Eight years ago tonight, I got a phone call. “Your dad’s in the hospital.” There was something in the my grandma’s tone of voice that conveyed the gravity of the situation. She didn’t say, “get on a plane asap because your dad is already pretty much dead.” nor did she say, “He wouldn’t wake up this morning and he’s been on life support all day, you need to be here.” All she said was, “Your dad is in the hospital.”
It was around 9:30pm. I’d talked with my dad briefly the day before, and he’d left me a voice–mail that previous night. We were daily talkers. When the phone rang that night, I thought it might be him, although it would have been 11::30pm in New York – rather late for parent/adult kid chatting.
Sometimes, you just know.
I told my grandma I’d catch the first flight out in the morning. It was too late for me to get the red-eye out of O’Hare to JFK.
The airplane landed at 8:40am in New York and my uncle picked me up. We made tense small talk for the 40 minute drive to my grandma’s apartment in Brooklyn. As we walked through her weighty door, the phone rang. The hospital was calling to tell us that my dad had died. Machines that went ‘ping’ were no longer able to give him the life-support to keep him with us.
It was Passover week and all the Jewish services were on hold. Getting my dad a funeral and burial was difficult, but my grandma and aunt and uncle managed to make the arrangements.
Passover is such a wonderful holiday full of family and ritual and, of course, an abundance of food. My dad loved Passover Seder and when I was a kid, he made sure that I had a few with that side of my family. One year, my grandpa gave me $15 to retrieve the hidden matzoh! That was a small fortune at age eight.
I’ve never been a very good Jew. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate the rituals and history more. There is a deep familial connection to ancient past.
It’s a little ridiculous how much I dread the anniversary of my dad’s death.
Nothing new is going to happen, and I have plenty of daily reminders of my dad,
so why does the anniversary of the day he died bother me so much?
I think some of it has to do with the feeling of being untethered. In some ways, our connection to this world is defined by our families – whether blood family or chosen. We measure the world based on our own opinions, and that of those close to us. When one of those people goes away, we lose a perspective and their unique way of interacting with the world.
We can no longer see through their eyes, nor listen to their observations. There is a part of ourselves tied in to that specific person. When that person is gone, it can feel like losing part of one of our senses.
This time of year, I feel untethered. Disconnected from my past and free floating in the present. It is a fleeting feeling, that buries itself not terribly deeply and tends to resurface during stressful times.
I’m going to visit my grandmother and dad’s side of the family soon. We will sit and observe the Passover Seder together and remember my dad. We will reaffirm our connection to each other and to our history.
It will be good.