Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
My father died very suddenly last week. He’d seemed in excellent
health. I played tennis with him last time I visited. We’ve been
increasingly close since my mother’s death ten years ago and now I
am an orphan, though it’s a strange word to use for someone in her
fifties. I’m stunned, shocked, sad, and other than overwhelmed from
all the logistics and reality suddenly imposed on my already busy life,
confused by the fact that I never got to say good-bye. Mostly it seems
totally strange that I will never again be able to pick up the phone and
tell him any of the things that are going on in my life.
The loss of any parent, especially without the insulation of a terminal
diagnosis and/or gradual decline is tough. The loss of the second
parent is even tougher. It’s not just that the illusion of greater
mortality is closer. But also the fact that a huge part of your personal
history is gone. This week is the four-year anniversary of my own
father’s death, and I had lots of time to prepare for it. So my advice
has the sad benefit of perspective. But maybe some of what helped
me will help you allay some of the pain.
Talk to your father. Yes I know he’s dead but in your car, the shower,
a park, or anywhere private, talk out loud to him as though he could
hear you. Think about him before you go to sleep; you may dream
about him. On your smart phone you can talk, or on your computer
you can write, things you remember and loved about him. Make a
small altar somewhere to honor him. Put on it everything from pictures
to mementos and a candle. Go to services. Sit shiva and say kaddish.
Talk about him to people and explain what made him special.
My own father taught me to play chess, to play tennis, and to talk to
people with sincere curiosity and caring. He was smart and had a great
sense of humor. One of my favorite memories of visiting him was how
he spoke to everyone who helped care for him and tried to know them.
Como esta? to Jose from Mexico and Ca va bien? to Nanette from
Haiti. He survived Hitler, immigration, and making a new life in the US.
When I asked him once about his life he said, I never went hungry,
always slept in a bed, and never had to hold a gun. I hope your
father’s life was as good.