Thursday, August 10, 2023

A Deep Breath - Year 6

It's time for a pause in the midst of a busy week.  

Tonight is the 24th of Av, otherwise known from now on as my father's yortzeit - Mordechai Yosef ben Shmuel.  Six years ago my father suddenly, inescapably and irrevocably reminded me of the date of my Hebrew birthday - כה׳ אב - henceforth known as "The Day After..."  

The day after my world stood still and then shattered with a phone call.  

The day after I became "that girl saying Kaddish on the single's shabbaton" and deprived my husband of the chance to know his father in law.

The day after I learned how fragile the life is and how little we can predict the future.

Except that this year, this day caught me off guard.  We've been celebrating my son's second birthday - a party that's taking over the better part of the week (and more ;)).  And with my mind so occupied, the date on the calendar was only 2 dimensional.  Of course I went through the motions (candle prepped and childcare arrangements made), but my heart was not really there... yet. 

But after toddler bedtime it was time to take a deep breath.  To sit down and think about what I've learned since last year and gather my thoughts. 

Of course he's never that far from my mind...  How many thousands of questions have I wanted to ask my dad this year... (Did he ever see the movie Ratatouille?)  How many times have I thought of Zayde while brushing his grandson's teeth (Open open open... nice job, Zayde would be so proud!)?  

It gets easier with time.. and also harder with the passing of time and the distance in time since our last conversation... I can't believe that life has gone on without my dad, and yet I'm so grateful for the blessings that have come my way in the last six years.  

Since that moment, I am irrevocably changed; I recognize that life is unpredictable and I won't make promises to my son that I cannot be sure to keep.  

In some ways this pause in the midst of a business as usual reminds me of that awful moment 6 years ago when everything came crashing to a halt.  On the other hand, I recognize how important it is to take this time to reflect and remember.  And I'm thinking I need to do more in the future to prepare myself for these moments of reflection and memory.   

I miss you, Dad. 

Yhi zichrcha baruch - may your memory be a blessing and may I be strong enough to continue to make it so.  

Sunday, August 21, 2022

5?! Years

Dear Dad,

Do you remember that crazy time, 5 years ago, when I was running to shul -- "barreling down the block" I used to say -- 3 times a day to say Kaddish?  I remember.  

Do you remember how Uncle Paul was my backup and Kaddish-Partner-In-Crime, which took some pressure off when there were days I was not able to make it?  I'm thinking about that too, since today is his birthday.

Do you remember last year, when your grandchild was due any minute and I didn't know if I would be able to make it to shul, so we had rabbis in two different shuls make a point of saying Kaddish for you and having a little l'chaim?  In the end I made it to an outdoor minyan, but how could I possibly forget the uncertainty that the baby might arrive on your yortzeit.  

And did you see, this morning, how I sat down near your yortzeit candle with your little grandson, who bears your name, and told him about you?  

I can't believe it's been 5 years since I've been able to talk to you and hear your words in your voice in response.  I've known this day was coming for a long time, and yet it still somehow crept up on me.  I have so much to say and yet no words will come.  

Do you remember how worried I was at first - that I would forget things about you?  I'm glad I took notes on the stories shared during shiva, but I realize now that it was not necessary.  I won't forget.  I can't forget.   I'm glad to have them written down, but it's not as difficult as I feared to remember.  I know now that you are a part of me and always will be.

I hope you're happy where you are and that you can see what's been going on down here.  We're doing well, but we miss you so much.  

Love always,


Monday, July 11, 2022


 Dear Uncle Paul,

    Yesterday we went to the Baltimore Aquarium and we saw these enormous Angelfish... I wanted to pick up the phone and call you. Instead I write to you here.

    Celebrating your yortzeit today on the heels of your grandson, Zevi's, bar mitzvah feels like a rotten trick of fate.   It's so wrong that you weren't here adding your joyful energy to the simcha.  

    But as my husband, Saleh, pointed out, one of the messages in the parsha Zevi read so beautifully is that there are some things we just don't understand and we're not meant to.  It's been a heck of a year, and the one thing I can tell you is that your children are doing you proud.  

    Listening in shul to the praises heaped on Sarah for her contributions to the community - her hospitality and generosity - all I could think of is how I've heard grandma described the same way and how her legacy is passing down through you to your children and grandchildren.   My mind's eye sees the progress of the generations, and the legacy that has been entrusted to me and my cousins and our children.

    And questions rise in my mind:   What can I say to my son about the people that I remember so vividly that he won't get to meet in person?  How can I convey to him the words and actions that play in my mind and live close to my heart?  Would that I could find a way to let him hear the voices first hand, see the smiles, the postures, the colors, the outfits... As the smallest example, I wish he could watch you tend your beautiful Angelfish and see the expressions on your face as you talk about your children and your garden and your own reflections and memories...

    I know it's not realistic to make every day about our memories - forward thinking is essential to life and we can't let the living stop for the remembering.   But there are times and places designated in Jewish tradition when we do recall the past for the sake of preserving our history and forging ahead equipped with the lessons we've learned from the people we've loved and lost.  And today is one of those days and this is one of those places. 

    I miss you with my whole heart and I'm forever grateful for the special relationship we had.  As I look to the future, I hope that my generation will be able to preserve the best of our memories and pass them on to our children and their children.   And in doing so, we hope to make you - and all those who came before you - proud.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

No More Gifts

Moving on is hard to do.  

It can be emotional to move out of a home that has existed since your birth, where there are fond memories of growing up and family get togethers.  

How much more so, then, to clean out a childhood home full of mementos of family members no longer living?!

I'm not suggesting that anyone transform their present home into a shrine... or build a new life on piles of old memories.  To go to such an extreme is not healthy and can stifle future prospects.

But I have to write out my thoughts about this transformative moment in my life, because I'm not quite prepared to say this goodbye, though this time I know it's coming.  The reality is that I don't know what I might need or want in a future residence, and the space constraints of my current living situation preclude me from rescuing as much as I might wish.  However, as I write this, I wonder if perhaps that in itself is a blessing in disguise. 

My father was a collector - he saw the beauty and potential in many things.  And now, while cleaning out the home where he lived and collected a life's worth of souvenirs, tools and gizmos, it's left to me (and my family) to decide which treasures we can take with us and which we need to let go in order to allow ourselves to move forward in our own journeys.

Moving out of my childhood home marks the end of an era.  It's natural to reflect on all types of memories at this juncture.

Death is so final.  It means no more conversations, no more hugs, no more shared moments with my father.  And because I have no choice about the rest of it, I struggle to let go of the things that belonged to him because I know that there will be never be more such "gifts" in the future.  

And I'm not quite ready to say goodbye to the things that belonged to him that were part of the house.  As a stop gap measure, I'll keep the most meaningful and useful in storage for a limited time until I make up my mind.  But this is only to give myself the opportunity to navigate yet another layer of grief... because in the end, letting go of things will allow me the freedom to gift myself other things... things that I will enjoy because I've chosen them instead of having them choose me simply by virtue of their prior ownership.  

I guess when I look at it this way, that in itself is a gift.  I just need to prepare myself to accept it for what it is. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Sitting on My Shoulder

Rosh Hashana approaches this year as it never has before.  On Erev Chag, we will celebrate one month of enjoying our beautiful little boy who is named after my father.  This year I'm looking at the world through the fresh eyes of new parenthood.  Everything looks and feels different... and at the same time, totally familiar.  It's as if the people I've loved and lost throughout my life are sitting on my shoulder, guiding me through the challenges and wonders of motherhood and more present than they have ever been in recent memory. 

Every time I interact with my son - singing songs, playing games, talking to him conversationally - I find myself uttering words and phrases that I heard in my childhood.  From the very first days in the hospital, coaxing my son to open his mouth to eat, I heard my father's friendly voice in my mind encouraging patients in his dental chair to "open open open!"  When I burp him after a meal, I hear my grandmother's voice asking if he "has a bubble."  And whenever I zip him into his sleep sack and lift him into his bassinet for the night, I think of my Uncle Paul playing "Casper the Friendly Ghost" with my infant cousins.

When my father passed away suddenly, I was so worried that I'd forget.  Forget what specifically, I don't know, but I remember furiously writing memories in a journal throughout the shiva and afterward.  Have I looked at them since?  Not really.  I haven't needed to - though it is a comfort to know they are on paper.  Instead, the memories have stayed with me and bubble to the surface on all sorts of occasions, especially milestone moments when emotions run particularly high.  I'm finding that it is even more comforting to know that the memories are really and truly ingrained deep inside and that I can call on them when I wish.  

So... even though my father is not able to be with me at the table this Rosh Hashana, or play with my son the way I wish... I find he's even closer - sitting on my shoulder - and I know by now that I can count on him always being right there.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Nechama (Comfort)

My father was a collector of unique and interesting items.  At his funeral, the rabbi commented that he liked to take care of not only people, but things as well.  Among these treasures was a collection of brass candlesticks of various sizes and designs.  Not long before he died, my father polished up a few of these and offered them to me for my apartment, apologizing that they did not match.  

A few months later, while cleaning up his basement workshop, I came across another candlestick in the back of a shelf that was a twin to one that I already had.  The only difference was that the one my father gave me was polished and this newly discovered one was not.  In a way, it felt fitting... my father died too young, and this felt a bit like his unfinished business.

I brought both candlesticks to my apartment and have been lighting shabbat candles with them for the last four years.  The idea persisted in the back of my mind that one day Saleh would polish them to a matching shine and it would feel a bit like completing the cycle.  As it says in my bat mitzvah parsha Chayei Sarah (which my father taught me to lein) - when Isaac met and married Rebecca, he brought her into his tent and was comforted over the death of his mother, Sarah.  As the midrash explains, the miracles that were associated with Sarah paused at her death and restarted with Rebecca's entrance into the family.  

For one reason or another, we never managed to get the candlesticks polished.  Perhaps it was too soon... or I just wasn't ready.   But last shabbat - our first Shabbat home with our Little Man - I finally felt the pull to complete the job.  

As I lit three Shabbat candles for the very first time I looked at the three candlesticks on which they were perched.  One bright, shiny and new, representing the New Addition to our family, and two older ones with different degrees of tarnish, as my father's polishing has dulled with time.  And I looked at my Baby Boy - now carrying my father's name.  

My heart is full.  I still miss my father, but I see so much life and love and wonder in his newest grandchild.  It is finally time for the candlesticks to match.  

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Inconvenient (On My Father's 4th Yortzeit)

 Dear Dad,

As your 4th Yortzeit approaches tonight, the word that comes to mind is inconvenient.  Nothing about your passing has been convenient or comfortable for me - that I'll acknowledge - but let's review for a moment what these last few years have been.  That first year, your death thrust me into a year of aveilut and a whirlwind of Kaddish that interrupted nearly every facet of life (including all my dates with Saleh).  Your second Yortzeit fell on my birthday/Maggie's naming party and the third was in the middle of a global pandemic.  And this year... I'm waiting to go into labor any time now - I don't know if I'll be in shul tonight to say Kaddish or at the hospital meeting your new grandchild.  Inconvenient is an understatement!  I've made all the plans within my power... and now the decisions are up to Baby and Hashem - as they always were.  I guess one important lesson from these last 4 years is about how many things are outside of my control, whether I like it or not! 

On the other hand, the last few years have also been filled with blessings - Meeting Saleh, Marc's and my weddings, the birth of your 2 (almost 3 grandchildren) and more.  Would that you could have been here for all of them... For example - I wish you could have heard me speak at Seudah Shlishit at the end of that first year... I could have chosen any topic - it didn't need to be about missing you!  And on your second Yortzeit, wouldn't you have rather held Maggie in your arms than had her named for you?  And the pandemic... well - I can't really lay that one at your feet, but I imagine that you and Uncle Paul could have figured something out if you'd put your heads together... maybe you're working together on a solution even now so that we can celebrate your new grandchildren properly - safely surrounded by loving family and friends!

Bottom line is... I'm still missing you - especially now that I'm on the verge of (finally) becoming a parent myself.  I can't believe it's been 4 years... and what years they have been...!  I'm not mad anymore (at least not right now) and I recognize that missing you won't really go away, but gosh it's inconvenient.  

Thinking of you with love...

All of us 

In loving memory of Maury Joseph Fechter - Mordechai Yosef ben Shmuel (24th Av)

A Deep Breath - Year 6

It's time for a pause in the midst of a busy week.   Tonight is the 24th of Av, otherwise known from now on as my father's yortzeit ...