I gotta tell you, keeping the brunch reservations your family made to celebrate Father’s Day when you suddenly don’t have a father isn’t something I’d recommend.
My husband and my brother-in-law, Sam, are fathers and deserved to be honored, but my heart wasn’t in it.
During brunch my Mom told us it was customary for the grieving family to walk around the neighborhood on the seventh (and last) day of Shiva, as she had witnessed many times growing up in an observant neighborhood in Chicago. We were invited to walk with her the next day, if we wanted to.
Walking around the neighborhood has also been a ceremonial way for families to walk with the soul of the departed as he begins his new path and they return to normal life.
Sure, like that’s going to happen.
I still expect my Standard Poodle, Fred, to greet me at my parents’ door, and he’s been gone since 1985. It’s going to take a lot longer to come to grips with losing my father.
We only “sat” Shiva for two days, but then again, we’re Reform. It’s not like we went out and partied the other five days; we all just tried to live with our loss together and alone. And we ate. A lot.
Monday was the seventh day of Shiva proper, so my sister, Beth, Sam, my cousin Barbara, my kids and I went to Mom’s to walk around the block.
Before joining everyone in the living room, I stopped in the kitchen and glanced at the flame of my father’s Yahrzeit candle. It was floating in what was left of the wax, now melted, barely managing to stay lit after burning for the past seven days.
My family is used to laughing. Sitting quietly, looking at Mom, waiting for her to speak was something we barely even knew how to do.
I expected her to explain the solemn ritual we were about to perform. Instead, she said, “Okay, what should we order for lunch?”
Lunch? She wanted to talk about lunch? Why was I surprised?
We ordered from Jimmy Johns, but opted out of their “Freaky Fast delivery,” because we needed time to walk seven-tenths of a mile around the block first.
Before we walked, I mentioned that one of us should drive along in case anyone had trouble walking. I was concerned about my mother’s persistent foot issues, and my sister’s arthritis.
My mother said, “If that happens, we’ll just turn around.”
Okay. There were a couple of problems with that idea. First, walking back would mean walking the same distance, only in the other direction. Second, my parents street is in the shape of a giant circle. Once you started walking, you pretty much had to keep going.
After my car idea was vetoed, we began walking. My kids wore old flip-flops, my sister had a cane on one side and Sam on the other. Except for Barbara, who wore work-out clothes, we were the most incompetent-looking team you ever saw.
We passed the house next door… and kept going. I thought to myself, “We’re doing well. We’ve already walked further than I thought we would.”
Barbara, Veronica, and I led the pack. I looked back and noticed that Lucas was gently holding Mom’s hand and walking at a slower pace with her, Beth, and Sam.
I got to Mom’s driveway and turned to watch my family come home. Lucas was still holding Mom’s hand.
After lunch, even though none of us wanted to, we began to leave.
I stayed because Mom and I have always found comfort in knowing someone else is home, even if we’re not in the same room. She sat in the kitchen opening mail while I wrote in the living room.
I knew I’d have to go home, but couldn’t get the image of the candle out of my mind. I didn’t want to, but I needed to see if the flame had gone out.
I walked into the kitchen and was relieved to see that it was still burning. It was weak. It would be gone. Soon. I wondered if my mother was watching it, too.
I left while it still burned. Mom didn’t say anything about it, but I realized she chose to sit in the kitchen for a reason.
I’m sure my father will arrange for it to just quietly go out during the night when no one’s watching to protect all of us from sadness, the same way he always tried to protect us from sadness in life.
Happy birthday, Dad.
Yes, we kept the reservations and are going out to dinner in your