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,

Amy










Monday, July 11, 2022

Angelfish

 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)

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Void You Leave Behind...

Dear Uncle Paul,

    I know that with your passing, your children and Aunt Joyce are experiencing an immediate hole in their everyday life.  I unfortunately know how it feels to miss my father and I remember how you helped me through it nearly 4 years ago.  Everyone will experience grief differently, but on the occasion of your Shloshim (has it really been that long?!) I want to tell you about the void you are leaving behind in our extended family.  

    You were the keeper of family traditions and memory, the one we turned to with all our questions.  You organized our viewings of family movies and projected the old fashioned film onto window shades and blank walls so that we could all watch and discuss. You spoke our hearts at every funeral and officiated at every unveiling.  You were the designated passenger in the hearse when Grandpa, Grandma and even my father passed away.  Who else could volunteer to do such a beautiful last kindness?  You knew the locations of family plots across the several NY cemeteries and made annual pilgrimages to visit them all.  At the same time, your shabbat table was always festive and joyful and you were the one who led the singing on holidays and special occasions -- you were the obvious choice to lead the longest, most leibedik sheva beracha at my wedding. 

    At family gatherings, you brought the laughter.  My Donald Duck imitation doesn't hold a candle to yours - I don't know how you were able to make words come across so clearly!  You could tell almost any story in a way guaranteed to attract smiles - even just hanging out and shooting the breeze, your laughter came naturally.  It was never forced, just honest, true and deep - belly laughter from the heart - and prompted a similar response in all of us. 

     I'll never forget your enormous salads brought to family gatherings on Thanksgiving and Purim - so large they had to be carried in a clean garbage bag! - with tomatoes on the side for sensitive palates.  I'll miss my annual "sukkah hops" to visit you in your heavy wooden sukkah and hearing you talk about those beautiful Angelfish that you nourished so carefully and with such success - you were always proud to show them off.  You were the one that we called on for advice from family minhagim to all sorts of fix-it issues.  We never had to wait long for you to stop by and help out with whatever needed doing, especially in the last few years -- it was nice to know that my mother could always count on your help and support.

    I've always been impressed by your knack for engaging with all ages - from adults to teens to little ones.  No wonder you were the shul Candyman - I'm not surprised that the children lined up to wish you "Good Shabbos" every week!  I still see your "Casper the Friendly Ghost" routine in my mind when I think of when the twins were babies and you lifted them up in their sleep sacks to the sound of their giggles!  I've always been so proud to be introduced as your niece.  Oh how we all love you!  

    The void you leave behind is a gaping chasm... for me, for my cousins and for our children.  How will we tell your great nieces and nephews how much you meant to us and to our family?  Even more important, who will be the "Uncle Paul" for the next generation?

     We love you, we miss you and we won't forget you.  

                            יְהִי זִכְרְךָ בָּרוּךְ  

    May your memory continue to be a blessing.  






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 -- ...