Psychologists are always quoted in holiday-themed articles about the seasonal blues. We are stressed from our holiday preparations and we remember our loved ones who are no longer with us. At the High Holidays, we may or may not be suffering from seasonal depression, but there is no doubt we are remembering those we’ve lost as we shop, cook, clean, daven, and take stock of our blessings at the Yontif table.
I lost my father so many years ago that the thought of this loss no longer generates pain. But that is not to say that I don’t think of him often. His presence is still palpable, still keen much of the time. Even so, 37 years is a long time. I am way past the pain of mourning him.
I was just 13 when my father passed away. It was a sudden tragedy. In spite of my youth at the time, and how I missed having a father at such a critical juncture in my development, I can look back and say that I had a good father for 13 years. I can see this as a rich blessing.
Today, at 50, I still rely on my father’s teachings. Though the body of those accumulated lessons may be smaller than for those of most people, the lessons remain eloquent and profound. I take great pleasure in sharing those lessons with my children.
I also like to imagine that Daddy somehow sees my large family and me and has nachas from the fact that I am raising a Jewish family in Israel. I credit him for raising me in such a way that I ended up making aliyah – that my life has taken the wonderful twists and turns that earn me a mitzvah for every four cubits I walk in Eretz HaKodesh. It is due to my father’s influence – abbreviated by time but never by impact – that I gave birth to children in the holy city of Jerusalem 12 times. There are now grandchildren, and all of these too are the fruit of my father’s teachings.
I don’t know what the Torah says about my wild writer’s imagination that likes to think of my father looking down and watching over me from the Heavens. But I do believe that Hashem is kind enough to grant us a certain power regarding those we love who pass away. We can give them nitzchiyus, eternal life, through remembering the special brand of goodness they brought to this world and left behind as their permanent gifts to the living.
It’s a kind of unwitting partnership: that unbreakable link between those lost and those who remain. One never knows when a virtual tap on the shoulder will be received from that long gone person who remains a part of you forever. Just this morning, as I washed the breakfast dishes, a memory popped into my mind, unbidden, like a visitation.
I remembered that my father and I were in the car (I think I was 11) and we passed some girls, teenagers, who were trying to hitch a ride. My father stopped the car for them. After ascertaining their destination, he gave them a lecture: “You look like nice girls from good families. You shouldn’t be hitchhiking. Not everyone is a nice man like me. Your parents would be very worried if they knew you were hitchhiking.”
How many people would have taken the time and cared enough to give those complete strangers, who after all were someone’s children, a talking to about the dangers of hitchhiking? How many people would have taken the time to drive those girls to their destination, way out of the way, just to ensure their safety? And, of course, I was there too. The lesson was also meant for me. My father was ensuring my safety too, by teaching me a lesson about the dangers of hitchhiking. That was a very specific lesson for a specific situation – and it remained with me long after my father’s demise.Varda Epstein