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How I Found My Path After My Father’s Death

How I Found My Path After My Father’s Death

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My friend Gaby and I stood at the park gate, prolonging our conversation for a few minutes. We would see each other tomorrow, but no matter. We were nearing the end of our eighth-grade school year, and we had a lot to say. After our final “see you tomorrow,” we pulled apart, and I sauntered to our front door. I rang the bell, and my big brother opened the door.

“Daddy’s dead.”

I screamed, “You’re lying, you’re lying!”

I dashed outside to the back garden and bolted around it, raging to my Maker and demanding that He bring my father back. And then . . . then, somehow, it was later in the day. The bell kept on ringing, as wave after wave of close ones came, comforted—or at least tried to—and left. Much later, the Glasgow family contingent arrived, filling the fridge with their little packages of uneaten snacks, fruits and sandwiches from their twelve-hour-long journey to our house in London.“You’re lying, you’re lying!” I screamed

My aunts, uncles and the adult cousins—what a treat, how exciting! No, it isn’t exciting, it’s a tragedy. But it’s exciting to see them again! But, Daddy . . . But the hustling, bustling “up” of it all! But tomorrow morning—the funeral . . .

Morning came. I, as an early teen, refused to go.

It was so quiet when they all left. I wandered into the garden, and the time dragged until the hard-boiled eggs and the shivah (seven days of mourning). This wasn’t like the warm hug of the night before. My father was a strong, determined man, active in the synagogue management, and he had his share of opponents. Suddenly, though, those very people were singing his praises. Something prevented me from screaming “Hypocrite!” as I flounced out of the room. I didn’t really sit shivah, I flounced it.

We started adjusting.

My father had been a family doctor, with my mother as his receptionist. We were “the doctor’s family”; our lives revolved around my father’s practice, and patients frequently called our home needing advice or house calls.

I was “the doctor’s daughter.” That gave me status. I had knowledge and experience that my peers didn’t have. In my preschool years I had been heard advising troubled mothers, “Don’t worry, it’s only chickenpox.” I had even worked as the receptionist when my mother couldn’t make it. Now I would have to be just me, and “just me” left a lot to be desired.

I had failed the high school selection examination that separated the “academics” from the others. In our family of intellectuals, this was tantamount to a heinous crime: laziness. So, head held low, I was ingesting the bland fare for us second-class students, with the odd spice added when the teacher was brave enough to engage a student with an inquiring mind. The information I gathered held no esteem in our family’s highbrow ponderings.

My mother went out to work. When Daddy was alive, “Mummy at work” meant she was with Daddy. The doctor’s office itself was rather like a second home to us. As young children, we often went with Mummy to the baby clinic. During school vacations, the doctor’s office was our babysitter. Now her workplace was peopled by strangers who ruled her time for many hours of the day.

We moved to a fifth-floor apartment. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t have a garden, and I felt uprooted. I used to wander around our garden and ponder the world and all its vagaries, but I could not bare my innermost thoughts in a public thoroughfare.

Then went our Jewish observance. We had been a fair-to-middling Orthodox United Synagogue family: we kept kosher, Shabbat and holidays, which meant leaving school early on winter Fridays and staying home from school on holidays. Soon after the shivah, though, our religious lifestyle came to a full stop. My mother didn’t bring treif (unkosher) food into the house, but all semblance of Shabbat observance disappeared. My mother had taken on religious actions for my father’s sake. Now that he was gone, she no longer had to pretend.

I was confused. My big brother, who had once carefully observed Shabbat, had dropped Orthodoxy when, as a medical student, he couldn’t “find the soul” in a human body. My eldest sister had married a nonreligious man. My older sister, younger brother and I were left in recently fatherless limbo.

What was I to do?

Just before my father passed away, I had started “testing boundaries.” I was confusedI would occasionally call him by his first name. I stopped going to shul (synagogue) on Saturday mornings. My father wasn’t angry at me, but he did convey an overwhelming, brokenhearted disappointment.

I had disappointed him in my exam failure and in my religious observance, and now I couldn’t ever make it up to him. Yet he had given me some sense of direction. I decided I would follow that way no matter what the rest of the family chose. And so I did, seeking out the rules and statutes of my religion from every source I could find (and trying to proselytize my family, which they did not appreciate).

I couldn’t understand my mother’s “Yiddishkeit,” which was how she described her innate Jewishness. I was fighting for a black-and-white Orthodoxy, and I scoffed (mentally, at least) at my mother’s rules-free Judaism. I needed structure, boundaries, yeses and nos—that felt right at a time when my derailed self was looking for survival.

It took many years to let some joy and lightness temper my rigid version of Judaism—many years, many children, many mistakes. Now I can finally appreciate my mother’s path. Perhaps she did not keep all the laws of Judaism, but she had a deep faith in G‑d. She knew “Someone up there” was looking after her. She knew G‑d loved her. She knew it and she relied upon it.

She would regale us with one story after another that showed G‑d was always looking out for her: In Germany just after the war, she was driving back to the base where she was volunteering. Alone in her car at night, she was suddenly faced by an unfriendly crowd of Germans. She drove through the crowd untroubled, knowing He would take care of her. Back home in the wilds of London, late at night, her car broke down, and a friendly person just “happened” to turn up and rescue her. She noticed such happenings in her daily life, and always attributed them to Him. I had to work on myself to notice my “help from heaven” and to build a connection with the “Helper,” but she lived that connection naturally, with laughter and affection.

So my father taught me to fulfill the Torah and mitzvahs in the best possible way, and my mother taught me to cultivate a joyful relationship with G‑d. Now I need to take both their lessons and continue finding my way.

Batya Jacobs is a mother of ten, a Narrative Therapist and a writer living in Israel.
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Batya Jacobs Israel November 10, 2015

Whilst our loved ones are still alive but are living with a bad prognosis, we can build a memory box together.Deciding stories and articles that represent our connection and relationship. If, chas veshalom , our dear one passes away, the memory box can form the basis for a new relationship with our loved one. For although no longer presant, we have all those reminders of who that person was for us, the values they installed in us, their influence. We can still 'consult' them when we are in need for we will know what they would have said. My fathers death was very sudden and I was a child and had not known such a possibility might exist. I hope that you still have time. Batya Jacobs Reply

Laurel Kaufman Miami, Florida/USA November 9, 2015

Thank you for sharing this. I, too, lost my father at the tender age of thirteen. I went to tge funeral, but felt completely lost and alone. I could not bring myself to put a shovel - full of earth upon his coffin. Now I have two handsom sons to carry on our family name-and I too look for meaning and connection to my Jewish roots; I was not guided by family on this. Now I alone care for my mother as she dies of lung cancer, and constantly grapple to find meaning in the face of suffering. Reply

Anonymous September 22, 2015

speaking to G-d We tend to think that Dad is always going to be 38 years old, and losing your father takes a big part of you away, or it feels that way, especially if you've been apart.
My paternal Grandmother followed, then another close member of my family nearly died from an illness,
I said silently in my heart "Please G-d, not his one as well. Not so soon".
It surprised me, since I believed until them that I was probably an atheist.
It was the beginning of a 20 year journey to Judaism. Reply

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