Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sunday May 18

Had Miriam in the house
due to the efforts of Badiner
got up from Shiva.

I had to go to the Barber in
order to appear at the Bris
that Nettie should not notice
and guess of our great loss.

Attended Bris with Badiner
and Philip, and dear fathers
name was given to the baby boy.

I am all upset and
can hardly find any


Matt's Notes

For seven days, Jewish law has sanctioned Papa's immersion in his grief. For seven days he has nursed an icy emptiness in his stomach, felt his limbs tremble, his eyelids drop of their own accord. For seven days he would go for hours without moving, then suddenly be struck with the urge to jump up, outrun the fact of his father's death, pace around his apartment, only to realize he could not escape his loss and, weeping, set himself back down on a wooden box. For seven days he has scratched his unshaven cheeks, opened his door for friends and relatives, accepted their hugs and looks of concern and trays of cakes and plates of chicken and pots of soup. For seven days he has prayed, reflected, allowed himself to be borne away on waves of feeling and memory. For seven days he has buried himself with his father.

Today, though, the shiva ends, and it is time for Papa to rejoin the living. Incredibly, in a moment that would seem metaphorical if it were not real, he emerges from his week of dark mourning, gets a shave and a haircut, and welcomes his newly-departed father's newly-arrived grandson into the world. Has Papa's sister really been in the hospital with a newborn baby all this time? Has the baby really been waiting to take the name of the man who has been the object of Papa's prayers? Could a week of shiva have a more unlikely, appropriate, or poignant ending?

On a more personal note, while I know Papa's sadness is not over and his mourning will go on, I hope that I, too, can return to the real world after this week of shiva. I've noted before how, in spending so much time with Papa every day, my own moods often mirror his, and it's never been more true than this past week. There is no way to read and think and write about the death of Papa's father without thinking about the death of my own, no way to avoid comparison.

Like Papa, I was separated from my father in the years before his death, but not by an ocean, not by emigration forced on me by political and social circumstances. My father was separated from me by Alzheimer's disease, a form that struck him early in life and removed him, by degrees, from himself and me before his condition had been diagnosed. I was young when his transformation happened, and in confusion and shame and frustration I forced myself to forget him, pretend he didn't exist, until one day I learned he was dead and suddenly found myself wanting to mourn him properly, gather his friends, say kaddish by his grave, find some way to remember who he had been and not who he had become. By then it was too late, though. I'd become too good at forgetting to learn how to remember all at once.

And so, to dwell with Papa during this week of shiva, to witness his fitting and proper behavior, to watch him pay tribute to a father he struggled to remember and longed to see, reintroduced me to my own improper mourning, awakened the memories of a father I struggled to forget and loathed to see. Is there a way to properly mourn him now? Is that what this last week has been? Have I watched Papa mourn, mourned alongside him, immersed myself in grief in an attempt to learn how to do it right?

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