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.
88 thoughts on “Almost 3 years since Papa’s death”
Hi David. You wrote ‘My father is gone forever, and he’s not coming back; and that is what will eventually happen to all of us’. I tend to think that if we really believed that, we all would go crazy just enjoying ourselves to the utmost, not caring about anyone else, not even thinking about those who came before us. We don’t behave like this, (at least most of us don’t hopefully) because deep inside we know it’s not over. I truly believe that we will all come back to a world that is going to be much better than this one. Our loved ones are always with us. You think about your Dad, you write about him and express your love for him. Doesn’t sound like he’s dead to me. Rather, your Dad is very much alive, in this world, a part of your life. You’re a good son, David.
I don’t really agree with you. Putting philosophy aside, I know too many believers who are bad people and too many nonbelievers who are good people that behave themselves with dignity and kindness towards others… your observation simply doesn’t bear out in my life experience.
Personally, while I don’t know anything for certain as a mortal, I lean towards “dead is dead”. I could be wrong, of course, but that seems like the most likely truth to me. My father’s memory may be alive because of me and others who love(d) him… but he’s not here any longer. It’s painful to say that, and I’d rather come up with something that would be more comforting to me, but I’d also rather not lie to myself…
Life is hard, and as death is part of life, we all carry it around with us as part of the difficulty. Writing is a way to cope and try to comprehend. Of course you are doing this for you, but also sharing the struggle, which is experienced by all of us. And as they say, there is strength in numbers. A hand held out in words. (K)
That is beautiful, Kerfe. Thank you.
David, your honest writing style and self-reflection are comforting to read, and having lost my father two years ago, I identify with your grief and the questions you ask. Both your poetry and your prose are a gift. And you, of course. Thank you for sharing. 💗
Thanks for being here for me, Michele 💓
My honor and pleasure, David. Thank you for sharing your voice, your journey, and your creativity. 💓 Peace and blessings to you and your family. 🙏🏼
I still need to write an actual schuttelreim poem. 😂
I’m here for all of your schuttelreim’ing needs ❤
This post makes me feel like a voyeur – it is so very personal and revealing… I had a good relationship with my father, He was very strict about so much but so very liberal with his care and affection that I never attempted to contravene his rules. Even though he was a stoic and reserved person, I’m sure that my writing about him would be viewed as a positive event – since it made me feel better…
yeah, I do think that my father would have agreed that this is a good project for me because it makes me feel better… and since he’s not around to be affected by it, what’s the harm? He would have agreed, I’m sure.
what a gift your Papa continues to be in your life David. Keeping his memory alive through blogging and your poetry have benefited all of us as well. Enjoy dinner with your daughter in his honor…… Sending love ❣️💖
Love received, Cindy ❤
I enjoyed this post.
❤ Leenda, thanks! ❤
When my mother was alive, I needed a bit of a boundary to protect me from her desire to impose religion on me. After her death, I could relax and not be so guarded. In most ways, she was an excellent mother, and I enjoy the overwhelmingly positive memories of time spent with her. I learned a lot from her. and still can hear her words as I go about my daily life.
I am sure you also learned a lot from your father. I like the photos of him. As a photographer, he probably left a wonderful legacy of photos for you to enjoy.
All the best! ❤
I can relate to this – it’s somewhat different in my case, obviously, but are more similarities than not.
I’m so sorry David. Your father will be with you forever. My mother is very sick but I’m not ready to say goodbye. We never are. And this sentence youo wrote says everything : “I experience Papa’s absence as a perpetual humming in my life. It’s always present, even when I am not thinking about it.”
🤎 Thank you, Filipa. I’m so deeply sorry to hear about your Mom’s poor health 🤎
It’s hard. We are very connected. She had already two cancers but this time the disease is everywhere. She believes in eternal life and she told me that our time here is only a whisper. Nevertheless, it’s hard to say goddbye. Take care David.
I have a beloved aunt (my mother’s younger sister) who has been fighting her third bout with cancer for the past 5 years… and this time, as you understand, there will be no remission. She was diagnosed the first time more than 20 years ago…
🤗 💔 Filipa 💔 🤗
Oh David, it’s an awful disease.
Sorry for your loss. I hope you heal well
A friend of mine sent me this graphic:
True I guess. Stay safe !
Oh that is sad. Sending sympathy and hope you are OK .
Thanks, Jenny. I’m okay – death and loss are not unique to me, obviously. It’s just that when certain dates roll around, it’s pretty much impossible not to start thinking about our losses.
Oh I know. Sometimes life is really hard. Sending sympathy 🌼
🤗 Jenny 🤗
Chayim aruchim (which I think is only said by UK Jews).
I’ve heard ppl say that here in Jerusalem, but I haven’t paid attention to who was saying it… so I’m not sure if it’s only been the UK expats 🙂
And – thanks!
David, it is hard to bare your soul to the world through blogging, which is far better than Facebook or Twitter. Writing of your father is a good thing. He was obviously a strong force in your life, even though there were rough spots. My father passed on in 1998, and there were some rough spots between us that never healed. There is not a day I don’t think of him in some way, good or bad. My oldest son died in 2012, and I haven’t reached a point to where I can write about that. Thanks for the good read.
Thanks for sharing, Phil. I’m deeply sorry for your loss 😢