. for me it’s become more about how i live than how i use ritual to honor that particular day but that took a lot of time. the grieving process is long, isn’t it? i don’t think i will ever stop wanting my father back.
(hug. pinch on the tush.)
Caitlinator’s got it. When my grandmother died, my boss at the time told me that the best of a person lives on in those who came in contact with them.
There’s no right or wrong way to remember someone you loved. You did exactly the right thing for you. You can keep him alive in your memories. 🙂
That sounds like it happened just the way it was supposed to.
I think you did just fine in making the moment spiritual. Thank you for sharing.
I wish you could have your dad back. I wish I could have mine back, too.
Very nice tribute. My thoughts are with you.
I think your dad loves your tribute. That’s what I think.
Don’t you wish wanting something badly enough could bring it back to you?
lovely sentiment about the passing and relating to seasons. It is exactly like that. we all have seasons in our lives. turns out that summer is my favorite season, when all along I thought it was spring.
wanting someone back, yes. I understand this. I wish my family lived closer to me.
great tribute to your papa.
I can think of little in life that is more personal than grief. I know their are stages and traditions, but, we all do them in our way and time. I am certain your dad is looking down and wishing you could, “be of good cheer.”
Neil, I think setting aside one day to “honor” your father in an artificial way is just that, one day and artificial. I’m sure you honor him more often than that and in very real and genuine ways. Which, in the final analysis, is really best?
Neil, this is really sweet.
Neil, you light a candle to your father’s name every time you do something that reflects him, every time you refer to him in conversation, every time you think of him.
That is a tribute in itself.
May his memory be for a blessing.
Both of my parents have died and when I was young, I would light a candle for my mother, because it was tradition, something I thought I was suppose to do. When my father died, I started out doing that, on his bday, the holidays, and the anniversary of his death and then I just stop. I stop for the same reason why you were hesitating and felt uncomfortable. The candle didn’t bring me closer to him, It was just a ritual than anything spiritual or emotional.
To me, death and religion are very much the same. It’s very personal in how one choices to connect with it, grieve, remember, etc.
I really can’t even imagine. Beautiful words, Neil.
Lovely words and sentiment, my friend. Sometimes the moments we stumble upon are even better than the ones we try and create.
It’s strange that I went to your page today as I was looking at the page with the dialog with Kyra Sedgewick, Leonard Nimoy & Jason Alexander. I was lunching with some friends and talking about the show “The Closer” and I mentioned Kyra was Jewish. They were surprised. I sent them the page with the dialog.
Anyhow, I am about to have my dad’s Yahrtzite and I also feel somewhat strange. I do it out of respect for him, it is what he would have wanted. He was a very spiritual man. He went to shul twice a day when his dad died. My dad only had daughters. My sister died before he did. I light a candle for him, my mom, my sister, and even a beloved grandmother. I think I do it out of respect and I think I do it for myself because he would have wanted it.
Your friend, the Sexy Senior
Thanks for writing, Judy. My father wasn’t religious at all. I like traditions and have no problem lighting candles, etc. It just makes me anxious because I want it to have some meaning, and I don’t always feel it.
Beautiful and true.
Nice post, Neil. And lovely pictures.