Sunday, February 3, 2013


It has been one year since my father passed away.  I am spending the anniversary with my mother. Today we did a brief service at the cemetery, unveiling his tombstone.  I arranged for the tombstone, deciding that it must have the Hebrew names and father's name that are typical of Jewish tombstones.  There are many in the Jewish section that no longer do so.  But I am a family historian. I value that tradition that allowed me to trace back from my great-grandfather's tombstone in New York to my great-great grandfather in a Belarus cemetery, finding his children scattered across three cemeteries and two countries.

When the rabbi asked if anyone would like to say something about my father, we weren't quite prepared.  All I could think of was when we used to threaten to put a phrase on his tombstone that echoed one of his frequent and rather profane expressions.  While quintessentially my father, it didn't seem quite appropriate in that setting or at least not for non-family ears.  It is in those inside family jokes that we can be most ourselves and "most ourselves" is seldom the proper side we present to the external world. 

My father was a strong presence and we still feel his presence in many ways.  Sometimes it feels like he is just taking a sabbatical.  My mother is the custodian of my father's memory within our family. Frequently she says, "you are your father's daughter" and the reliance she placed on him is often shifted to me as his proxy.   It makes me wish I had known him better or perhaps differently, more like I might know a friend.  Each relationship between two people is unique to those two people and even then not static.  It changes through time and as both people grow and change, creating many permutations. When I talk about my father with my siblings, I realize how even within a family we take away different perceptions filtered through who we are and our unique relationship.  When I was younger, my father and I used to do battle, but I always felt his respect for me for holding my ground and asserting myself.  My dad admired backbone and knowing him strengthened mine.

It is different with one parent.  We pay closer heed, checking in with regularity.  Aware that time is limited and precious.  The responsibility of children deepens when only one parent is left.  Since my father's death my sister and I call my mother each day, me in the morning, she at night, my brother's calls scatter in between.  My mom is an easy person.  Happy to be alive and grateful for little joys.

We have a woman who comes in for a few hours several days a week to help her with things.  She has become quite fond of Sally and enjoys her company. My mom used to ride an exercise bike in the evening, but that had fallen by the wayside.  One day not long ago my mother announced that she had decided to start to bike again.  She had Sally help her arrange the two exercise bikes downstairs so on her visits they could bike together.  I love that my 86 year old mother does that.  She is preparing for our trip to Israel for which I had cautioned her mobility will be important.  She is highly motivated for this trip of a lifetime.  After that she says any additional time will be gravy or the grave. To which I add, "No hurry".

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this lovely piece, Susan. Our love for our parents is primal. And the void that is left is never to be filled. I have found, over the years since my parents' passings that the wounds get smaller but never fully heal.

    It's wonderful that your mother is seizing control of her life beyond the one she shared with your father. Her positive attitude will make your coming years together much easier for all.