Absence makes

My friend Zvi’s recent, unexpected death shocked me, perhaps all the more so because of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Counterintuitive, right? After all, death is all the rage in the news these days.

(Death, death, death… I’m actually sick of writing about it but can’t seem to get it out of my system.)

I derive a patently unfounded sense of security from seeing people on a regular basis. It’s as though my expectation that a friend will be at shul again next Saturday morning will somehow guarantee that incident.

These last two months, during the COVID-19 crisis, have left me waiting to return to my regular Shabbat morning minyan; waiting to see my friends there; waiting to socialize around the kiddush after services. My days and weeks have been blurring together, and I’ve been waiting for and holding on to my hope for a return to normalcy. It’s thus I maintain my sanity.

Whereas my irrational expectations once spanned only single weeks, they’ve now come to span an unknowable number of months. I can’t know when things will return to what they once were, but subconsciously I have been assuring myself that friends and family will be back where they once were when this blows over.

* * *

My father’s second yahrzeit (the 24th of Tammuz) will arrive in another two months, on Thursday, July 16. I am planning to lead services in shul that day so that I can lead the recitation of the orphan’s kaddish. Should a 2nd wave of Coronavirus crash over us, I may not have this opportunity.

Some months ago I signed up to sponsor the kiddush after my 6:45 AM Shabbat minyan in honor of Papa. That Sabbath falls on July 11th.

However, due to the ongoing crisis, our weekly kiddush has been cancelled for the past two months, even as prayer services resumed last weekend. At the onset of the crisis, I didn’t much mind attending services with no kiddush; partially because I hadn’t been expecting such a protracted lockdown, partially because I don’t attend minyan only for the kiddush, and partially because I wasn’t forgoing my personal kiddush.

O Self-absorption Self-absorption, wherefore art thou Self-absorption?

 * * *

Kiddush or no kiddush, I choose to not avoid thinking of Papa. Every memento pains me to look at, but I keep them. The only remaining bottle of whiskey I purchased before flying off for Papa’s funeral remains unopened. I wear his yarmulke every Shabbat and every other holiday. His this is here; his that is there; Papa’s effects are everywhere.

But I still want my kiddush.

Yes, my.

Let’s remain honest. I want my kiddush.

I want my one day of the year when it’s socially appropriate to talk publicly about my pain. I want at least a small group of people that I am fond of to note and appreciate that I am honoring my Papa. I want my day of socially acceptable mourning. I want the appropriate setting to mourn in.

Papa is dead, and he’s not coming back. I don’t feel his presence, and I don’t believe that he’s watching me from the sky. He’s gone. He won’t reappear when I host a kiddush, and he won’t be present when I recite the kaddish. He wouldn’t have been there in life, and he won’t be there in death, but I will be there.

I have been looking forward to seeing David the mourner at shul again since Papa’s first yahrzeit (blog #50). How will he look that day? What will he be able to share with me? For nearly a year, I’ve been living with the patently unfounded sense of security that I will see him again, but what if my plans get derailed? What if this hateful, pointless crisis denies me? What if David doesn’t make it?

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