What Do You Do With Memory?

It has been 25 years since my dad died. I am having trouble, I must admit, with that reality. My dad and my mom divorced when I was 5 years of age and he eventually settled in Baltimore, where he is buried. My childhood and teen years were fiilled with weekends on the old Pennsylvania RR, traveling between Philly and Baltimore; at least until I was old enough to make the drive myself. For a variety of reasons, I find myself thinking more about dad this Father’s day. I know why, a combination of recent events in my personal life linked to the ever growing reality that I am approaching the ball park of age range when he died.
I am constantly reminded of my dad ever time I look in the mirror. One of the mystery of life questions is always how that happened. I am also, as many of us are, becoming fascinated by the concept of time. I found a chilling quote recently in a novel, a quote I actually used in a recent eulogy for a close friend, that said we do not ever “own” time, we rent it. That struck me as so powerful, for as we ourselves get a little older, we really do become aware of how little “time” we control. I think that is why so many of my friends are now seriously trying to re-evaluate some of their priorities of life. This is part, I am sure, of our being “m’vakshim”, seekers of meaning.
Two of the grandhcildren are coming this weekend. My daughter’s two children. That also is part of this transition. For us, those kids are visible links to those we have lost. They are Jewish immortality in living, breathing forms. They reinforce this idea of memory. No doubt many of us this weekend for Father’s Day will say out loud or to our self, “my dad would really have enjoyed being with these kids”.
Someone once wrote that we never really die until there is no one left to say Kaddish for us. That also is a very sobering and frightening statement. It also reinforces the power and importance of memory. It has been 25 years, but, to be honest, my dad’s voice still is heard and I still talk to him and ask advice (which he freely gives..at least I think it is him). And you know what else, and I bet this is true for many of us, especially sons, I still–even at my age–find myself after doing some event or workshop hoping that he would be proud of what I have done. Even after all these years.
Memory is a funny thing. When we use it to honor and respect, it can motivate, elevate and enpower. To paraphrase a popular prayer, while the physical body dies, people live on in the acts that we , the living, do; and in the choices we make. So, Happy Father’s Day dad. Miss ya. Talk to you soon.
Shalom,
Rabbi Richard F Address

About Rabbi Richard Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.

2 Comments

  1. So true, I could have written it myself. I do have one story though about speaking to parents after their gone, that I will never forget.

    When my granddaughter Sam was 5 (she’s now 14) I picked her up from a party and since I was passing the cemetery where my parents are buried, I stopped by to tell my mother about my oldest son’s engagement. I often go by my mother’s grave to keep her up to date on family events. Makes me feel better. Sam stood quietly at my side, listening to me telling my mom about my son’s fiance. When my granddaughter and I were leaving she asked me: “Does Grandma Ethel hear you?”
    I was taken back, but I replied, “I don’t know if she hears me or not, but it makes me feel good to speak to her, so I do.”
    Sam then said, “Does she answer you?”
    By this time I was sorry I had stopped at the grave at all, but I answered, “She doesn’t answer me out loud, but if I think about her I can hear her talking to me in my mind, and that makes me feel good.”
    About five minutes later, driving in the car, my granddaughter said to me, “I hear Grandma Ethel talking to me in my mind.”
    Now I was really upset with myself for having started this, but I held my breath and asked her, “What is Grandma Ethel saying to you?”
    And in a very serious voice she replied, “Grandma Ethel is saying you should take me to the Disney Store.”

    My dad was a politician by trade and a great salesperson. I may have been speaking to my mom at the grave, but clearly my granddaughter has inherited many of my dad’s qualities.

  2. I am feeling the same way. You really put it very well. And it is comforting to know that I am not alone.

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