Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Holidays - Prepare To Be Unprepared (The First Chanukah Without Dad)

Everyone says that moments of remembering can hit at the most unexpected times. I am finding this to be very true.

In hindsight, I guess that I should have expected the wave of sadness that hit me in the middle of lighting Chanukah candles this first year. I called home like I always do, with the intention of keeping my mom company as we lit the candles together across the distance. Intellectually I knew the facts on the ground, but I didn’t stop to think about the implications for this favorite tradition. In the middle of singing the blessings, though, I remembered that singing all six verses of “Maoz Tzur” was a special ritual my dad and I shared every year. My voice broke. It was hard to continue. Realizing that I would not hear his voice this year caught me by surprise - even though I well knew the reality. It was somewhat comforting to sing his own improvised tune to “Hanerot Halalu,” but truth be told, it is nearly impossible to sing and cry at the same time.

Holidays present an extra challenge for our grief, especially during the first year. Just as we need to get accustomed to the new reality of the absence of our loved one during daily routines, we need to find a new normal for holiday celebrations. The challenge is that these “special occasions” are more memorable for the traditions they invoke and more poignant for their lack of frequency.  This means we have less opportunity to practice adjusting to the change.

I’d like to offer suggestions for how to prepare for the moments that catch us off guard… but I can’t. At least not after only 4 months in this new reality.

The best I can do is take the moments as they come and remember that the tears are a reflection of my love for my father. I guess like finding new love, remembering also happens when we least expect. Those we love impact our lives in more ways than we can count; their presence in our lives constitutes such a powerful part of who we are that moments large and small will trigger emotions both at times we can anticipate and at times we can’t.

If I could offer any advice to myself and others in the future, it would be this:

Holidays can be hard. Especially at first.

Treasure and savor the memories, but don’t miss out on making new ones.
Take pictures and enjoy the company of those around you.

And carry tissues… because there really is no way to prepare to be unprepared.

Remembering Uncle Paul Kalish, z''l (Melech Yona ben Yidel Dov)

It's so hard to write these words today.  My uncle, Paul Kalish, passed away this morning at home after a valiant 10 months battling  gl...