My [Papa’s] watch

My eyes are always drawn to the cover graphic atop my blog. It’s a photo of my Papa, who died nearly three years ago, on vacation in Costa Rica the year before his death. Papa never went anywhere without that camera of his.

Previous to Papa’s death, I never thought much about mourning, but in the aftermath I certainly did.

Disconcertingly out of sync, perceptions jumbled, receptors misfiring, I remain immediately near but never fully within the self I’d always known, receiving on an unfamiliar, piercing wavelength.

Slowly, slowly, I have come to understand
this: My pulse has been attuned to loss.

-Me, ‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #47, June 23, 2019

It wasn’t only in my writing and my prayers that first year that I explored my reaction to the loss of my father; it was also in comparison to other mourners, including my Mama and my brother Eli. Before Papa’s death, it had never occurred to me that everybody mourns in their own way – because, simply, I’d never reflected upon it.

Mementos v. Remembrances

One of the way in which I found myself mourning was in wearing Papa’s watch, caps, yarmulke, and shirts. My sentimentality surprised me; Mama and Eli did not seem to desire to possess physical objects that had once belonged to Papa, but I did.

I wear my father’s cap; my father’s yarmulke; my father’s watch; his house shoes.

-Me, ‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #15, Nov. 11, 2018

In any case, previous to Papa’s death, I hadn’t worn a watch for years, as I could simply check my cell phone when necessary; but wearing a watch was something that I had always strongly associated with Papa. I remember him asking me why I did not have a watch and whether I might want to have one on multiple occasions throughout my childhood. He was never without his watch and was always nonplussed at my lack of desire to wear one.

Thus, when I flew home to the USA for his funeral, Papa’s watch was one of the first things that I appropriated for myself. I started wearing it all the time.

Unfortunately, the face of the watch became warped from an unexpected electric shock, and then it cracked when my then-4½-year-old accidentally dropped it. Despite the cost, this led me to order a new watch from the same series. However, when the lovely new watch arrived, I couldn’t bring myself to actually wear it because it wasn’t Papa’s, and I didn’t want the face to get scratched.

However, I also found myself wearing Papa’s watch less and less often. It had never felt entirely comfortable on my wrist, probably because Papa’s wrists were thicker than mine, and he had sized it for himself. Also, the blemished face of the watch annoyed me. While I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of the watch, I also gradually stopped wearing it.

My new watch also needed to be adjusted to my wrist size, but for a long time after it arrived in the mail, I didn’t want to bother with it. Surprised, I realized that I didn’t want to wear any watch other than Papa’s. So the brand new watch, which I had selected for myself, and which suited my taste, sat in its box on the bookshelf for many months.

And then – last week – I suddenly knew that I wanted to wear my watch. I can’t explain what changed in me, but something felt different. Something was different. I wanted to wear my new watch.

After many months of ambivalence and even attempting to put my new watch out of my mind at times, I had it resized for my wrist and put it on… and… it felt very, very right to me. The new watch was lighter than Papa’s watch, which felt better, and it fit my wrist, just as it was supposed to. I haven’t been wearing it all the time, but often enough, and I find that it does bring back memories of Papa, which comfort me. It’s not a memento… but it is a remembrance.

I don’t miss Papa more, and I don’t miss him less. I don’t even know if I miss him differently than I did one year ago or more. Honestly, I have no idea what is going on inside my heart. I don’t think Papa’s absence hurts me less than it once did… but… for reasons that I can’t comprehend, and for the very first time since Papa died in July 2018, I find myself wanting to wear a watch of my own – which never belonged to him.

60 thoughts on “My [Papa’s] watch”

  1. I find with my parents, both 10 years ago now, that passage of time has given me the ability to openly say “oh, they were a real pita about such-and-such”. It’s matter-of-fact, without emotion.

  2. Having acquired much of my grandmother’s clothing and shoes following her death (because of sizing and because I am the kind of person drawn to keeping personal effects like this), I can also identify with the feeling of wearing clothing or shoes or accessories belonging to a deceased loved one and the fit not being entirely right or comfortable, but also, the reluctance to give the item away.
    I’m glad you felt you could put on your own watch.

  3. David your reflections and tribute to your Papa are very moving. I think your changes are positive and the natural course of life. It’s good to remember the past, but we cannot be possessed by it.

  4. Wonderfully written; I love the reflection. We all grief in different ways. I’ve lost a number of people close to me and I understand what it means to not understand how the heart chooses to handle mourning sometimes.

    1. Yeah – it’s almost (maybe not almost – maybe entirely) as though my brain doesn’t have the language to describe what’s going on in my heart when it comes to mourning… it’s so subtle and complicated… and even unpredictable.

      Thanks, Ore!


  5. It’s been five years since my mom’s transition. I just recently let go of some tributes I made for her celebration of life gathering I hosted. Change is always happening. Your connection is now more with his spirit than with the object.

    1. That is a gorgeous way of saying it, Lauren – thank you! And – I actually think that writing in this blog, which has my father’s photo on top, makes me feel more connected to him… it’s strange saying so… strange acknowledging that…


    1. Rebecca,

      I totally understand that. I still wear my Papa’s house shoes, still have some of his tools in my apt., still have his yarmulke… and the list goes on. Sometimes it’s painful to see some of those objects and part of me wants to throw them away… but I think it’s a healthy sort of pain, and I keep all the stuff I of his that I have. Except for his spring cap, which I recently replaced because it was just too worn out.


    1. Mary, that’s lovely. We are such complicated beings. Our reactions to death have really come to fascinate me… I often don’t even understand my own.


      1. I have her love and affections that always remind me of her. In our case, physical possessions like ornaments etc are passed on direct to her daughter-in-law (my wife).

  6. Beautiful reflective post, David. It sounds to me like a natural progression of the grief process.

    People do grieve differently. I knew that I could not afford to continue living in our house after my husband died in January, and began preparing to move before the next school year. At the memorial service, I made gifts to family members of some of my husband’s collectibles. When my mother-in-law found that I had donated my husband’s clothes to charity, she said that she and my father-in-law had wanted to wear some of his clothes. I gave her several sweaters that I had saved. When I later saw my father-in-law wearing one of the sweaters, I felt a momentary, stabbing pain. And then it was all right.

    I think it must be the worst grief to lose a child. My mother-in-law suffered terribly. I bought her a gold locket and put a lock of hair I had saved and a photo of her son inside. She wore it for many years.

    1. Thank you So much, LaDonna. By the way, if you don’t mind my asking, what kind of name is ‘LaDonna’? I’ve never known anyone with that name before, and it’s beautiful.


      1. Thank you for the lovely compliment. It is an said to be an Italian name meaning “the lady”. However, my ethnicity is not Italian. I was born and raised in the South (of the United States). Not as glamorous as Italy but true none the less. Lol.

  7. This is just beautiful, a perfect reflection, an honest thing in ways that much writing can never be. And that matters. It touches me deeply, brings tears of sadness and hope to my eyes. Thank you for this, my dear friend.

    1. George, I consistently feel like you give me way too much credit – honestly – but I am very glad that you found this moving… I know that I am not alone in having such universally human experiences.

      Much love,

      1. Who knows, David. Perhaps it has much to do with where I am in my life now–the feelings, memories, longings. I cannot always find my own voice to express them well. I do believe you deserve the credit, my friend. And yes, there are times when reading you is quite cathartic for me. And I am very grateful for that.

    1. Thank you, Jan. I shared it because it feels so human to me – I think most people who have grieved can imagine other people’s grief processes… even if they are different than their own.


  8. When my father died and we were going through his things, at the last minute I felt I couldn’t bear to part with a painting of a roadrunner that he bought for himself and always kept hanging near his chair. I’m glad I kept it, as it always reminds me of him with a smile. (K)

    1. I think there are several items of Papa’s that I will keep pretty much “forever”. They don’t make me smile, per se, but they trigger my memories of him, which I value deeply.

      1. Your post made me think of all the various items I have from members of my family. Also of the time I was burglarized and they took the jewelry I had from my grandmother and great-grandmother. Its value was mostly sentimental, but I still feel the hole. (K)

        1. When I was first in New York, almost 50 years ago. That apartment was burglarized several times, but it’s never happened to me since.

  9. Yes. When my father died my mother gave each of the grandsons something of their grandfathers. My oldest son when asked, wanted my father’s bathrobe. My second son wanted one of his suits and a tie. Their cousins took a hat and a sweater. Each of choice was personal. I have his pool cue and a class ring…Just having them even though I don’t wear or use them, gives me a sense of connection.

    1. That’s how I feel too… Something I think I want to write about is how my blog, which has a photo of my father at the top, gives me a sense of connection too – even though this blog is something that I have personally created and never existed before his death.


  10. I don’t know you but I found this piece compelling. It drew me in and held my attention. My wife died last September and my relationship to the physical things she owned is complex. I found myself wishing I could wear one of her items of clothing yesterday. I will find a jumper or a T-shirt. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    1. I’m so glad that you connected with this, Squeaky. As I wrote, different things work for different folks… and I’ve been very surprised by my own sentimentality – that’s not something I ever thought that I had in me.


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