If you told me that my father would outlive my mother, I would have said you were crazy. After all, he was eight years older than her and suffered with Parkinson’s and macular degeneration for years. But somehow, he managed to outlast her by about six weeks. He might have even lasted longer if not for Covid-19, which seemed to have been the tipping point. Despite their somewhat contentious marriage, he didn’t want to live without her.
The last weeks have been surreal. First my mother died on March 23rd and then my father on May 10th without their children by their side. With no time to mourn, I jumped into rabbi mode, making arrangements and leading services on the next days. We gathered live and on Facebook. No hugging. No sitting shiva. As the weeks have gone by, details have been attended to: papers filed, cellphones cancelled, cable disconnected. I’ve said Kaddish with online minyanim, finding it impersonal.
Almost three years ago, the apartment that I grew up in was emptied. Although we had hired a professional to do the bulk of the work, there was plenty to look at and think about, trying to resist taking everything. This was repeated with their assisted living apartment where there was way too much stuff. Dressed in protective wear, we–my oldest niece and I–entered their apartment and went through everything. Taking what we could. It was a bit amazing what they took. In the top of the cabinet was my father’s sailor uniform. He was drafted and sent to San Diego shortly before the war ended. There were several pieces of painted china that my mother loved. And there were lots of pictures. As I walked around the building, I was heartened to see residents and staff that I knew, saddened to hear of the facility’s losses. Still, it all seemed surreal to me.
Then, the furniture came. The thing I really wanted was my father’s chest of drawers. Not only did I really need it, I had always loved it. Its many drawers held secrets that I loved looking through. There were always strange keys in the top drawer. There was a Civil War gun in the bottom drawer that I would sneak looks at. It doesn’t work and I was never sure where he got it.
As I sit here writing this, in the chair that my sat in my parents’ bedroom for nearly 65 years, I look at the chest of drawers and the realization of what has happened hits me. They are indeed gone.
In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach, God tells Moses to send scouts to Canaan to check out the new land. There is a very dramatic recounting of how a representative of each of the twelve tribes was sent. Ten were scared and came back with wild stories of gigantic arachnids and huge grapes. But Joshua and Caleb stood up and told the truth as they saw it.
The land that we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land. If Adonai is pleased with us, God will bring us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey, and give it to us…
How lucky were the Israelites to have Joshua and Caleb. If only someone could reassure me that my new world will be fine.
Note: Since the second day of Shavuot was on a Shabbat, and Israel and the Liberal Jewish movements do not celebrate the second day, some congregations read about the rebellion of Korach this week. It seems appropriate that this delivery sits between a portion about going in to a new lasnd and one about a rebellion. My mother always thought I was rebellious, but that’s for another blog.