This is the one I was dreading the most.
Every year, as I’ve counted and commemorated each yahrzeit, I realized that I was tiptoeing towards this one. The milestone that I, as the youngest child, would reach first. The milestone that I would reach alone. As my dad’s sixteenth yahrzeit draws near, I am approaching a life spent longer without him than with him. And it’s a petrifying thought.
I cling desperately to memories of him that have started to fade, and still hurt for each milestone he’s missed over the past sixteen years. In the loneliness of the last several months, I’ve had ample time to reflect on the almost compulsive fear I have of forgetting. Forgetting him. Forgetting our shared memories. Forgetting everything he taught me. So recently, I pulled out an old notebook, which has mostly sat dormant for the last several years. This notebook is a remnant of another era. A one-subject college-ruled spiral notebook with a blue cover and 70 sheets of paper within. I’m not even sure that anyone else knows this notebook exists. And yet it is one of my treasures.
Written on the first fourteen pages is a chronicle of the last few days of my dad’s life, up until the day of his funeral. A chronicle through the eyes of a very sad sixteen year old. I wrote it a few short weeks after my dad passed away, and the writing is neither eloquent nor engrossing – it is simply a matter-of-fact accounting of every possible detail I could recall. I started it off with this sentence: “I’ve been worrying constantly these last few weeks about forgetting my father and the weeks that led up to his death.” From there, my pen takes off at a frenetic pace, providing a detailed account of what happened, where we went, who came to visit in the hospital, my dad’s transfer to hospice, and me finally coming to terms with losing him. I wrote about the oddity of the hospice room which resembled a hotel room, and the day we spent at home before the funeral, where I felt numb as people kept arriving to prepare us for what lay ahead. I included even the most irrelevant of details, at one point noting that the night before my father’s funeral, Ken Jennings’ winning streak on Jeopardy had come to an end.
And then on page fourteen, just as I’m getting to the details of the funeral, it ends. Abruptly. In the middle of a sentence. In the middle of an unfinished thought. After making sure to capture every detail I could remember, my notebook ends like this: “I walked into the room where the service would be. It contained many rows of seats behind a stand for the speeches and daddy’s coffin. It was covered in a beautiful fabric and on top was an American flag folded into the shape of a triangle for daddy’s military service. There was one woman already sitting there, who I later found out was the shomer for daddy’s body. As all the family and then friends began to arrive, we were ushered into…” And that’s it.
I hate sixteen year old me a little bit. I imagine that I just got busy again – with life, with school, with friends. But sixteen years later, I wish I would have finished the story. When the words were still fresh and the memories not yet faded. The rest of the notebook has stayed empty all these years, and yet it has followed me wherever I’ve gone, and it now sits in my apartment in New York City. In the back of the notebook, I’ve stuffed other essays I’ve written about my dad over the years – memories, letters, and college essay drafts that all inevitably reflected on the lessons taught to me by my father and his resilience in the face of insurmountable odds.
I think back on these memories often – maybe too much. And within the empty space of that notebook, I think of everything he missed. All the family celebrations, the weddings, the births, the graduations. And all the sad times when I really could have used a hug from my dad. I think of everything he will continue to miss. I watch my nieces and nephews and know how much pride he would take in watching them grow up, just as he took so much pride in watching his four children grow up.
But really, I should cut sixteen year old me some slack. Because even if I had continued writing, the story would still have ended too soon. His story. Our family’s story. A story where he did not get the chance to see me grow into an adult, to see me come into my own.
So many years later, without the aid of the notebook, I may not remember exactly how the rest of the funeral procession went, or what I did over the course of the days of shiva, but the important lessons I learned from my father continue to guide me – lessons borne out of those far too short but formative years. And while the notebook will stay with me, as a reminder of how important past memories are, as I embark on a life spent more without my dad than with him, I realize that so much of who I am is a reflection of my father, a fact which fortunately won’t fade with the passing of time.
I’m originally from Deal, New Jersey, and currently live in Manhattan. I work as an attorney at a law firm in New Jersey, and am passionate about playing an active role in the Jewish community. I enjoy baking, reading, sports, and hanging out with my adorable nieces and nephews.