Life Goes On

Healing: the process of making or becoming sound or healthy again

I’ve taken a break from writing here while I sat shiva, the period after a family member’s burial that’s meant to provide spiritual and emotional healing. Shiva translates as seven; Jewish families traditionally sat shiva for a week, though in recent years that time frame is often shortened to several days. My father died last Thursday and as I sit here I have the shiva candle beside me, which I lit on Friday upon my return home.

His funeral was a moving affair, with family and friends in person and virtually.  I’m touched at the relatives who make long journeys to join us: my cousins fly in from Chicago, other cousins drive from Vermont, and the DC area. Most come from various parts of NJ and PA.  Old family friends that I haven’t seen in ages show up. I appreciate their presence more than they can know.

I also appreciate the Jewish traditions: for a week the immediate family members wear a small black cloth over their heart that has been torn by the rabbi; at the cemetery everyone who chooses to participate shovels dirt into the grave; the shiva candle is lit; we hold a Zoom shiva where we remember my father and hear wonderful remembrances and poems that highlight his attributes. For all the Zoom burnout I feel, it’s a wonderful way to have people who live all over the country gather together in a meaningful way. It’s so healing that part of me wished it had gone on longer, like an Irish wake going into the night. I savor every story and yearn for more of them. But there will be plenty of time to hear those tales, they will be meted out in doses, like medicine for the sick.  

My relationship to death has changed so much as I’ve gotten older. Where I used to long for the solace of certainty, envying friends who believed in an afterlife or rebirth, I now embrace the mystery of life.  We don’t know how we dissolve into the universe but we do know that we are remembered by those we leave behind.

I think of my father at every turn as life goes on this week.  A few days ago T and I went for consecutive appointments at Rutgers Dental Clinic. We need so much work we had considered dental tourism (yes, that is a thing), going to Costa Rico or Mexico where you can get excellent dental care for a fraction of the cost. But Newark is much closer than Guadalajara, and going to the clinic will save us many thousands of dollars without worrying about getting on a plane for follow-up appointments. 

I wait ninety minutes just to get an X-ray from a nervous student. I feel for him, but this is my mouth, a precious commodity. It makes me a little anxious. Yet the dentist who we finally see is reassuring; yes, there’s a lot of dental work ahead but it will be taken care of, fortunately by other experienced dentists and not students, who will be there to watch and learn. I don’t mind having others in the room, it won’t be as intrusive as it was at B’s birth, as a doctor unexpectedly brought in a large group of medical students to watch as the midwife gently helped in the delivery after 20 hours of labor.  

Among the qualities not mentioned amid all the attributes of my father was the fact that he was terribly squeamish, especially at the dentist. I remember my mother getting calls after his appointments: “Mr. H got lightheaded and is resting now.” One time he even passed out!  As someone who has very bad teeth, my dad would shudder at the mere mention of my latest dental procedure. 

I likely would have told him about this appointment but not the details, how I need three more implants and a bone graft and T needs four or five implants.  It is not how I had planned to spend the winter, or our savings, but that’s life. A time to be sick and time to get well. 

I dread all that work but it will be good to have it done with. There are so many things I have put on hold through these last months. It’s not that I didn’t have free time yet I felt on hold, anxious and not at ease.

Next week I’ll go with B, now a healthy handsome 24 year old none the worse for the crowded spectacle of his birth,  back down to my father’s apartment, where we will bring back items that we have claimed.  I am a very sentimental person, which is reflected in what I am taking: framed photo montages from both sides of my family; a photo taken by my aunt of a Block Island wave crashing on a rock; the much-used Scrabble set (Oh that I had my father’s recall of two letter words: ); the containers from which he poured his mixture of cereals each morning. That last item seems like a bit much but as my brother-in-law says, it will bring me a bit of joy each morning. 

It was hard to be in the empty apartment, to see the familiar furniture and the things my brother and sister purchased in the last year to help him out as his senses diminished: a good reading lamp, the recorder that played books on tape, an Echo which played soothing music on demand – not having one I liked the power I felt saying “Alexa, play Bach”.

People have been asking me how I feel and all I can say for now is sad, lucky, worn out, hopeful. Life will move on with a swirl of memories, a cascade of pictures that I can touch and others I can only imagine. Like millions of people before me I have lost both parents, wonderful people who nurtured me throughout my life. Like them, it will take time and love to heal. My teeth will be fixed and my heart will mend. Life goes on, one blessed moment after another.

8 thoughts on “Life Goes On

  1. I am so sorry to hear about your father, Joan. Sending you lots of strength and peace during this most difficult time. (My father died on January 16th so I definitely feel your pain.) Let’s have coffee when you return home from Philadelphia. Janice


  2. You captured this sacred time so poignantly and with so much love, Joan, Your Dad is once again very proud … of your writing and the selection of meaningful mementos. His memory will indeed be a blessing.


  3. Even in mourning, you capture the moments. At least you inherited the wisdom teeth.
    Sadness for family and also feeling lucky for all of us and what we’ve had in this life. “We know we are remembered by those we leave behind.” Thanks for the reminder and everything that you write. Love.


  4. Thanks Dan, and for being there last week. It meant so much. (And my wisdom teeth are about all I have left : )❤️


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