This coming Saturday night, after sunset (when the Sabbath ends), will be the 3rd anniversary of Papa’s death on the Hebrew calendar. I’ll light a candle. I may recite a prayer alone at home.
I’d wanted to go out on Sunday (the day of the Hebrew anniversary) to a café with my wife and daughter in Papa’s memory, but, by coincidence, my wife will be flying abroad for work that day. Of course, my daughter and I can (and will) have dinner together in his memory; but that won’t be the same.
Many Jewish people attend prayer services on the anniversaries of their parents’ deaths in order to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer (technically, it’s a doxology), but I don’t plan on doing so. I could make excuses about logistics (my wife will be traveling, and I have to get my daughter to kindergarten that morning), but I won’t. The truth is that going to shul (synagogue) once a year for Kaddish feels hollow to me. If and when I start attending services regularly again, I will likely make the effort to do so.
I experience Papa’s absence as a perpetual humming in my life. It’s always present, even when I am not thinking about it.
As is natural, I suppose, I have less and less to say about it as the days go by. There are certain memories that have surfaced since I last wrote about Papa, but most of these shall remain private. They’re not all positive, but such is the nature of being human.
Maintaining this blog, which I named after my experience of reciting kaddish daily for Papa for the first year after his death, feels simultaneously awkward and natural. I have very much come to identify as the Skeptic’s Kaddish (btw, ‘kaddish’ can also refer to the child who recites the mourner’s kaddish for the parent). In fact, if I hadn’t adopted the moniker ‘ben Alexander’ (which means ‘son of Alexander’) and created this blog in Papa’s memory, I have no idea what else I would have called myself – or my oeuvre.
It’s clear to me that I derive emotional strength from feeling that my poetry plays a small part in keeping Papa’s memory alive. The banner at the top of the Skeptic’s Kaddish is a photograph of my father in Costa Rica, taken the year before he died, and I have inserted a link to his website at the bottom. Also, I write about Papa every so often, and when I recently mentioned his book of probability riddles in a poem, some of my readers actually expressed an interest in acquiring it. That felt good.
I cannot know how I would feel or what my emotional needs would be if I were not writing poetry every day in Papa’s memory, but it seems that my desire to recite kaddish for him and perform other religious mourning rituals in his memory is significantly reduced because I live with and invite that constant humming.
Nothing really matters
On the other hand, this all seems so utterly pointless. Kaddish or no kaddish; poetry or no poetry; book or no book; memories or no memories. What difference does any of it make? The man is dead. My father is gone forever, and he’s not coming back; and that is what will eventually happen to all of us – and could happen – BAM – at any given moment.
If Papa were still alive, I would never have put his photograph up online, nor shared my recollections and reflections so publicly. It would not have been appropriate, especially because he was such a private person.
Also, I do him greater honor now, following his death, than I ever did in life. As far as sons go, I was not the most devoted by any stretch of the imagination; our relationship was strained, to say the least. So what does it matter what I do now that he is dead? Who cares if I post his photograph all over my blog and update his Wikipedia page? He, ever the practical one, certainly wouldn’t have cared; and he wouldn’t have wanted any of this.
Everything I do is entirely for me.
There’s nothing wrong with that (I know it’s natural), but it’s important to be honest with myself about it. It’s important not to pretend that Papa would have wanted this. It’s important not to pretend that he would have been particularly honored by any of it. If anything, I am certain he would have been surprised at the degree to which I have been affected by his death.
So I live with that. With the acceptance of the fact that writing somehow dampens the intensity of the electrical impulses that course through my living flesh. It reduces the ferment to a tolerable hum.