Our Jewish calendar provides us with time to remember those we have loved. On their Yarzheits, or anniversary of passing, our thoughts turn to our mothers or fathers, our sisters or brothers, our husbands or wives, and for some of us, our children.
We struggle to remember, their presence remains powerful, but sometimes we struggle conjuring up memories that seem to fade a little bit more in our everyday. Often, people who were seemingly ever-present in our past become wistful moments in our present. A smile comes to our face and a tear to our eyes. We are warmed by their reappearance, but our memories can fade if we do not try to remember specific things that link their presence to us.
As a small boy, it was hard for me to buy presents for either Mother’s day or Father’s day. Many of us remember the days before the Internet, this extraordinary “point, click and automatic delivery to the door” of today’s reality. Back then, Mr. Dykstra would let me call him and he would deliver flowers to the house and I would be there waiting with the money I had saved clutched safely in my hand, nervously counting and re-counting to make sure I really did have enough.
Sometimes many times, I could go with my mom shopping. And there in the Drug Store, I found my “go to” gifts for both mom and dad. Jean Nate Body Splash for mom and Pierre Cardin aftershave for dad. Mom and dad always smelled good- distinctively like my mom and dad with the citrus scent that was at the heart of the respective fragrances.
Mom said she liked Jean Nate. I remember the bottle- frosted glass with a round black cap containing the yellow colored “Friction pour le bain” as the bottle said. I never knew what “Friction pour le bain” meant, “Friction” seemed a strange word, but it was all appropriately exotic enough, being in French, even though I pronounced it JEAN like my mom’s first name.
Dad similarly always smelled like that sharp lemony odor contained in the modern glass bottle with shiny silver half circle cap, which reminded me of an old fashioned keyhole on a lock. I remember when I tried some of it, pouring some into my hand and they splashing or slapping it against my cheeks and neck. It seemed to kind of sting and yet be cool at the same time. But that was dad’s smell.
I do not know what it says about one’s fashion sense when you let your small child select your fragrance. But it certainly says that the love you have for your child is infinitely more important. Those smells still linger and are powerful memories that come rushing forth from the recesses of my mind. And suddenly there is my mom as I remembered her with long dark hair and soothing voice. There is my dad- for some reason in a wide lapelled suit coat- I don’t know how he got stuck in the 70s, but at least it was not a leisure suit! But he was dressed and on his way to his business. I was transported back in time, to a simpler time, a beautiful and uncomplicated time. It washes over me as though it were yesterday.
I also remember the distinct smell of my grandfather and his cigars, and the room in my grandparent’s house in which my grandmother permitted him to smoke them. I remember my grandmother’s kitchen, the smells of her chicken soup made with dill that was uniquely hers. I remember the fragrance of Macaroni and cheese casserole wafting through my other grandma’s apartment and my grandpa’s cheek soft and smooth, scented with his shaving soap.
The smell of the food, the fragrance of the soap or eau de toilet, the remnant of the cigar- these are the memories of those whose lives have touched us directly. We remember them vividly in these moments because we shared moments and life together.
But now, all that we have are the memories of that time together. These recollections are bittersweet, bringing a smile to our lips and tears to our eyes. What we might give to have them with us now. Just a bit more time together we wish, just one more memory to hold in our heart. Husband or wife, mother or father, sister or brother, the memories of those whose lives were so intimately intertwined with ours remain. And even though time passes and we try our best to move forward, the loss remains profound.
As we recall our loved ones though, it is amazing to notice how their hard edges have faded, the sharp lines are blurred. In our honest moments, we know that there were times of stress. Tension existed, tempers could flare and egos could get in the way. Each of us could fall victim to the thing called being a human being. But here in this place, we remember with warmth and love the good things, the uplifting things, the godly things that make these departed loved ones cherished parts of our lives. If only it was always so.
But we have the chance to do precisely this. Yizkor is the opportunity for us to remember those who are departed. It is a time for reflection. We look inside and examine ourselves, not only confronting who we are, but also, whom we wish to be. We take this special time and carve it out from this day and reflect on those who have touched us, shaped us and nurtured us. For we have been forever changed by their presence in our lives.
Yizkor is our chance to remember them. Zichronom Livracha, may their lives be a blessing. As we remember their finer qualities and the beautiful memories, their memories become an inspiration. The best they had to offer is what we remember. And by keeping that in our hearts and minds they move us to live in better even more special ways.
When we remember that special thing about them that brings a smile to us, we remember. But when we do that special thing for another person, not only do we make someone else smile, but our loved one comes alive in our hearts, whether it is cooking for someone you love or accepting the sincere gifts of another with grace and gratitude rather than judgment, as my mom and dad did with their son.
May we live fulfilling those aspirations and through this, honor those we have lost and keep them alive in our hearts.