Yahrzeit Letter

My father was a disturbed man. It is not his death I mourn when his yahrzeit comes every year; it’s something else. This is a complicated grief. Today his yahrzeit brings up less terror and more sadness as I trust his absence more.

This year I was surprised to receive my yahrzeit notice from my former synagogue, although we haven’t been members since we moved away before my father died. I recall these yahrzeit notices for my parents as both helpful and annoying. Helpful because the Hebrew dates change each year on the secular calendar and it’s hard to keep track of when to say Kaddish. Annoying because of what I’ve perceived as the lie in the assumption that I’d want to honor my father’s life. What do they know about it? I’d think, conflicted.

This is a thorny, complex grief.

I read this year’s letter carefully, with new eyes, and I see that it’s offering me comfort and peace. I need this. I need comforting.

It’s been eight years since my father’s death, fourteen since my mother’s. More than that, in fifty years of adulthood I have never said how much I need to be comforted. Not even to myself.

My former synagogue remembered to say this to me in their yahrzeit letter, remembered that I lost something this day, and asked me to remember this is also a time I can feel embraced and comforted.

“Why would they send you that letter, all of a sudden, out of the blue?” my friend asks. “Maybe it’s your father, offering comfort.”

“Wouldn’t that just take the cake!” I say, but I consider his outlandish words.

The world is far more baffling and convoluted than I can conjure. Such a thought challenges everything—even forgiveness would be obsolete. My friend must be toying with me. He’s becoming woo-woo, or at the very least, spiritual.

And I do it, I imagine a world larger than terror and lacerating pain and meanness and helplessness.

What if the letter was my father, offering comfort?

Of course it wasn’t. But what if?

This expanded view is mind-altering, greater than self.

Oddly, it comforts me.


No Crying Allowed

We all stand and sit in varying postures of disquiet, some on high stools around tables, others on low cushioned chairs, some up at the bar overlooking the country club greens, and one or two even order drinks.

Am I the only broken person who has come to Tom’s memorial? No. I look around. We must be many frazzled people, mostly related, to have traveled to this remote place to stand here and express so little loss. We are upbeat. We laugh at the jokes and funny stories that Tom requested. This is what he wanted, what he told Ruthie.

Dan used to talk about how no one cried when his little sister Vicky died of a mild case of measles back before we had vaccinations. Vicky was eight. Dan was a teenager and he was scolded for crying at Vicky’s funeral where virtually the whole town turned out for this beloved little girl—neighbors and friends and teachers and aunts and uncles and cousins, and strangers even, all heartbroken and stoic—and not one tear for their great loss, except Dan’s.

Above all, don’t disrespect Ruthie, I say to myself Saturday, holding back my feelings, following her plan. I’m sincere, but I don’t tell a joke, I haven’t the heart for it. Sorry, Tom. I hug Ruthie. I attempt peace with some sibs, coming from my disheveled place, feeling raw, not exactly sorting reality from unreality and wondering if they can.

Dan had told me: “All those Germans in my family stood around dry eyed and strong jawed and told me to pull myself together, to stop being a sissy. I knew they loved Vicky, they delighted in her! But showing feelings was verboten, and I was not like them.”

It turns out Tom fought in Korea.

“No! You were a baby!” I tell Tom when I learn he was in Korea. “Dan had to lie about his age to get the army to let him go to Korea.”

“So did I,” says Tom.

Sort the bodies, no crying allowed.

I feel an escalating anger as the weekend progresses. Tom was here and now he is gone…They are all gone. Tom. Vicky. Her parents: Emma and Skip. Dan.

It flashes through my awareness: the teenage boy sobbing at the loss of his little sister; the eleven year-old boy crying disconsolately for Dan after the twenty-one-gun salute, after the flag is folded and presented to me, when his body is lowered into the ground at Golden Gate Cemetery.

Thank you, Arthur.